Local government is made up of dozens of officials who are either elected or appointed. Those that directly represent you in the national government, such as your congress person, are always elected. However, there are many other positions, like animal control and parks and recreation, that may be appointed based on merit and other factors rather than elected directly by the people. Understanding who local officials are accountable to can help you get involved in your government, and make your voice heard.
Local Officials as Government Employees
A local official is almost always considered a government employee, unless he or she accepts fees that are paid by a citizen rather than the government. The classification of the majority of local officials as government employees means that both elected and appointed officials must follow the same rules when it comes to taxes, finances, and other important matters. Government employees are also held accountable by the people, regardless of whether or not they are elected.
State Law and Local Officials
State law determines whether a local government employee's position is elected or appointed. Because of this, there is no formula for which position is elected and which position is appointed. Although the state does initially outline who is elected and who is appointed, local and municipal governments may change this if they bring the question to the voters. According to The General Laws of Massachusetts for instance, officials must pose the following question on a ballot to change an elected official to an appointed official: "Shall the town vote to have its elected (Title of office or board) become an appointed (Title of office or board) of the town? Yes No "
Elected Local Officials
According to The Washington File, the U.S. had over 176,000 elected positions ranging from President to dog catcher in its government. Some common local official positions that are elected include School Committee and Board, Board of Health, Planning Board, Finance Commission, and Housing Authority.
Appointed Local Officials
Many local government positions are appointed rather than elected by the people. Some common local official positions that are appointed include Police, Animal Control, Chief of Staff, Child Services Administrator, Legislative Coordinator, Human Resources, Public Works, and Recreation and Parks.
Since both elected and appointed local officials are considered government employees, they have the same rights and responsibilities. Some may argue that appointing officials is less democratic than electing them, but appointed positions have many benefits.
Taxpayer money is saved when appointing officials, because there is no need to run a campaign and election each time a new position needs to be filled. It is also less time-consuming and more efficient to appoint officials. Elected local officials often hold more important positions such as finance and school board administration, while appointed officials hold more mundane positions such as animal control.
- Man in suit with thumb up and paper in hand image by NatUlrich from Fotolia.com