Structure of County Government

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State and Local Government
2/21/12

The structure of county government

There are three basic forms of county government. These are commission council-executive, and commission administrator. These three are different based on their degree of separation between legislative and executive powers and who is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the executive side of government.

The most common form of county government is the commission. The commission concentrates legislative and executive functions and powers into an elected board of commissioners. Depending on the state and the county, members of these county-level legislatures may be called county commissioners, supervisors, select-men, county board members, or judges. The most significant reform of county government since its inception has been to separate the executive and legislative powers by creating an independent county-level executive office. Council-executive county governments typically have an independently elected officer who serves as the county-level equivalent of a governor. County executives frequently have powers to veto ordinances passed by the board of commissioners, and they have the authority to appoint key department heads. Thus the main difference between the commission and council-executive forms of government is the approach to separation of powers. Commission-administrator is the final kind of government and it stands somewhere between the commission and council-executive forms. In this form of government, an elected commission retains most legislative and executive powers, but appoints a professional administrator to actually run the government. County administrators usually serve at the pleasure of the commissioners. This means they can be hired and fired as the county commission sees fit. In practice, commissioners typically delegate considerable powers to administators, including the power to hire and fire department heads and to prepare a budget for...
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