Learn About County Government: Your County Constitutional Officers

Jul 08, 2021 at 09:00 am by robmtchl

What is a "Constitutional Official" vs. a "Department Head"?

Several amendments to the Tennessee Constitution were approved in 1978; among them was an amendment restructuring the basic framework of county government. Article VII, Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution now provides counties with the following constitutional officers:

• County Executive (Mayor),

• Sheriff,
• Trustee,
• Register of Deeds,
• County Clerk and
• Assessor of Property.

This Section also requires the election of a legislative body of not more than 25 members, with no more than three members to be elected from a single district. The General Assembly sets the qualifications and duties of these offices.

Before the 1978 constitutional changes, county government had been difficult to divide into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. With the creation of the office of county executive and of the county legislative body, along with several judicial interpretations of the powers and duties of each, county government is now more clearly divided into three branches, even though the county executive must share executive powers with other constitutional officers. What is often misunderstood is that other office heads have the same executive authority within their offices as the county mayor. The legislature is afforded wide latitude in determining the duties that may be assigned to the various constitutional officers.

Office versus Department 

A department head is just as the name implies, the administrative head of a county department. A department is a subset of an office. Any department head in county government is subservient to the elected office holder. Duties are assigned to the constitutional office through the General Assembly. The further division of the duties and authorities of the office are then divided into departments beneath those elected officials.

Sometimes there is a duplication of services between offices and departments. Many times this may happen when an elected official fails to perform their duties and the county legislative body assigns those duties to another office. This may or may not stand up to a constitutional challenge. Efficient government requires a review of all county level functions to insure there is no confusion over the authority to perform certain functions. In rapidly growing communities such as Rutherford County, having two offices performing the same tasks in both inefficient and unproductive. It causes confusion with both the public and employees.

Sections: Murfreesboro