Know your county government

The Courier is pleased to share information about various Genesee County governmental departments and agencies, as explained by 2nd District County Commissioner Charles H. Winfrey. The Courier does not endorse any political candidates. This series of articles is for informational purposes only.

by Charles H. Winfrey,
2nd District Genesee County Commissioner

Since taking the oath of office in January 2020, I bet I’ve been asked 100 times or more, “what does
county government do?” The short answer to that question is, “a lot,” but to give a thoughtful answer
would require an inordinate amount of time. So, I thought I would begin this column to begin answering
that question.

(Incidentally, Genesee County was established in 1835. The county was named after Genesee County, New York, which in turn comes from the Seneca Nation word Gen-nis’-hee-yo, meaning “Beautiful Valley.”)

The Genesee County Board of Commissioners is an overarching governmental body that serves as both the legislative and executive (along with its co-elected officials) branch of local county government. County Boards were created by Act 156 of the Michigan State Legislature in 1851. The Act was created “to define the powers and duties of the county boards of commissioners of the several counties, and to confer upon them certain local, administrative and legislative powers.”

Each County board has certain responsibilities as they relate to its budgets and ordinance-making powers. However, the board is responsible for setting policy (passing resolutions, its main device for stating its policies), as well as providing legislative oversight and constituent services.

The County Board hires staff to carry out the administrative and day-to-day operations of the county along with its co-elected officials, the county prosecutor, county sheriff, county clerk, county register of deeds, county surveyor, county treasurer and county drain commissioner.

A County Board of Commissioners can consist of no less than five, nor more than 21 members. The Apportionment Commission, using limits determined by the population of a county, decides how many commissioners a county will have for the next 10-year period. In Genesee County’s case, the Apportionment Commission, consisting of the county treasurer, prosecuting attorney, county clerk and the chairpersons of each major political party, decided to maintain a nine-member board. The County Board of Commissioners is required by statute to meet at least four times per year.

The administrative officials that report to the Board of Commissioners include the human resources director, Fiscal Services, Planning and Development, Genesee County Action Resource Department (GCARD), Genesee County Health Department, Equalization, Veterans Services, Senior Services, Friend of Court, Genesee County Medical Examiner, corporation counsel, GIS, Information Technology, Buildings and Grounds, Genesee Valley Regional Center, Community Corrections, Parks and Recreation and the director of administration, who also coordinates the board’s scheduling and activities.

I will explain the role of each of these departments and the services each provides as we continue this column over the coming months.

The Genesee County Board of Commissioners also provides oversight to several other governmental and quasi-governmental entities, either by statutory authority to appoint members of their Boards or Commissions, and/or through its fiduciary responsibilities with county millage funded organizations. Entities that fall under this umbrella include the Genesee Health System (GHS), Genesee County Road Commission (GCRC), Genesee Health Plan and the Valley Area Agency on Aging (VAAA), among others.

The county’s 67th District Court and 7th Judicial Circuit Court constitute the county’s third branch of government in this country’s separation of powers structure.

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