The Evolution of County Government Structure: A seven part series.  Part three in our seven part series from The Florida County Government Guide: Evolution of County Government Structure in Florida will focus on the Commission Form of County Government.   Part 3 in a 7 part series.

There are three basic forms of county government in use in Florida. The traditional commission form, the commission-administrator or manager form, and the commission or council-executive form. These forms are also typically found in most counties across the country. The primary difference between these three forms is who is responsible for implementing policy. In the commission form, policy implementation is handled by the board of commissioners. However in the commission-administrator or manager form an administrator or manager appointed by the commission oversees implementation of policy. And in the commission-executive form an elected executive (typically a mayor) oversees policy implementation. In all three forms a board of county commissioners meets and makes policy for the county. In addition, regardless of government form, almost all counties have five other county officers that are popularly elected by county voters. These constitutional officers perform a variety of administrative duties and policy functions for the state and county.

Traditional County Commission Form

The traditional county commission form of government has been in existence nationally since the late 19PthP century. It is characterized by two major features: (1) the existence of a plural executive (county constitutional officers plus the board of county commissioners), and (2) a legislative body (the board of county commissioners) that performs both legislative and executive functions. There is no single person responsible for the administration of county functions. Instead the various county department heads report directly to the board of commissioners. The organizational chart for the county commission system used in Franklin County is shown in Figure 2.2. Since this form of government was designed for a rural population, it is not surprising that all the Florida counties that continue with some variation of this form are smaller counties located in the Florida Panhandle.

           

Constitutional Officers

The five constitutional officers who are elected county-wide on a partisan ballot with no term limits in all Florida non-charter counties and almost all charter counties include: the clerk of courts, property appraiser, tax collector, supervisor of elections and sheriff.

Each of the five constitutional officers administers his or her own office, although each must obtain budgets and facilities from the board of commissioners. The sheriff usually submits the largest single budget request, covering countywide law enforcement and the operations of the county jail. It is not uncommon for sheriffs to press their county commissioner for sizable budget increases.  The sheriff under Florida Statutes has the right to appeal the commission’s budget decision to the state Administration Commission (governor and the cabinet).

Constitutional officers perform many essential tasks for the state and the county:

  • Sheriff: oversees law enforcement, public safety and often corrections for the county.
  • Property appraiser: assesses the fair value of all property so that property taxes can be computed.
  • Tax collector: receives property tax and other payments for both the county and state.
  • Supervisor of elections: registers voters and organizes all elections in the county.
  • Clerk of the courts: maintains public records and is clerk to the county commission.

Duties of the Board of County Commissioners

Florida law lays out a large number of specific duties for commissioners in non-charter counties. Some of the more important commission duties in Ch. 125.01 of the Florida Statutes include:

  • Adopt an annual budget to control county fiscal year expenditures.
  • Levy taxes and special assessments; borrow and expend money; issue bonds, revenue certificates and other obligations.
  • Adopt county ordinances, resolutions, and rules of procedure, prescribing fines and penalties for violations of ordinances.
  • Provide for the prosecution and defense of legal causes on behalf of the county.
  • Provide and maintain county buildings.
  • Prepare and enforce comprehensive plans for development of the county.
  • Establish, coordinate and enforce zoning and business regulations necessary for public protection.
  • Place issues on the ballot at any primary, general, or special election.
  • Provide services related to the health and welfare of citizens, such as fire protection, parks and recreation, and waste collection/disposal.
  • Appoint members to and create Boards, Authorities, Committees and Commissions as required by law.

Commission Meetings 

One of the main responsibilities of any county commission in Florida is to meet regularly as a group and make policy. Most county commissions select a Chair and a Vice Chair to help run the meetings. Commission meetings must be announced ahead of time and the agenda for the meeting must be made available ahead of time as well. County residents must be given an opportunity to speak and bring up issues they are concerned about. Minutes must be kept of board actions and made available to the public.

Counties in Florida operating a Commission Form of government are:

Calhoun, Franklin, Hamilton*, Jefferson*, Lafayette, Levy*, Liberty, Madison*, Suwannee & Union.

*These four counties employ a county coordinator who performs some of the duties of an administrator for the commission but have not adopted the county administrator form of government into county code.

This concludes part three of a seven part series on the structure of county government in Florida. If you would like more information on the commission form of government including differences between charter and non-charter counties please, reference or purchase the Florida County Government Guide

The series began with: Part 1. The Evolution of County Government (link to previous article) Part 2: Charter & Non-Charter Counties.  Throughout the rest of the year we will look at:  4. Forms of County Government: Administrator or Manager Form; 5. Forms of County Government: Executive Form; 6. Exceptions to the three forms of government; and, 7. Commission District Structures.

If you find this series informative, it is excerpts from the Florida County Government Guide. The Florida County Government Guide is a comprehensive reference on all aspects of Florida county government.  The Guide includes information on Florida’s history, the structure of county government, leadership and management, budgeting methods and strategies, economic development opportunities, growth management, human resources, emergency management, purchasing and contracting, health and safety, infrastructure and more.  To purchase your copy of the Florida County Government Guide, please click here.