What does a county commissioner do? You can think about county commissioners as the first point of contact for citizens seeking assistance with local issues or concerns. As such, county commissioners play a vital role in shaping the quality of life for residents within their jurisdiction.
Anyone interested in running for an elected position can begin their journey by running for county commissioner. As an entry-level elected position, becoming a commissioner is an excellent way to develop knowledge and experience working within a government entity and with a constituency. This guide will explore the key responsibilities of a county commissioner, the qualifications and eligibility requirements to run for the position, and top tips for launching an effective campaign for commissioner.
What does a county commissioner do exactly? There are some common responsibilities.
What do county commissioners do, and what do county commissioners oversee? The overall responsibility is managing and administrating county operations as a governing authority. The role of county commissioners is an important one.
The duties of a county commissioner include the following:
Developing and managing the county budget
Authorizing county taxes and their collection
Developing fiscal management policies in areas like investments, loans and bonds
Developing a long-term strategic plan with county goals for successful growth and revenue generation
Maintaining the county infrastructure, i.e., roads, bridges, broadband, parks, etc.
Making policy decisions about issues like residential and commercial development, signage, parking and alcohol sales
Ensuring public safety
Promoting economic development and attracting commercial investments
Representing the interests of constituents
Holding county commission meetings that are open to constituents
Overseeing the county personnel system
Overseeing county departments like waste management and mass transit
Approving county contracts
Serving on county-related boards and county board sub-committees
Communicating with independently elected officers and officials to address issues
Attending training and conferences
There are different terms used in counties across the country. For example, a Board of County Commissioners may be called a Board of Commissioners, a County Board of Supervisors or simply a County Council or County Board. Average commissioner salaries vary widely across the country. Comparably’s research found that county commissioner salaries range from $68,600 to $296,630.
Local governance is essential because it determines the quality of life for residents and gives people a voice in how their county is managed. It allows for decision-making that is more responsive to the specific needs and concerns of the community. This form of governance is typically more accessible to the public, and elected officials are often more engaged with constituents. It also promotes transparency and accountability in government, as officials are directly responsible to the people they serve. Ultimately, strong local governance in the form of county-related boards of commissioners is crucial to building and maintaining healthy, vibrant and prosperous communities.
Before investing in a campaign, getting familiar with the state and county qualifications and eligibility requirements is crucial.
Individual states have a host of legal requirements that vary considerably. However, most states and counties have laws that say anyone who is a convicted felon or is ineligible to hold a federal office is not eligible to run for commissioner. If someone cannot vote, they are unlikely to qualify for a seat on the Board of Commissioners.
How many County Commissioners does a county have? The number of Board of County Commissioners positions is usually 3-9, though there are counties with more. The county board may have a sole commissioner in a small or rural county.
Board chairs are elected by the county council members by a simple majority. There is usually a vice-chair elected also, so someone can take over the duties if the board chair vacates the role for some reason.
Typically, each council member represents a district within the county. When you ask how many county commissioners a county has, the number is determined by the size of the county and the number of districts. The county commission may have executive and legislative powers, have separate powers, or have a manager-council form of governance in which the manager handles the administration and management of county activities (executive powers) and the elected council members have legislative powers (budgets, fee schedules, taxes, etc.).
There are some unique forms of county government. For example, the County Commission in Texas is a Texas County Commissioners' Court. The Texas constitution established a form of county government with four commissioners and one county judge, all elected. The Commissioners' Court form of government is supported by other elective offices that create a system of checks and balances on the commission, i.e., county attorneys, county treasurer, tax assessors and collectors, constables, etc.
In some states, like Kentucky, the Fiscal Court is the county governing body. The Fiscal Court administrative body is a local form of government composed of an executive or county judge as the head, and justices of the peace, all independently elected officers, or a county judge or executive and three commissioners, also all elected. The Fiscal Court sets policies, approves budgets, votes on financial matters and manages much of the same areas the other forms of county government oversee.
Louisiana has a Police Jury form of government for some of its parishes. This is an administrative and legislative form of government. The Police Jury performs similarly to a traditional county commission. Its members are elected. State law directs the parish to elect a minimum of five members and a maximum of 15. If the population is less than 100,000, only three members need to be elected.
As a central administrative group, the county government will have various county departments and staff to help execute its responsibilities. These include waste management, infrastructure, tax assessment and collection, law enforcement, water works, jail and prisons, sewer system maintenance, road marking and lighting, clinics and hospitals, coroner, county court, voter registration, court clerks for recording and maintaining records, parks and recreation, and more.
In most states, there is a requirement that a candidate for county commissioner must have been a resident for a stated period. This requirement is usually 12 months before the election. Here are some typical additional requirements; the candidate must also be:
A U.S. citizen
A registered voter in the county
A county resident
Either 18 or 21 years old or older, depending on the state
The county commissioner's role is influential because it directly influences the constituents' daily quality of life. It is vital to know the constituents in terms of their preferences, needs and goals, and, as simple as it sounds, what makes them happy and unhappy.
Below are some ways to learn more about the constituents of your county.
Attend local events: Attend local events to meet people and learn about their concerns. Set up a booth or table at events to talk to people and gather information.
Use social media: Use social media to connect with constituents and gather information. Set up a Facebook page or Twitter account to read constituent posts and comments, share the campaign platform, and gather feedback.
Attend town hall meetings: Attend town hall meetings to learn about issues and concerns in the district. Ask questions and share ideas. This is a good forum because it is face-to-face interaction.
Review data analytics: What are the core demographics of the county? Demographics include data about population characteristics, such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, education level, employment status, income, marital status, household size and geographic location. The data can also include more specific details, such as occupation, religion, language spoken and health status. Demographic data is often used to analyze and understand trends and patterns within a population and can be used to craft a campaign message and better understand local needs and concerns.
There are a number of resources at candidates’ disposal for this kind of research. They include:
County clerk’s office
U.S. Census Bureau data
School district enrollment reports
State projections for county population growth
Identifying local issues is necessary for understanding people’s needs and fashioning an effective campaign platform.
Go door-to-door: Knock on doors in the district to make introductions and ask people about their concerns. Leave campaign literature and ask for contact information.
Conduct surveys: Conduct surveys to gather information about constituents' opinions on various issues. Conduct surveys online or in person.
Read local newspapers: Read print or online local newspapers to learn about issues and concerns in the community. Write letters to the editor to share the platform, address a specific issue and get feedback.
Research previous voter issues: Review how the district has voted on issues that emerged in the past and whether those issues were resolved. Any issue that was not resolved is an excellent topic for engaging voters. It could concern excessive development, animal control, clean water, road maintenance, etc.
Review past commission meeting records: The meeting minutes are an excellent source of information about current local issues, public comments on issues, future commission plans, how constituents feel about the commission, etc.
The campaign team works to keep your campaign efforts on track until voting day. It is crucial to assemble a knowledgeable core team of people you trust.
The core team typically consists of a campaign manager, a finance person, a volunteer coordinator and a communications and marketing director. These can be family members, friends and people recruited for their business expertise or prior campaigning experience.
It is important to recognize that the volunteers are the face of the campaign. They recruit voters and help turn undecided constituents into supporters. There are many sources of dedicated volunteers:
Family and friends
Colleges and universities
Campaign website recruitment page
Social media recruitment ads and pages
Volunteers do most of the hands-on campaigning, like door-to-door canvassing, phone banking, handing out flyers to the public, attending community events and much more. Be sure to provide volunteer training to minimize the possibility of volunteers inadvertently damaging the campaign’s reputation and to increase their effectiveness as marketing and communication persons. There needs to be consistent messaging about the campaign platform.
The campaign platform will have a prioritized list of critical issues based on their importance to the community. It will also share a plan of action to address each issue, like suggesting specific policies or developing and implementing initiatives.
The campaign platform can also include brand-new ideas that benefit the community but may not specifically address a problem. Remember, people depend on their county’s governing bodies to protect and improve their well-being. Some of the planks in your campaign platform will attract supporters because they express empathy.
Effective communication and campaign strategies will embrace more than one communication channel:
Platform pages on the campaign website with links in places like social media, online articles, etc.
Social media ads
Attending local community and charity events
Hosting a town hall meeting
Participating in a debate
Posting videos on YouTube
Appearing on podcasts
Today, communication and campaigning efforts blend traditional and digital campaigning. Developing a link campaign is vital when posting anything online so constituent traffic is driven to various online sites.
Financing a campaign for commissioner can be challenging, but there are several ways to raise funds for your campaign. The first step is to create a detailed campaign budget outlining all expected expenses, including advertising, campaign materials, events, and staff salaries. Fundraising options are considered once there is a clear understanding of the budget.
One common way to finance a campaign is through individual donations. Start by contacting friends, family and community members who support the campaign and ask for their financial support. Setting up a fundraising page on social media or crowdfunding platforms is also wise to reach a wider audience.
Another option is to host fundraising events, such as dinners, auctions or rallies. These events can help reach new potential donors while also building support and excitement around the campaign.
Additionally, consider applying for public financing through a government program. These programs provide matching funds or grants to candidates meeting specific eligibility requirements. However, the requirements vary from state to state, so it is essential to research and understand the state and county rules.
Campaign finance laws for county commissioners vary by state and county, but some general guidelines and regulations apply to most campaigns.
One important aspect of campaign finance laws is transparency. Candidates must disclose their campaign finances, including donations and expenditures, to ensure that the public can access information about who is funding the campaign and how the funds are being used.
Another important aspect of campaign finance laws is contribution limits. Many states and counties limit how much money individuals or organizations can donate to a campaign. These limits are designed to prevent wealthy donors from having an undue influence on the election.
Candidates and campaigns are also subject to restrictions on their funding sources. For example, accepting donations from foreign nationals or corporations is prohibited to avoid influence peddling. In addition, candidates and campaigns are prohibited from using government resources or funds for campaign purposes.
Violations of campaign finance laws can result in fines, penalties or even criminal charges. It is important for candidates and campaigns to familiarize themselves with the specific laws and regulations in their state and county and to consult with legal counsel if they have any questions or concerns.
The Secretary of State or a state ethics commission publishes the campaign finance laws and regulations applicable in the particular state.
In most states, there is a very short timeline for filing qualification forms to become a candidate for commissioner. For example, Alabama gives a candidate just five days.
Each state has particular requirements to become a commissioner candidate and appear on the ballot. Some states require stating a party or filing as an independent, while others have no affiliation requirements. No two states manage the county election process the exact same way.
In Alabama, a candidate is anyone who filed qualification forms with a political party or municipal election official, submitted a petition to run as an independent candidate or received contributions or spent more than $1,000 for an election campaign. A form is filed with the Secretary of State, establishing the finance committee. The committee may be the candidate only or a committee of 2-5 people.
The Texas Secretary of State and Texas Ethics Commission manage the campaign filing requirements in Texas. Candidates include anyone who acts to get elected to a public office. Candidates for the county commission in Texas must adhere to Title 15 of the Election Code, the campaign finance law. Anyone seeking a public office is a candidate and must file a Campaign Treasurer Appointment (a call to action) even if there will be no campaign expenditures or contributions. The form is filed with the county clerk.
The exact requirements for financial disclosure forms can vary depending on the state and county, but they typically require candidates to disclose information about their income, assets, debts and investments. This information is then made available to the public so voters can make informed decisions about the candidates they support.
Candidates for county commissioner positions are generally required to file financial disclosure forms. These forms are designed to ensure that candidates are transparent about their financial interests and potential conflicts of interest. The exact requirements for financial disclosure forms can vary depending on the state and county, but they typically require candidates to disclose information about their income, assets, debts and investments.
Each state will have financial disclosure form submission requirements. There may be a requirement to file pre-election weekly, monthly or semi-annual reports or when a candidate receives a significant contribution. States may have additional requirements for filing within a specified number of days once campaigning begins and within a specific number of days before the election. There will also be a final report of unexpended campaign contributions required.
This information is then made available to the public so voters can make informed decisions about the candidates they support. Suppose you have any specific questions about financial disclosure forms for county commissioner candidates in your area. In that case, it is imperative to contact your local election board or county clerk's office for more information.
Developing a positive relationship with local media is important because it makes it more likely that the candidate will be interviewed and campaign events covered for airing on television or online.
Working with local news outlets can be a great way to get the campaign message out to potential voters when campaigning for county commissioner. Here are some tips for how to do it effectively:
Research local news outlets: Start by researching local newspapers, radio stations and TV stations in the county. Look at their coverage areas, target audiences and editorial calendars to determine which outlets best fit your campaign.
Develop relationships: Reach out to reporters and editors at the outlets identified and make introductions. Share your goals and vision for the county and let them know how those goals will be achieved. Offer to be a source for stories and provide them with relevant information and quotes.
Offer exclusive stories: Provide local news outlets with exclusive stories and interviews. This will help build credibility and attract more voters to the campaign.
Participate in debates and interviews: Participate in debates and interviews hosted by local news outlets. This will allow you to showcase your knowledge and experience and connect with potential voters.
Use social media: Leverage social media to promote the campaign and share news articles and stories about the campaign that local news outlets have published. The news media will appreciate the free exposure.
Remember that working with local news outlets can be valuable in a campaign, but being transparent and honest with reporters and editors is important. Focus on building relationships and providing useful information to help them cover your campaign effectively.
Press releases have a specific format, and it is important to follow the format to entice media outlets to release them. Start with a strong headline and a strong opening. Focus on critical issues of most importance to the constituency and are the campaign's focus. Include quotes by the candidate and supporters to add personality and credibility to the press release. Press releases are concise and to the point.
The volunteers working on your campaign will be instrumental in getting out the vote. They will have been working throughout the entire campaign to build interest and a sense of urgency for change. The volunteers will have helped with canvassing, phone banking, social media and other campaign activities. Before election day, they can place yard signs in strategic locations to increase visibility and remind voters to support the candidate.
Volunteers can also encourage voters to take advantage of early voting to avoid long lines on Election Day. They can hand out campaign buttons, bumper stickers and flyers with a campaign platform summary. Though the internet is a powerful communication tool, it is essential to remember that personal communication can be even more powerful. A volunteer handing out flyers in front of retail establishments shows real commitment to the campaign.
The candidate can also run TV and print advertisements encouraging people to vote.
Remember, getting out the vote is crucial to the success of any election campaign. Using various strategies and outreach methods, the county commissioner candidate is more likely to have a strong showing on Election Day.
Mobilizing supporters on election day is essential for any successful campaign. The campaign continues until the polls close.
Social media is a great way to reach out to supporters. Create Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts reminding people to vote and provide information on where and when to vote. Also, email your supporters with reminders and updates and have volunteers reach out to supporters via phone. Make sure to include information on where and when to vote.
Offer to provide transportation to the polls for those who need it. This can be a big help for people who do not have access to a car or who have mobility issues.
Host a rally or event on election day to motivate people to vote.
As a candidate for county commissioner, the priority on election day is for the voting experience to go smoothly. It is crucial to adhere to the laws on not interfering with the voting process. As a candidate for commissioner, there are several things you can do to help ensure a smooth voting experience for your constituents.
Maintaining open lines of communication with your supporters throughout the voting process is a good strategy. This can include providing regular updates on the status of the election, answering questions and concerns and addressing any issues that arise promptly and transparently. Doing so can help build trust and confidence in the integrity of the voting process and ensure that supporters feel heard and valued. It is common to see county commission candidates on camera after they exit the voting location.
It is natural to want to take a poll of voters before or after they vote. However, each state has laws prohibiting certain electioneering activities within a stated distance of the polling place. The laws are intended to stop candidates and their volunteers from pressuring voters or making anyone uncomfortable leaving a voting location. The National Association of Secretaries of State have compiled the state laws in a nice chart.
After the election, winners and runner-ups should focus on their post-election strategies. Planning their transition into office and building relationships with stakeholders is important for the winners. Most county commissions have a required training session to attend. The newly elected should also review campaign promises and start working on fulfilling them.
On the other hand, the runner-ups should take the opportunity to debrief and analyze the election results. They can assess what worked and what did not work and use this knowledge to improve their future campaigns. Overall, the post-election period is a crucial time for both winners and runner-ups to strategize and focus on their goals.
Above all, once a winner is declared, all candidates should remain gracious and professional. The winner can give a short speech to thank their volunteers and campaign team for their hard work. He or she can also thank the runner-ups for maintaining professionalism throughout the campaign and being worthy opponents. The runner-ups can congratulate the winner and assure constituents of their belief the county commissioner will do a good job.
As already discussed, transparency in campaign reporting is important to building supporter trust and adhering to campaign finance reporting laws. Like all campaign laws, the ethics laws for county commissioner candidates vary by state and county. Generally, candidates must disclose their financial interests, campaign contributions and any potential conflicts of interest. They must also abide by campaign finance regulations and rules regarding political advertising.
Ethical campaigning also encompasses personal behavior. It refers to a set of principles and practices that prioritize honesty, integrity and fairness in the political process. Ethical campaigners avoid misleading or deceptive messaging, refrain from personal attacks and focus on presenting their ideas and qualifications rather than attacking their opponents.
They also abide by campaign finance regulations and are transparent about their funding sources. Ethical campaigning fosters a healthy and respectful political climate while promoting a fair and informed electoral outcome. Candidates should not spread false information about each other, exaggerate qualifications or make up stories about their past. These kinds of behaviors are always harmful in the end.
Candidates need to research and understand the specific ethics laws in their jurisdiction to ensure compliance throughout their campaign. However, ethical campaigning behavior is just as important.
“What does a county commissioner do exactly,” is a common question. Being a commissioner is not a high-profile, glamorous position, but it is very important to the local government process as central administration of county operations. County commissioners are responsible for overseeing the operations of the county, including public services such as law enforcement, public health and public works. They also make decisions about allocating county funds, creating and enforcing county ordinances, and collaborating with other local and state officials.
Though the campaign to run for commissioner can take a year or longer in many cases and requires a significant effort, it is a worthy endeavor for an opportunity to improve people’s lives. It may also become a stepping stone to a higher-level elected position.
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