County Executives of America
County Executives of America (CEA)
Latest News: Join CEA

You are here: Home → County Executive Form of government


Up one level

What is a county executive?
The county executive form of government is the most centralized type of county government in the United States. The county executive is directly elected by the public and is the chief county officer responsible for managing county government. Typically, the county executive confers with a locally elected council or legislature who represent local district jurisdictions within the county.

What are the responsibilities of a county executive?
The county executive has the power to formulate all county policy, install and remove county positions, develop a county budget, and approve or veto proposed ordinances or resolutions. However, the county executive is often required to submit his or her proposals to a county council or legislature for review. The county executive also oversees all county services, including criminal justice, social and health services, welfare, waste treatment, taxes, administrative services, business and economic development, recreation, disaster and natural/environmental assistance, and many programs specific to the needs of the county.

What is the term a county executive serves?
County executives serve four-year terms. The number of terms a county executive serves is unlimited except in Washington state and Prince Georges County, MD, where the state legislature imposed a two-term limit upon county executives. Arkansas is also an exception where a county executive can serve two-year terms with an unlimited number of reelectons.

How is a county executive different from a county manager?
A county executive is an elected representative who ultimately answers to the public and commits himself or herself to the terms of an elected representative, which cannot change without public approval. The county executive is afforded direct control over county policy, particularly budgets, and works cooperatively with the county council or legislature. A county manager is an official appointed or hired by a county council or legislature on terms outlined in a hiring contract or other agreement suitable to the parties involved. The terms apply only for the duration of the contract, after which the terms may be renegotiated by either party. Often, the county manager acts as a full-time administrative officer for the council or legislature and is responsible for day to day activities within the county government. The county manager does not have veto authority. In most governments, the public does not have any voting rights over choosing county managers.

How is a county executive form of government structured?
A county executive form of government operates under a charter which details the functions of the government and the levels of authority afforded each elected position and other hired/appointed positions within the county government. While the county government is subject to state and federal laws, the county's charter allows it to exercise considerable leverage in formulating its own policies as the government sees fit. The county executive serves as the chief executive officer of the county while the council or legislature serves as the county's legislative body. At times, a county manager may be hired or appointed by the council or legislature but it is not common. Other elected offices within the government may include the county attorney, sheriff, assessor, treasurer, clerk and recorder, clerk of the district court, and public administrator.

What if a city is located within a county? Who runs public services?
In a county executive form of government, county services are delivered to citizens who live within the geographical jurisdiction of the city. The city government retains some responsibility for public services under its own form of government. City and county ordinances are separate and distinct unless there is a cooperative agreement between the two governments. However, public mobility (eg. people who live in the county but work in the city) causes most city/county governments to coordinate policies.

Which form of government is better: a commission or a county executive?
The form of government a county implements depends on many factors, such as population, amount of urban and rural centers, geography, tax base, political and cultural history, and administrative resources. Some prefer a county executive form of government because it helps streamline services and centralize decision-making. Others prefer a government where authority is dispersed among many interests, as often presented in a commission form of government. The concentration of county executive governments in the eastern half of the United States is most likely the result of a long political affiliation with local governments where all lawmakers are subject to a public referendum through the voting process. It has no bearing, however, on whether one government is more effective than another.

Charter governments do carry the county executive title. However, the responsibilities of a county executive are often synonymous with those of another position, such as Borough Mayor or County Judge/executive. Due to this overlap, CEA considers the functions of a county government before the title when determining its true form. There are over 700 governments that base their structures on the county executive form. To see how many different titles refer to an elected county leader and which states use these titles CLICK HERE.


Home  |  About CEA  |  Membership |   Legislative Affairs |  Access Government  |    Meetings & Events 
©CEA All Rights Reserved