By Travis McConnell
As a candidate for commissioner, you may be wondering something that I once did and many have asked me – “what the heck does a commissioner do anyway?”
We have a Board of three commissioners and a County Council of seven people. Generally, commissioners are in charge of the exercise of regulatory or administrative power. Council controls the money. This is one of the many checks and balances in our government that carry down even to our local level. County commissioners are sometimes called an executive body (think President or Governor) or sometimes a legislative body (think Congress or State Legislature). In reality, they are a combination of both.
Commissioners have specific authority in the following broad areas, with the examples in parentheses:
- Control of county property including courthouses, jails, and other public offices (Commissioners decided how to respond to Covid-19 with respect to installing shields but not requiring masks or temperature checks at the courthouse and justice building, funding for the shields could come from security and health funds approved by Council).
- Supervising construction and maintenance of roads and to provide for traffic control (Commissioners decide what type of control devices to place at intersections, such as crosswalks, four-way stops, lights, or roundabouts, funding for road work would need Council allocation).
- Assisting with economic development programs to attract and retain jobs in the county (Commissioners can create and advocate for additional development programs and create incentive areas in our county; funding would need Council allocation).
- To grant personnel benefits to county employees (Commissioners could increase vacations, paid holidays, sick leave or other benefits. Council would need to vote to allocate funds).
- To administer elections in conjunction with the county election board (Commissioners are responsible to redraw district lines in apportioning for county offices and precinct lines and could create anti-gerrymandering regulations).
- Housing standards (Commissioners could create increased housing standards that do not conflict with the State and Federal standards, such as making air conditioning during summer a basic requirement like heat is during the winter).
- Auditing and authorizing payments; receiving bids and authorizing contracts for the county (Commissioners could ensure that contracts are competitively bid prior to being awarded and could also choose to limit or not limit contracts to local businesses).
- Exercising appointive powers for boards and certain department heads (Commissioners could ensure that positions are filled based on merit and in a representative capacity).
- Implementing solid waste handling strategies (Commissioners could attempt to increase the use of recycling such as free TV turn in days or other methods to handle waste for our county, Council may need to allocate additional funding for such programs).
Additionally, the Board of Commissioners is the custodian of the county’s Home Rule powers found in Indiana Code 36-1-3-5. This is the local government equivalent to the Tenth Amendment, reservation of powers provision, which grants them the power to lead in any area that is not in direct conflict with the State or Federal government.
As can be seen above, county government impacts economic development, public safety, health, planning and zoning, the transportation system, judicial system, administration of the property tax system, and much more.
Most county officials, including commissioners, are elected for a four-year term of office. The three commissioners are split into districts but the whole county elects all three of them. So in case you are thinking since you aren’t in the Middle District you can’t vote for Travis, you can. We want to make sure you know that. All county residents get to vote for all three of the Commissioners, not just the one where they live. The north and middle district are on the ballot this year. The southern is in two years to stagger them. The sole purpose of the district is to provide diversity on the board, ensuring that all three commissioners do not live in the same area of the county.
Hopefully, this helps to explain a bit about what a commissioner is and does. If you have more questions, please let us know in the comments or via message.
Travis McConnell is a local attorney and is running for county commissioner in Kosciusko County.