Local and County
Governments and Special
“You’re not remembered on how
much power you had – you’re
remembered on how you used it.”
• Former U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas O’Neill once
declared, “All politics is local.”
• Lives of most citizens are affected by the local government
because it is the foundation of the state, national and global
• Local government is defined as any level of government
below the state level.
• The local government specifically has three levels:
municipal(or city), county and special district.
• Local government is where many of the state’s top public
figures launched their political careers.
• For example, Henry Cisneros was formally San Antonio’s
city councilman and mayor, then later chosen by President
Clinton to serve as the secretary of housing and urban
• Local governments also perform a wide range of services,
from building roads and keeping them clean and safe to
collecting garbage and providing health care for the
• This type of government applies to cities, towns and
villages that are recognized by the legislature.
• A municipality can only be classified in one of two ways,
general law or home rule.
• Both types of government are of great importance of
Texans because although a majority of the cities operate
under general law, a majority of Texans reside in cities with
home rule also.
Types of Municipalities
• General Law: A highly restrictive, and the most fundamental
type of, legal status for municipal government. Cities under
this law have limited freedom and tend to have lower
taxes, smaller populations, and fewer employees. These
cities are governed more by state regulation than by the local
• Home Rule: A legal status that gives municipalities more
freedom in establishing tax rates and providing services. For
the most part, home rule has the opposite characteristics
than general rule. These people don’t mind paying higher tax
rates in return for services such as water and
sewage, parks, libraries, and other recreational facilities.
Forms of Municipal
• The three forms are mayor-council, council-manager and
• Home rule city can create and modify its form of
government based on the desires or needs of the
• General law cities may make some modifications to suit the
needs of the citizens, but to a much lesser extent.
• A simple form of government in which most of the day-to-day
operations are carried out either by the mayor or by city council.
• Two main variations to the mayor-council form of government can
be found in Texas, a weak mayor and a strong mayor.
In a weak mayor system, the mayor has limited policy
changes and no veto powers.
In a strong mayor system, the mayor is often empowered to
veto policies and ordinances passed by the council and to
hire and fire city personnel if needed be.
• This form of government is used by most medium- and
larger-sized cities in Texas.
• Voter who reside in the city elect a city council and a
mayor, which in turn hire a city manager to carry out the
council’s policies on a day-to-day basis.
• The city manager is allowed to make policy decisions
based on need and in the best interest of the community as
• It provides for the direct supervision and executive powers
over a specific department by an elected commissioner.
• Rather than using a council to oversee the operation of the
city as a whole, the commission form of government
requires officeholders to oversee the day-to-day operations
of their respective departments.
• These elections are nonpartisan, meaning that the political
party affiliation of the candidates is not identified during the
campaign or on the ballot.
• In the larger cities, candidates attempt to form coalitions,
meaning that they try to get the support of members
associated with various civic and professional groups such as
a parent-teacher associations, neighborhood associations, and
chambers of commerce.
• Candidates do so because the wish to fulfill a sense of civic
duty, and so others don’t think it is the money that attracts
city council candidates.
Types of Municipal Elections
• At-Large System: A method of electing representatives where
there are no districts or wards drawn, and the candidate may
draw votes from the entire area to be governed. The most
common type of local election because it works best for small
• Place System: A system of electing local government leaders
whereby the candidates must campaign for a particular seat on
the city council. Is most often used in the medium-sized cities
• Single-Member Districts: A specific geographic area with a
population equal to that of other districts that elects one
person to represent that area. This allows state’s larger cities to
be more diverse, which is what they prefer.
The Effects of Group
• Ethnic groups, neighborhood associations, and municipal
employee associations play a major role in formulating local
Ethnic Groups: find that local government is more
accessible to face the struggles of discrimination
Neighborhood Associations: these groups have
discovered that the key to change is political
Municipal Employee Groups: they realize incredible
gains from political participation at the local level.
• The majority of Texas municipalities rely heavily upon
property taxes to fund the services they provide.
• Bonds: two bonds are sold by Texas municipalities.
General Obligation: sold when the city needs to raise
money to build or improve city-owned facilities.
Revenue: sold for the construction or improvement of a
city-owned property that is expected to generate
Municipal Finance Cont.
• Eminent Domain: The Texas constitution allows
municipalities the right to reclaim private property in the
name of the government if the property is needed for the
greater public good.
• Budgeting: This process for municipal governments
requires extensive research and planning, as cities strive to
maintain the lowest tax rates possible while maintaining
the highest level of service.
The Texas Constitution calls counties
“administrative arms of state government.”
Everything the counties do is on behalf of the
Structure of County
• The system allows the community to determine how best
to deliver state resource the area.
• Even though counties act as branches for offices of the
state government, they are still considered local
• Commissioners Court: Each county, regardless of size and
demographic composition, is governed by a five-member
county commissioners court composed of four
commissioners and presided over by a county judge.
Other Elected Officials
• District Or County Attorney: The county’s legal officer and
adviser, which provides legal services for county agencies
and officials acting in a public service capacity and it
provides representation when a lawsuit is brought against
• Sheriff: Their primary responsibilities are to provide law
enforcement services to areas of the county that are not
served by a police department and to oversee the county
• District Clerk: The official custodian of county records,
including all fillings and proceedings for the District and
Other Elected Officials
• County Clerk: The office is responsible for maintaining the
county’s legal records and final statistics, such as birth and
• Tax Assessor-Collector: They have a important
responsibility of identify taxable property and collecting
taxes that are due to the state and county.
• Treasurer: They are responsible for tracking all collections
and expenditures and has considerable input in
formulating the county’ budget.
• Compared to municipalities and special districts, counties
are subject to stringent restrictions when it comes to
• Counties may, under certain circumstances, issue bonds
just like municipalities.
• All Texas counties operate on yearly budget cycle, which is
usually prepared by the county auditor or budget officer
with input from all department heads and interested
Criticism of County Government
and Proposed Reform
• Texans have been critical of the constitutional limitations
imposed on counties ever since counties were created. The
counties have been suggesting ways of making county
government more responsible to local needs, but the
obstacle that’s blocking that path is the Texas constitution.
• The Long Ballot: One of the reasons voters are apathetic
about county government is that they required to elect as
many as six individuals to perform executive and
administrative functions, yet no single person can be held
accountable for the efficiency of the overall operation.
Criticism of County Government
and Proposed Reform Cont.
• Inability To Establish Home Rule: Unlike the cities and
special districts, counties are constitutionally prohibited
from tailoring their system to the needs and desires of local
• Inability To Pass Ordinances: The Commissioners Court is
not empowered to create countywide ordinances to serve
the safety, convenience, and moral expectations of the
• Spoils System: This system awards government jobs and
contracts to individuals and firms who have helped in the
elected person’s political campaign.
The third classification under the title of “local government”
is special district. A special district is a government entity
established to deliver a specific service to a limited
Types of Special Districts
• Education Districts: The most common form of special district
in Texas is the independent school district (ISD). Independent
school districts are local-level limited purpose government that
determines public school policy.
• The school broad hires a professional manager sometimes
called a superintendent, to oversee the day-to-day
operations of the school system.
• Noneducation Districts: Hundreds of special districts have been
established for delivering services from water and
utilities, public housing, and hospitals, to public transportation
and flood control.
Councils of Governments
Councils Of Government - A regional voluntary cooperative
with no regulatory or enforcement powers; consists of local
governments and assesses the needs of the area as a whole.
Although the needs of the local governments vary depending
on variety of factors, the basics of providing governmental
services are the same for virtually all local governments.
Cities and towns are generally free to adopt and modify the
structure of their own local governments as needs require.
Texas has myriad local governments that provide citizens
countless opportunities to participate in and affect public
policy. Local government was meant to be controlled by the
local populace and it also continues to be a springboard for
future states and national leadership careers.
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