The role of county administrator: Part one

The “Guide to Michigan County Government”, a Michigan State University publication, is a great source of detailed information about the structure, function and services provided by counties in Michigan.

The county administrator functions a bit like a CEO of a corporation or a city manager, with some very important differences. While the administrator oversees and manages many aspects of the county government operations, they also work cooperatively with elected county officials, such as the clerk, treasurer, register of deeds, prosecutor and sheriff. These elected officials lead offices that are created by the Michigan Constitution. Both the Constitution and state statutes give these elected officials responsibility for the operations of their departments. A series of articles I wrote in 2015 provides more detail on these important positions.

A recent article I wrote talks about the duties of county administrators and coordinators. Many of these duties are also assigned to those hired as county controllers. Ken VerBurg, MSU Professor Emeritus, specifically describes in more detail the role of a county administrator or coordinator in the 2007 edition of his book, “Guide to Michigan County Government”. The book is a Michigan State University publication and is being updated by current MSU faculty.

“An increasingly popular arrangement for achieving coordination of staff functions is the establishment of a county administrator or coordinator position. A general statute authorizes county commissions to employ ‘such other employees for its county as may be deemed necessary,’ but the statute limits county commissioner authority when it comes to employing a person to fill a ‘county manager or other appointed chief administrative officer or county controller’ position. The earlier version of the state law limited the appointment of such officers to the term of office of the commissioners. While the law was changed, it continues to carry the tone of the earlier limitation. The current law states, “the term of the employment contract shall be 3 years or less, unless the employment contract is entered into, on or after August 1 of an even-numbered year, in which case the term of employment shall be 1 year or less.

An exception to this statutory provision relates to the position of an appointed administrator under the charter county act. That law specifies that the appointed chief administrative officer shall be selected for a four year term of office by a majority of the county board of commissioners elected and serving, the chief administrative officer may only be removed from office for cause by a 2/3 vote of the county board of commissioners elected and serving.”

Learn more about the role of the county administrator in The role of county administrator: Part two.

Watch for future Michigan State University Extension articles with more information about county government. Professor VerBurg’s book “Guide to Michigan County Government, Fourth Edition” is available in electronic form online on a CD or a USB drive with nearly 500 pages of detailed information about county government and extensive footnotes to constitutional and statutory information. The update process is underway to be sure the information and statutory notations are current, with rollout of the fifth edition expected early this winter.

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