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The Structure, Roles, and Responsibilities of your Local Government.

Updated: Jun 5

Welcome to "Understanding Local Government" - A Civic Educational Series by A4A

Your local government is responsible for many parts of your everyday life, from the cleanliness of your drinking water to the quality of emergency services you fund to protect and serve, your local government does very important work. 

Local Government is typically made up of two separate entities: the City government and the County government. These two entities are led by officials you elect to carry out day-to-day operations and strive for improvements in your quality of life.  


This article aims to provide you with a simple explanation of the structure, roles, and responsibilities of your local government and how you can make sure your community’s challenges are responded to.

City Government vs County Government 


City governments typically manage departments that carry out day-to-day services within the city's limits. Services such as: the upkeep of roads and sidewalks, trash pick-up, police, fire, and in some cases, local utilities, are all handled by the City government. The City government is responsible for making decisions in the best interest of citizens that live within its limits.

Your City's decision-makers include the Mayor and more importantly the City Council, who is directly responsible for representing you and your specific section of the city. Your city leaders meet publicly at least once a month. These City-Council meetings give community members the opportunity to share their challenges and learn more about the City’s current work. To learn more about who your City Council member is or when they publicly meet, call your City Hall and kindly ask to speak to the City Clerk, who should be able to provide you with specific information. 


County governments typically manage departments that oversee broader-scale services that impact both: those within city limits and those in more rural areas outside of a city. Services such as: the upkeep of major roadways and bridges, the sheriff’s department, public schools, economic development, and in some cases, utilities like drinking water and sanitation are all handled by the County government. 


Your County’s decision-makers include the elected leader of the County often referred to as: a “County Judge” (AR), a "County Commissioner" (IN) or a “County Mayor” (TN) and more importantly your County Council, who is responsible for representing you and the specific section of the County you live in. This also includes the residents of cities that fall within the designated section of the county.

These County councils are sometimes referred to as: a “Quorum Court” (AR) , a "County Council" (IN), or a “County Commission” (TN).  The county council members responsible for representing you are often referred to as: "Justices of The Peace" (AR), "County Council Members" (IN), or "County Commissioners" (TN).


Your County decision-makers meet publicly at least once a month. These County-Council meetings give community members the opportunity to share the challenges they face as residents and learn more about the County's current work. To learn more about who your County Council member is or when they publicly meet, call your local County Courthouse and kindly ask to reach your County Clerk who should be able to provide you with specific information. 


Who’s Responsible for What 


Your City government is responsible for the public services and activities that go on within the city limits such as: City police departments, public works like sanitation and street maintenance, community development, zoning offices, and local parks. If you have questions or concerns regarding any of these services within local city limits, call your City Hall. 


Your County government is responsible for the services and activities that go on outside of City limits and those that go on in multiple cities within a single county such as: the Tax Assessor's Office, the Sheriff's Department, Public Schools, the County Health Department, economic development and projects like major roadways and bridges that extend beyond the limits of any single city. If you have questions or concerns regarding any of these services outside of city limits or in multiple cities within your county, call the County Courthouse. 


It’s very important to know that both City and County governments and all they do should be for the benefit of you and your community members, you all fund these services, activities, and their salaries with your tax dollars. 


What’s Next 


Stay tuned for our next post where we will explain local tax systems! Discover a simplified breakdown of the different types of taxes you currently pay and what they are commonly used for. We invite you to share these posts with your network, spark a conversation, and suggest topics you're interested in learning more about! 


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