The Evolution of County Government Structure: A seven part series

Part four in our seven part series from The Florida County Government Guide: Evolution of County Government Structure in Florida will focus on the Administrator or Manager Form of county government.   

Part 4 in a 7 part series

Three Forms of County Government

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.

Commission-Administrator or Manager Form

By far the most popular form of government in Florida today is the commission-administrator or manager form of government. Fifty-four counties have chosen this form of government.

The key difference between this form and the traditional commission form is the separation of powers between making policy and executing policy. The board of commissioners passes ordinances but hires an administrator or manager to execute the policy and oversee the various departments under the board’s control. So as a practical matter in Florida a commission-administrator form of government is equivalent to a commission-manager form of government.

The fifty-four counties with this type of government are: Alachua, Baker, Bay, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Glades, Escambia, Flagler, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Gulf, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Holmes, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Lee, Leon, Manatee, Marion, Martin, Monroe, Nassau, Okaloosa, Okeechobee, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Seminole, Sumter, Taylor, Volusia, Wakulla, Walton and Washington.

Again, the meaningful difference is between charter and non-charter counties. In charter counties the duties are largely governed by the county charter. Specifically Chapter 125.84, Florida Statutes, succinctly says: “The county manager shall be appointed by, and serve at the pleasure of, the board and shall exercise the executive responsibilities assigned by the charter.” Conversely in non-charter counties the duties are largely governed by state law (Chapter 125.74, Florida Statutes) and administrators are legally kept on a fairly short leash: “It is the intent of the Legislature to grant to the county administrator only those powers and duties which are administrative or ministerial in nature and not to delegate any governmental power imbued in the board of county commissioners...” The duties assigned by the legislature include:

  • Administer and carry out the directives and policies of the board of county commissioners and enforce all orders, resolutions, ordinances, and regulations of the board to assure that they are faithfully executed.
  • Report to the board on action taken pursuant to any directive or policy and provide an annual report to the board.
  • Provide the board with data or information concerning county government and advice and recommendations on county government operations.
  • Prepare and submit to the board an annual operating budget, a capital budget, and a capital program.
  • Establish the schedules and procedures to be followed by all county departments.
  • Prepare and submit to the board after the end of each fiscal year a complete report on finances.
  • Supervise the care and custody of all county property.
  • Recommend to the board a current position classification and pay plan for all county positions.
  • Develop, install, and maintain centralized budgeting, personnel, legal, and purchasing procedures.
  • Organize the work of county departments and review the departments, administration, and operation of the county and make recommendations pertaining to reorganization by the board.
  • Select, employ, and supervise all personnel and fill all vacancies under the jurisdiction of the board. However, the employment of all department heads shall require confirmation by the board.
  • Suspend, discharge, or remove any employee under the jurisdiction of the board pursuant to procedures adopted by the board.
  • Negotiate leases, contracts, and other agreements for the county, subject to approval of the board.
  • See that all terms and conditions in all leases, contracts, and agreements are performed and notify the board of any noted violation thereof.
  • Attend all meetings of the board with authority to participate in the discussion of any matter.
  • Perform such other duties as may be required by the board of county commissioners.

Statutes make clear that managers and administrators are not to engage in policy making. Instead they must only faithfully execute the decisions made by the commission. Of course, what is on paper is not always the way things work in real life. And so managers and administrators often have great say over what ordinances the county commissioners adopt, what decisions they make, and what budgets they pass. The managers and administrators are full-time employees and have a large information advantage over their commissioners, particularly in small- and medium-sized counties where the commissioners may have other full- or part-time jobs. Managers bring problems to the attention of the board, which allows them to help set the agenda. They also propose budgets and do research on policy problems and so can help steer the board to their desired course of action. Of course, county administrators or managers have a tough and tricky job and they have to be careful not to obviously exceed their authority or anger the commissioners. Because if they do, the same commissions that hire managers or administrators can also fire them!

This concludes part four of a seven part series on the structure of county government in Florida. If you would like more information on the administrator or manager form of government 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 and, Part 3. Forms of County Government: Commission Form.  Throughout the rest of the year we will look at:  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.