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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Local government jurisdictions: explained

Photo by Abbey Santoro

Locally-focused elections took place on Tuesday, Nov. 2 with polls opening at 7 a.m. and closing at 7 p.m. in the Brazos Valley. 

This year’s local elections will place decisions such as the future of the Northgate District, implementation of rental property inspections and future city construction projects in the hands of voters. Local elections have the most direct impact on the communities in which they take place, but young people such as students are much less likely to vote in them. 

According to the National Civic League, the median age of local election voters tends to be in the 60s, and voters over 65 are over seven times more likely to vote in local elections than voters aged 18-34. A focus group organized by the Knight Foundation suggested that a likely reason for the low turnout of young voters is confusion and lack of knowledge of local issues and the capacity of local officials to execute them.

The local government in the Bryan-College Station area is split into three independent tiers: county government, city council and school board, Dwight Roblyer, Ph.D., senior lecturer of political science at Texas A&M said.

“There’s multiple layers of local government that all overlap,” Roblyer said. “The highest level is county government.”

Roblyer said the county government consists of elected commissioners that, working together, have legislative, judicial and executive authorities. The county government collects taxes, oversees voting, hears judicial cases and more. Due to their large scope of authorities, county officials are considered partisan officials in Texas and will have a political party listed next  

to their name on the ballot. While their scope and priorities are more local, county officials often have ideals and goals similar to their counterparts in state and national offices.

Within the county government, a court of elected county commissioners, headed by the county judge, acts as the main policy making power. In practice, the county judge acts as the executive authority in a county.

“In Texas, each county is run by what’s called the commissioners court, which is a group of elected officials and so here in Brazos County, we have four county precincts,” Roblyer said. “There’s an elected county commissioner for each one of those four precincts, and then also the commissioners court in Texas is headed by the county judge, who is elected to the bench that they sit in … While there is no president or mayor of our county, the county judge on that commissioners court is the one who performs the executive functions.”

The clerk, treasurer and justice of the peace have specialized powers, such as aintaining records, setting budgets and hearing small civil disputes, respectively. These specialized positions do not report to the commissioners court or the county judge, but they work independently within their own jurisdiction. 

“There’s other elected officials at the county, like district clerk, the county clerk, the county tax assessor and the sheriff,” Roblyer said. “Most of them do not report to the county commissioners court. They report directly to the voters because the voters are the ones that elected them, so they need to find some way to work [with the commissioners court] or the county’s gonna have trouble.”

The city government, Roblyer said, oversees the operations of the city. The municipal government is responsible for utilities such as water and sewage as well as maintaining and constructing buildings, roads, lights, parks and other facilities within the city. 

Bryan-College Station has a form of city government known as the council-manager system. In this system, the elected council members are responsible for passing city ordinances and establishing policy. 

However, the council members hire a city manager to execute the established policies and oversee all administrative operations. While the mayor is the symbolic head of local government, they function as a member of the council with no additional powers. 

While separated from the rest of the city government, the school district follows a similar structure, with elected board members setting policy and the hired superintendent holding administrative power.

“The mayor basically functions as a member of the council,” Roblyer said. “They have some executive functions that they do, but they do not have a veto. They do not have the ability to be able to control the budget or anything else, any more than just a single member of the city council could. The person who usually runs cities such as Bryan or College Station, because we have what’s called a council manager form of government, is the city manager. The council makes all the policy decisions, but the day to day administration of the city is done by somebody they hired, the city manager. In the same way, a school board will hire a superintendent to deal with all of the daily things as well.”

In comparison to county government, city government has the more specialized task of meeting the daily needs of citizens, and in Texas they must run as non-partisan candidates. On the ballot, party identifiers will not appear next to their names, and voters must make judgements based on their stance on important community issues. 

In a local candidate form held by A&M’s student government association on Oct. 12, hot topics among local candidates included how to increase safety in Northgate and whether a rental inspection program should be implemented, among others.

A sample ballot for the Nov. 8 election can be found here.

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