A county government is the local governing body that administers a particular county. It can be responsible for such things as law enforcement, public education, and road maintenance.
In the United States, counties are governed by either a board of supervisors or a county commission. Its structure is typically governed by general state law, while some have local charters that outline their structure and powers.
There are just over three thousand counties in the United States. Louisiana and Alaska have equivalent county governments. In Louisiana, it is called a parish and in Alaska, the borough.
County governments are typically organized in a hierarchical manner with the county executive at the top. This person is responsible for implementing policies formulated by the county legislature, which is made up of elected officials from each district within the county.
There are thousands of local elections coming up this year. We’ve compiled a list of some of the major elected positions in county government and their functions.
The county executive is the chief elected officer and head of a county government. The county executive is, in most cases, the highest ranking official in the county. As an executive, they are in charge of running day-to-day operations in their jurisdiction and enforcing the laws passed by the county legislature or board.
A county executive typically holds significant power to make decisions that effect the entire county, but still must answer to voters who can vote them out of office.
A county legislator is a person who represents the people of a district within a county. County legislators are responsible for voting on policies, managing the budget, and overseeing other aspects of local government. They are also responsible for overseeing law enforcement in their county, setting taxation rates, and approving the county’s budget.
A county sheriff is the highest law enforcement officer in a county. They are responsible for upholding the law and protecting the people of their jurisdiction. County sheriffs maintains peace and order through patrols, investigations, and other means. In some cases, a county sheriff will enforce state laws as well as local ones.
The office may also perform other duties, such as providing protection to judges as they travel between courtrooms and provide security at certain public events.
Every jurisdiction has its own requirements for candidates to become a sheriff. Most jurisdictions require candidates to have at some experience in law enforcement, perhaps as a police officer, or experience in the field of criminal justice.
County Coroner/Medical Examiner
A coroner is a medical professional who investigates unexplained deaths to determine the cause of death. The coroner will analyze the body and any other evidence from the scene. They interview witnesses to get a better understanding of how and why the person died, and will speak to medical personnel who may have been involved in treating the deceased before they died. The coroner’s office may also perform toxicology tests to determine whether the deceased had substances in their system.
A coroner often has some level of law enforcement training so they can testify in court. They may also serve as the county’s medical examiner to determine cause of death.
The duties of a County Clerk vary by jurisdiction. The county clerk is also the keeper of the records for a given county. County Clerks are responsible for ensuring that all records related to county business are properly filed, alphabetized, and preserved.
The county clerk office may also be in charge of:
- Registering voters
- Issuing marriage licenses
- Recording deeds and mortgages
- Filing liens
- Issuing licenses and permits
They also ensure that all debts owed to the county are collected and taxes owed by residents are collected.
Depending on state law, county clerks can either be elected or appointed.
District Attorney/Prosecuting Attorney
District Attorneys (or state attorneys) are the chief law enforcement officers in their jurisdiction. They also serve as the prosecuting attorney in county-level or local courts. The District Attorney’s Office is responsible for prosecuting crimes , conducting investigations, offering plea bargains and litigating appeals. They are responsible for sentencing recommendations, seeking evidence, and presenting cases against suspected lawbreakers and defendants.
The County Treasurer is the person who manages the financial affairs of a county or other local government. This includes collecting, safeguarding, auditing and investing the county’s cash held in trust. A county treasurer ensures that taxes are collected properly and funds are distributed in an equitable manner. The treasurer is also responsible for issuing bank checks to pay county expenses.
A county assessor is responsible for assessing the value of properties in the taxing area. They are responsible for ensuring that real properties are assessed correctly to produce fair and equitable tax rates. In making an assessment of value, an assessor takes into account the property’s size, location, age and quality. Assessors also provide assistance to the public, conduct property searches, and are responsible for maintaining records on all property within their jurisdiction.
County Board of Commissioners
A county board of commissioners acts as a governing body for a county. The board sets policy, sets taxes, approves expenditures, and hires staff. Unlike most other forms of local governance, an elected board of commissioners both enact local ordinances and administer them. In other words, the board of commissioners acts as both the executive and legislative body.
Becoming elected to county office
Running for county office is a rewarding experience. You get to serve the public and represent your community in an official capacity. County offices range from sheriffs and coroners to clerks and assessors.
One of the first steps in running for county government is to decide which position you want to run for. This may be determined by your prior experience and background. If you want to get some firsthand experience without the rigors of an election, consider applying to join a county board or commission.
What are the requirements to run for county office?
It is important to know the requirements and qualifications for the position you seek before making a decision. To run for county office, one must be at least 18 years of age, must be a United States citizen, and must not have been convicted of certain crimes. There may be additional qualifications, depending on the state or specific county election laws.
How much does it cost to run for county office?
Running for county office is expensive. The cost of running for county office can vary depending on the type of position, the size of the jurisdiction, and the size of the budget. In large counties, like Los Angeles, the average cost can easily top $500 thousand dollars.
How long does it take to run for county office?
Running for county office can be a time consuming and expensive process. It can take up to a year and a half to prepare and run for county office.
Your jurisdiction will determine the rules you need to follow, the time frame you have, and what kind of campaign you are running. You will need to file election paperwork with the appropriate agency.
The are many benefits to holding local and county office. Perhaps the greatest is that you can make a difference by creating programs that help people, by advocating for them, and by solving problems they face.
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