A county is a public corporation, as distinguished from a private corporation, since it performs governmental functions. While counties are not classified as full municipal corporations, they have been granted corporate status to enable them to carry out their governmental duties more effectively. There are differences between counties and cities, or municipal corporations, that the courts take into consideration in determining the legal status of each of these two types of political subdivisions. A municipal corporation is an entity created originally by the voluntary action of the citizens of a local community. As such it has broad powers designed to enable the community better to serve its local needs. A county, on the other hand, is a political subdivision of the state created by statute to aid in the administration of state functions. Because counties possess only limited delegated powers, and function primarily as agents of the state, the Judicial Branch has defined their status not as municipal corporations, but as quasi-corporations.
Alabama county governments operate under a legal doctrine known as “Dillon’s Rule”. Dating from 1872, this legal doctrine was formulated by an Iowa judge, John F. Dillon. The essence of “Dillon’s Rule” is that counties, because they are created by and exist at the pleasure of their respective state governments, can exercise only those powers which are explicitly granted to them by their parent state(THE CODE OF ALABAMA, 1975). Any powers not expressly granted to the counties by their parent states reside with the state. Several states have reversed “Dillon’s Rule” and granted home rule to their counties, but the action had to be taken by the states, Alabama has not.
Because of “Dillon’s Rule”, Alabama counties operate within a maze of state constitutional and statutory provisions. The structure, terminology and procedures of county financial management must be developed within the state’s legal framework and must demonstrate compliance with the legal provisions.
In addition to these “general” laws, a variety of “local” laws have been adopted by the Alabama legislature which apply only to individual counties or groups of counties.
Counties provide services to people. To do this, counties must raise and disperse funds. That is, counties levy taxes and fees, and receive federal and state dollars, which are then used to pay for goods and services, such as equipment and personnel, which in turn are the means by which public services are provided. County finances are managed within a complex framework of legal and contractual requirements and professional accounting and financial management standards.
Many people have misconceptions about county government, they don’t fully understand what it does, they are not informed about what functions it performs or what services it provides.
One of the first misconceptions on the part of citizens about county government is that they believe it serves only those people who reside outside municipal limits.
Another misconception held by citizens, is that all the county commission exists for is to build and maintain county roads and bridges. Many times when people run for county commissioner they think they are running for “road commissioner”. The truth is, that in addition to their duties and responsibilities in their respective districts, they are the policy makers and financial planners for the county.
What do counties do? What do your tax dollars pay for?
Road and bridges, courts, jails, law enforcement and public safety, tax assessment and collection (for counties, cities and state), elections, probate functions, maintain county buildings and property, criminal prosecution (DA’s), libraries, soil conservation, forestry services, civil defense, coroners, probation services, health department, mental health, solid waste, juvenile detention, welfare, schools, rural fire protection, water, ambulance services, indigent services, industrial development, airports and T.V. cable regulations. This list is in no way all inclusive.
This list will help you realize that county government provides important services to all county citizens, no matter where they live.
What are the qualifications for Commissioner?
1. Virtually no qualifications
2. Except that he or she must be
A. an elector-in the district-18 years of age
B. must reside in the district
What qualities should a commissioner have?
A county commissioner has to wear many hats while in the performance of his duties. The criteria for selection of a commissioner would be: good character, knowledge, good general attitude, leadership abilities, business experience, education is helpful although not an absolute prerequisite, even tempered, someone who can compromise and give and take and someone you can trust.
There are varying laws in the composition of the county governing bodies in Alabama. Lamar County is comprised of four commissioners, who serve four year terms and the Probate Judge sitting as ex officio chairman, who serves a term of six years. The probate judge is elected from the county at large, commissioners are elected by districts. Three members constitute a quorum, the minimum number of members who must be present at the meetings of a deliberative assembly for business to be legally transacted. The requirement of a quorum is a protection against totally unrepresentative action in the name of the body by an unduly small number of persons.
The Lamar County Commission meets on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 9:00 AM. The meetings are open to the public.