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What Is Local Government? - Definition, Responsibilities & Challenges

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  • 0:02 Local Government
  • 1:51 Counties
  • 3:30 Municipalities
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Each of the 50 states has a state government. Within those states, each county and municipality also has a government. This lesson explains the organization of local governments and explores the powers and responsibilities of local governments.

Local Government

Have you ever received a speeding ticket? If so, then you've dealt with your local government. The police officer was likely a city employee, and you probably appeared in or made a payment to the city court.

Local government is the public administration of towns, cities, counties and districts. Notice that this type of government includes both county and municipal government structures. It can be challenging, but these entities must work together to administrate a particular geographic area. For example, I grew up in a small town called Pryor. It's located in Mayes County, Oklahoma. My local government therefore included both the administration of Pryor and the organization of Mayes County.

As citizens, we have much more contact with our local governments than we do with the federal government. This is because local government runs our city utilities, libraries, fire departments, public swimming pools, parks, local law enforcement and many other areas of our everyday lives.

The organization of local governments varies depending on the state. However, all local governments derive their authority from the state in which they are located. The city of Pryor and Mayes County get their governmental authority from Oklahoma's state constitution.

As with state governments, the citizens of an area elect most of their local government officials. This includes mayors, county commissioners, city councils, sheriffs and many other local government positions at both the county and city levels.

Counties

Let's first take a look at county government. County government is the public administration of a county, borough or parish. Usually, county governments are the largest political subdivision within a state. A county government's main function is to locally administer state laws. Note that counties do not have their own laws, though they do collect their own taxes. This means that counties have important powers and responsibilities in the administration of a particular geographic area, without being able to make the rules that will pertain to that area.

Elected officials head county governments. The highest-ranking county official is typically known as the county commissioner or county supervisor. Other common county officials include:

  • County judges
  • County or district attorneys
  • County clerks
  • County treasurers
  • Sheriffs
  • Tax assessor-collectors
  • Justices of the peace
  • Constables
  • County auditor

Each county has a county seat, which is a town that serves as the capital of that county. The county offices and county courts are usually located in the county seat. My town, Pryor, serves as the county seat of Mayes County. Our county offices can be found in our county courthouse, which is located in our small downtown.

Municipalities

Now let's take a look at municipal government. Municipal government is the public administration of a township, village, borough, city or town. These government structures can be large or small because municipalities vary greatly in size. For example, remember that I grew up in Pryor, Oklahoma. My town had fewer than 10,000 citizens. However, now I live in Dallas, Texas. Dallas has over 1.2 million citizens, not including the suburbs.

Larger cities can have a complicated government structure involving thousands of personnel. Sometimes these governments face challenges with government oversight, meaning not all areas of the government are properly supervised and problems sometimes go unaddressed. For example, citizens of Dallas can expect to wait months for a city inspector to investigate a complaint about an abandoned property.

Municipal governments run such services as:

  • Parks and recreation
  • Police
  • Fire
  • Housing services
  • Emergency medical services
  • Municipal courts
  • Public transportation services
  • Public works

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