Duties of County Offices
DUTIES OF THE COUNTY COMMISSION
The county legislative body is the primary policy-making body in the county. However, the county legislative body is limited to the authority granted to it by the General Assembly in public (general) or private (local) acts. The most important function of the county legislative body is the annual adoption of a budget to allocate expenditures within the three major funds of county government, general, school, and highway and any other funds (such as debt service) that may be in existence in that particular county. The county legislative body has considerable discretion in dealing with the budget for all funds except the school budget, which in most counties must be accepted or rejected as a whole. If rejected, the school board must continue to propose alternatives until a budget is adopted by both the county school board and the county legislative body. The county legislative body sets a property tax rate which, along with revenues from other county taxes and fees as well as state and federal monies allocated to the county, are used to fund the budget. The county legislative body is subject to various restrictions in imposing most taxes (such as referendum approval or rate limits, for example), although these do not apply to the property tax. The county legislative body serves an important role in exercising local approval authority for private acts when the private act does not call for referendum approval. Private acts, which often give additional authority to counties, must be approved by a two-thirds vote of the members of the county legislative body or be approved by a referendum in order to become effective. The form of local approval required is specified in the private act.
The county legislative body annually elects a chairman and a chairman pro tempore. The county legislative body may elect the county executive or a member of the body to be the chairman, although the county executive may refuse to serve. If the county executive is chairman, he or she may vote only to break a tie vote. If a member is chairman, the member votes as a member, but cannot vote again to break a tie. If the county executive is not chairman, he or she may veto most resolutions of the county legislative body, but this veto may be overridden by a majority vote. The majority vote that is required for this and the passage of resolutions or other measures is a majority of the entire actual membership of the county legislative body, and not a majority of the quorum, nor a majority of the authorized membership.
Another important function of the county legislative body is its role in electing county officers when there is a vacancy in an elected county office. The person elected by the county legislative body serves in the office for the remainder of the term or until a successor is elected, depending upon when the vacancy occurred. When filling a vacancy in a county office, the county legislative body must publish a notice in a newspaper of general circulation in the county at least one week prior to the meeting in which the vote will be taken. This notice must state the time, place and date of the meeting and the office to be filled. Also, members of the county legislative body must have at least ten days notice. The legislative body holds an open election to fill the vacancy and allows all citizens the privilege of offering as candidates.
Meetings. The county legislative body may fix the times for its regular meetings, but must hold at least one regular meeting each calendar quarter. The trend is to hold more meetings as the responsibilities of county government have expanded over the past decades. Most county legislative bodies now hold regular monthly meetings. The county executive has the power to call a special meeting of the county legislative body. Also, a majority of the county commissioners may call a special meeting by making application to the chairman of the county legislative body. (Shelby and Davidson counties are excepted from the general law on this subject, and have somewhat different provisions under their county or metropolitan government charter provisions.) In general, the call for a special meeting must be made in a newspaper publication or by personal notices to the county commissioners sent by the county clerk. This notice must be at least five days before the time for convening the county legislative body. Special rules for a meeting to fill a vacancy are discussed above. The duties and procedures of the county legislative body may vary in counties with metropolitan forms of government.
Other Matters. It is important that members of the county legislative body be familiar with the applicable state and federal laws which may affect the county, its business and its employees. Also, the county legislative body members should have a basic understanding of potential liability, both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort
Liability Act. Every county official should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE COUNTY MAYOR
As chief executive officer of the county, the county executive exercises a role of leadership in county government. The primary duties focus on county financial management. The county executive is the general agent of the county and thus may draw warrants upon the general fund. The county executive has custody of county property not placed with other officers, and may also examine the accounts of county officers.
The county executive is a nonvoting ex officio member of the county legislative body and of all committees of the body, and may be elected chairman of the county legislative body (a post that the county executive is not required to seek or accept). If the county executive is chairman of the county legislative body, the county executive may break a tie by casting a deciding vote; otherwise, the executive cannot vote on measures before the county legislative body.
The county executive who is not chairman may veto legislative resolutions of the county legislative body, but such a veto may be overridden by a majority vote of the members of the county legislative body. The county executive may call special meetings of the county legislative body.
Unless an optional general law, charter or private act provides otherwise, the county executive compiles a budget for all county departments, offices, and agencies, which is presented to the county legislative body. The amount of discretion in making budget proposals varies from county to county, and in almost all counties, the school board’s budget proposal is submitted to the county legislative body without modification. If the county operates under the 1981 Financial Management System, the county executive is a member of the financial management committee. If the county operates under the 1957 County Budgeting Law, the county executive is a member of the county budget committee.
The county executive may employ a county attorney if a county attorney is not provided by private act or charter, and has approval power over the delinquent tax attorney selected by the county trustee. By virtue of private acts, the county executive is often granted authority in addition to that given by the general law. For example, in many counties, the county executive serves as county purchasing agent. The county executive also serves on various boards and committees with multi-county jurisdiction, such as the development district board.
Subject to the approval of the county legislative body, the county executive appoints department heads and members of county boards and commissions when the general law or private acts do not provide for the election or appointment. This authority is limited, however, as the general law or private act creating the department or board usually specifies the method by which the various department heads or board members are selected.
Other Matters. As office management is an important function of the office, county executives should have knowledge of personnel procedures as affected by both state and federal laws. The county executive should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. All county officials should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE COUNTY CLERK
The county clerk has many important functions within the county government. The county clerk serves as clerk of the county legislative body in most counties, keeps the records of the county legislative body and sends required notices. The minutes of the county legislative body meetings are required to be promptly and fully recorded by the county clerk and are open to public inspection.
The county clerk collects business taxes, handles motor vehicle registration and licensing and collects county wheel taxes. Also, the county clerk issues marriage licenses, collects the state and any county privilege tax on marriage, and may solemnize a marriage. Since notaries public are elected by the county legislative body, the county clerk keeps a record of the notaries public in the county and has duties involving coordination between the secretary of state and the notary applicant.
County clerks have other miscellaneous licensing duties, including pawnbroker licensing, hunting and fishing licensing and others. In some counties, county clerks serve as clerks of court, the most common of which are juvenile and probate court. The county clerk’s office receives fees for these services. Tennessee Code Annotated § 8-21-701 is the basic county clerk’s fee statute.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important aspect of the county clerk’s responsibilities, county clerks should be familiar with both state and federal laws relating to personnel matters. Also, the county clerk should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Every county official should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE CIRCUIT COURT CLERK
Court clerks serve an important role in the operation of the court system in Tennessee. Clerks must attend each session of court with all the papers in the cases on the docket and must administer the oaths to parties and witnesses who testify in a case. Clerks usually keep minutes of the court in a well-bound book, but may keep this information in electronic format so long as certain rules relating to the safe-keeping of the records are followed. Because court clerks deal with voluminous paperwork, the storage and retention of documents are important considerations. When a case is appealed from a court of record, the clerk compiles the record (papers) needed for the appeal, and it is extremely important that the records of the clerk’s office be well-organized and accurate.
Clerks maintain the rule docket and an execution docket in which all court judgments or decrees are entered in order of rendition by the court and in which all receipts and disbursements in a case are entered.
Clerks also maintain indexes for all books and dockets that are kept by the office. Clerks collect state and county litigation taxes, criminal injuries compensation tax, county expense fees, funds for the impaired driver’s trust fund, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation fees, misdemeanant jail per diems, fines, sheriff’s fees, clerk’s fees, witness fees and other items of court costs. Clerks prepare bills of costs in cases, account for these monies and make collection efforts when these amounts are unpaid. Clerks may elect to use certain “flat fees” in lieu of itemizing the fees according to the clerk’s fee statute, Tennessee Code Annotated § 8_21_401. Clerks maintain a cash journal (general ledger) to account for and summarize the cash transactions of the office and issue receipts for all collections.
Clerks invest idle funds pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated §18_5_106, and often serve in a fiduciary capacity to invest funds held for third parties. Additionally, many clerks conduct delinquent tax sales and other sales of property as ordered by the court.
Clerks may collect support, including alimony and child support, pursuant to court order and the Tennessee Code Annotated.
State Court Clerks’ Conference. It is the official duty of the clerk to attend meetings of the state court clerks’ conference unless the clerk is otherwise officially engaged or is unable to attend for good and sufficient reasons. Tennessee Code Annotated §18_1_501 et seq.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important aspect for a court clerk, the clerk should have knowledge of personnel procedures and both state and federal laws. The clerk should also have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Every county official should be familiar with the conflict of interests and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE PROPERTY ASSESSOR
The assessor determines the value of all property in the county, whether real, personal or mixed, including mineral rights, leaseholds and all other property except property of public utilities valued by the state. The assessor maintains the property tax maps of the county and keeps current indexes of taxpayers, including a description of the property on the tax books sufficient to identify it. The assessor also reports assessments to the local and state boards of equalization. Taxpayers who feel that the assessor has placed an unfair value on their property may appeal to the local board of equalization and then to the state board of equalization.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important aspect of the assessor’s responsibilities, this official should be familiar with both state and federal laws relating to personnel matters. Also, the assessor should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. All county officials should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE REGISTER OF DEEDS
The most important function of the register’s office is the filing or recording of documents which affect the legal status of real and personal property. With regard to real property, these documents include deeds, deeds of trust (mortgages), financing statements called fixture filings under the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), assignments, plats, court decrees, leases, liens, releases and many other instruments. With regard to personal property, the most important documents have been financing statements under the UCC and instruments relating to financing statements, such as amendments, continuation statements, assignments, releases and termination statements; however, most of these UCC documents are now filed with the secretary of state and not with the register. Powers of attorney are often recorded in the register’s office. Also, some official documents (county official bonds and certain official reports) are recorded or filed in the register’s office. The register notes in a notebook the time and receipt of each document in the order received and maintains indexes of the records of the office. The register must be familiar with the requirements for acceptance applicable to each document. The prerequisites for acceptance of a document vary with the type of document. It is important to remember that a register is not a notary and does not have a statutory power to take acknowledgments, as do county clerks.
The register has important revenue functions, both for the collection of fees for performing the duties of the office (most of which are found in Tennessee Code Annotated § 8_21_1001) and collection of two state privilege taxes _ the transfer tax and the mortgage tax. Currently, the state realty transfer tax is 37¢ per $100 of value or consideration and the mortgage tax is 11.5¢ per $100 or major fraction thereof over $2,000 of indebtedness. The register must be knowledgeable concerning the many special rules and exceptions which apply to the collection of the realty transfer and mortgages taxes. The register must be knowledgeable about the required statements on instruments evidencing transfers of real estate or certain interests in real estate and instruments of indebtedness.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important component of the register’s duties, registers should know about personnel procedures and both state and federal laws. Also, the register should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal liability and county liability, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. Every county official should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE SCHOOL BOARD
School board members in each county are required to be elected by the people from districts of substantially equal population. T.C.A. § 49-2-201. Board members must be elected to staggered four year terms, and may succeed themselves. Board members in special school districts may serve different terms of office established by private act but must be popularly elected on a staggered term basis.
Boards of education may have “no more members than the number of members authorized by general law or private act for boards of education in existence on January 1, 1992, or the number of members actually serving on a board on January 1, 1993.” The General Assembly, by private act, may establish the membership of particular school boards at any number not less than three nor more than eleven. T.C.A. § 49-2-201.
Members of the board of education must be residents and voters of the county in which they are elected, and, except in a few counties, must possess a high school degree or G.E.D. Members of the county legislative body and other county officials are not eligible for election to the board of education. T.C.A. § 49-2-202(a). Members of the board of education are not eligible for election as teacher or any other paid position under the board. T.C.A. § 49-2- 203(a)(1)(D). 41Members must attend initial and annual training sessions as prescribed by the State Board of Education. The compensation of the board of education is fixed by the county legislative body. T.C.A. § 49-2-202. Vacancies are filled by the county legislative body until the next election. T.C.A. § 49-2-202(e) and TENN. CONST., art. VII, § 2, as interpreted in Marion County Board of Commissioners v. Marion County Election Commission, 594 S.W.2d 681 (Tenn. 1980).
The county board of education must hold regular meetings at least quarterly, although the chair may call special meetings. T.C.A. § 49-2-202. The board is to elect a chair from among its members annually, who countersigns all warrants approved by the board and issued by the director of schools. T.C.A. § 49-2-205. The chair of the school board also serves as chair of the executive committee, composed of the chair and the director of schools, which functions as purchasing agent for the school board unless there is a separate purchasing board or purchasing agent otherwise established by law, and also monitors accounts to see that the budget is not exceeded. T.C.A. § 49-2-206. All business coming before the county school board must be passed by a majority of the membership of the school board, and not just a majority of the quorum. T.C.A. § 49-2-202.
There are certain duties listed in the statute which the board of education is required by law to perform. T.C.A. § 49-2-203.
Some of the more significant duties are summarized as follows:
In addition to the duties specifically required in T.C.A. § 49-2-203, the local board is given certain discretionary powers. These are things the board is empowered, but not required, to do. Briefly summarized, these discretionary powers are as follows:
To consolidate schools under their jurisdiction.
To require school children and employees to submit to a physical examination by a competent physician under certain circumstances.
To establish night or part-time schools.
To permit school buildings and property to be used for public, community or recreational purposes, subject to rules and regulations adopted by the board.
To employ legal counsel.
To make rules providing for school safety patrols.
To establish minimum attendance requirements or standards as a condition for passing a course or grade.
To provide written notice to probationary teachers of specific reasons for failure of reelection and provide a hearing to determine the validity of the reasons, upon request.
To offer and pay monetary incentives to encourage the retirement of any teacher or other employee who is eligible to retire.
To lease or sell unused buildings and property to any governmental entity, civic group or community organization, if such a transaction is in the best interest of the school system and the community; otherwise public school buildings and property may not be used for private benefit.
To establish and operate before and after school care programs in connection with any schools, before and after the regular school day and while school is not in session.
The board of education is empowered to exercise the right of eminent domain for public school purposes. T.C.A. § 49-2-2001. The board has the power to purchase land and to erect and equip buildings for public schools, and the board holds title to property so acquired. The board has the power to dispose of real property to which it has title in accordance with T.C.A. § 49-6-2006. Personal property which has become surplus is required to be sold by the board in accordance with T.C.A. § 49-6-2007. The board is permitted to transfer surplus real or personal property to the county or to any municipality within the county for public use, without the requirement of competitive bidding or sale. T.C.A. §§ 49-6-2006 and -2007. The board of education is not authorized to donate surplus real or personal property to charitable or non-profit organizations; the board may, however, sell or lease surplus property to such organizations. T.C.A. §§ 49-2-203(b)(10)(A), 49-6-2006, 49-6-2007; Op. Tenn. Att’y Gen. 96-046 (March 14, 1996). Public school buildings and property may not be used for private benefit. T.C.A. § 49-2-203(b)(10)(A).
The board of education is authorized to receive donations of money, property or securities from any source for the benefit of the public schools, which the board is to disburse in good faith in accordance with the conditions of those gifts. T.C.A. § 49-6-2006.
The authority of the county board of education is limited by the rules and regulations of the State Board of Education as enforced by the Commissioner of Education. It is the duty of the state board to prescribe rules and regulations for all public schools, kindergarten through the twelfth grade, to prescribe curricula, and to approve courses of study adopted by local boards of education. T.C.A. § 49-1-302. The state regulations extend to such matters as personnel evaluation, classroom size, pupil-teacher ratios, building suitability and other matters that directly impact the budget process.
DUTIES OF THE SHERIFF
The duties of the sheriff’s office are quite varied.
Except in Davidson County, the sheriff has the important duty to prevent crimes, investigate criminal conduct that has occurred, and arrest criminals. Sheriffs and their deputies must be thoroughly acquainted with the Tennessee criminal code. The sheriff should develop a good working relationship with the staff of the district attorney general’s office. Sheriffs also serve as jailers and many serve as superintendent of the county workhouse (in some counties, the jail is also the workhouse). County jails are responsible for the housing of misdemeanant prisoners. Many county jails also house state prisoners (persons convicted of felony offenses) due to lack of space in state prison facilities. The sheriffs in these counties perform important functions in obtaining state reimbursement for expenses associated with housing state prisoners.
Related to criminal casework are additional duties requiring the sheriff to dispose of contraband, abandoned motor vehicles, and unlawful weapons. Sheriffs also have many duties that are civil in nature. They include the duty to execute and return, according to law, the civil process and orders of the courts of record and general sessions courts. Sheriffs and their deputies serve subpoenas, execute writs of possession, levy writs of execution (which involve taking property to satisfy judgments), serve garnishments, and serve orders of protection. Each of these civil duties, as well as many others, have specific requirements, time requirements, and duties with which the sheriff and deputy sheriffs must be familiar. Additionally, the sheriff, or an officer designated by the sheriff, must attend all courts held in the county. This is generally when a deputy sheriff acts as court officer or bailiff.
Sheriffs and their deputies operate under strict legal standards and must strive to perform their duties correctly. For example, failure to respect the civil rights of citizens, including prisoners, can result in personal liability. The actions of sheriffs and deputies often serve as the basis of lawsuits initiated by persons displeased with what has happened to them. Sheriffs must be acquainted with the civil and criminal aspects of the federal civil rights laws, the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act and numerous other laws.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important component of a sheriff’s duties, sheriffs should know about personnel procedures and both state and federal laws such as the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Every county official should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.
DUTIES OF THE TRUSTEE
The trustee acts as the general banker for the county, serving three primary functions. First, the trustee sends out statements for property taxes, one of the county’s most important revenue sources, and then collects these taxes and issues receipts. Second, the trustee receives and disburses county funds, keeping accurate records for each transaction. It is recommended that all county funds received by the trustee’s office be deposited daily; however, state law requires all funds to be deposited within three days. Revenues are identified by use of a uniform chart of accounts authorized by the comptroller’s office and administered by the county audit division. Disbursements of county funds are made on official county warrants which are recorded in a warrant register book, or through a checking system if the county has elected to convert from a warrant system.
The trustee files monthly and annual financial reports. For performing these duties, the trustee receives commissions, which are generally outlined in Tennessee Code Annotated § 8_11_110. A third important function of the county trustee is managing the cash flow of the county and, in some cases, investing idle cash funds. The trustee should work with the county finance committee to ensure that investments are made according to state law and produce the maximum yield of earnings with the highest degree of safety.
Other Matters. Since office management is an important responsibility, trustees should have knowledge of personnel procedures as well as relevant state and federal laws. Also, the trustee should have a basic understanding of potential liability, including both personal and county, and of the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act. All county officials should be familiar with the conflict of interest and disclosure laws applicable to their offices.