Learn About How County Government Works in Tennessee

Jul 07, 2021 at 01:45 pm by robmtchl

Government should not be "something that happens to us" as opposed as what it should be, "something that happens for us." I want to help folks understand more about their local County government structure.

Please, post your questions to this article or send me a question. I don't believe the old adage "what you don't know can't hurt you." With government, it is often times exactly the opposite. What you don't know is what can hurt you.

Let's begin with the basics. Tennessee has more than 340 municipalities in 95 counties. (Technically speaking, there are 92 county governments in Tennessee and 3 counties with a consolidated form of government where the county and city governments have been combined.)  The other 92 county governments are essentially the same in structure except that two of those counties have adopted a charter form of government (Shelby and Knox).

Cities and towns can incorporate in a number of different ways, may expand their boundaries through annexation and may choose to expand or contract the services they provide over time.  Municipalities may perform some of the same functions as a county or may layer additional services, or higher levels of service, upon the basic service the county provides. 

Counties do not have the same flexibility and are much more static.  Since much of the structure of county government is established by the State Constitution, it takes much more time and effort to change. Municipal annexations happen regularly and until the adoption of a comprehensive growth policy that set limitations on the creation of new municipalities in 1998, new incorporations were not that rare either.  On the other hand, there have been no new counties established in Tennessee in more than a century.

Counties are a subdivision of State government and their rules of operation are established first by the constitution and secondarily by statutes (i.e., laws). Laws may not be in conflict with the Federal or Tennessee state constitution. If any law is challenged as being "unconstitutional" and is determined to be in conflict with the Tennessee Constitution, it is repealed by court order.

Sections: Murfreesboro