County officials are your neighbors – they pay the same taxes you pay and drive the same roads you drive. It’s a good system that leaves your neighbors in charge of the decisions that determine how much you pay in taxes to support the your roads, your court system, your local criminal law enforcement and your public records, including the records establishing ownership of property and the records that tell your family’s story, documenting its births, its marriages and its deaths.
A fundamental fact of life for county officials is that they live in a fishbowl. All of the records and meetings of governmental bodies are available for public inspection and, if residents do not go to the meetings, they can find the county official in the grocery store, or at church or at the café. People talk a lot about transparency; county officials live it. County government not only is government by the people and for the people, it is government among the people.
Nothing we say in these brief summaries can convey how difficult and complex the work of a county official is, or how encumbered it is by a web of laws, regulations and limitations. Still we hope the information we provide gives you a better understanding of how your county government operates.
In Texas, county government delivers services through a variety of elected officials rather than through one central authority. In order to prevent any one office from having too much authority, the Texas Constitution carefully crafted a system in which none of the county’s elected officials is controlled by any other elected official; they answer only to the voters. The elective offices found in a typical county include the county judge, four county commissioners, the county attorney, the county clerk, the district clerk, the county treasurer, the sheriff, the tax assessor-collector, the justices of the peace and the constables. As a part of the checks and balances system, most counties have a county auditor appointed by the district courts.