Veteran Commissioner Defines Unique, Complex Office
While it is impossible to encapsulate the role of a county commissioner in one hour, Bell County Commissioner Tim Brown gave hundreds of officials pause for thought during an overview of the office during the V.G. Young Institute School for County Commissioners Courts conducted Feb. 7-9 in College Station.
Some 440 county judges and commissioners convened for the annual meeting, sponsored by the V.G. Young Institute of County Government, a part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service, The Texas A&M University System, in cooperation with the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas (CJCAT) and the Texas Association of Counties. A highlight of the program was the presentation of the 2012 Extension Partnership Award to Jim Allison, general counsel for the CJCAT (see related article).
The school offered up to 17 hours of continuing education, including Brown’s presentation on the county commissioner, a module of the Commissioners Court Advanced Curriculum (CCAC) program. CCAC modules provide for a 64-hour, in-depth study of county government specifically for members of the commissioners court.
In his opening comments, Brown, an 18-year veteran on the court, made several observations that portray the unique and complicated nature of Texas county government and the office of the county commissioner:
- Commissioners courts do not live in a democracy. Rather, county government is actually an agency of the state, and everything commissioners courts do is rooted in state law.
- A college professor could attempt to teach a college class on the applicable body of law and not completely cover it. In addition, these laws pertaining to the commissioners court’s authority can be redundant and confusing.
- The commissioners court is the governing body of a county, similar to the chief executive officer of a corporation, addressing fiscal policy, compliance and enforcement, a “complicated group of responsibilities.”
- Each constitutional office is “its own kingdom.” Although these offices cannot spend money unless approved by the commissioners court, county commissioners “cannot go in and micromanage” these other offices.
As part of his training course, Brown provided attendees with a compilation of statutes summarizing the general responsibilities and statutory authorizations for each function of the court. The document cited hundreds of statutes authorized by the following:
- Agriculture Code
- Civil Practice and Remedies Code
- Code of Criminal Procedure
- Education Code
- Election Code
- Government Code
- Health and Safety Code
- Human Resources Code
- Labor Code
- Local Government Code
- Natural Resources Code
- Occupations Code
- Parks and Wildlife Code
- Property Code
- Tax Code
- Texas Constitution
- Texas Family Code
- Transportation Code
- Utilities Code
- Vernon’s Revised Civil Statutes
- Water Code
This lengthy list of statutory authorities may lead officials to believe that they have a great deal of authority, Brown suggested. Rather, this list points to the broad range of responsibilities tasked to the county commissioners court – a body of officials that can only sanction actions that are specifically authorized by the State of Texas.
“Remember, you have limited authority,” Brown emphasized, “and it is defined by law.”
To view additional presentations made during the school, go to