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(4) They make contracts for building and repairing public buildings, such as court-houses, jails and almshouses.
(5) They appropriate money for the payment of the salaries of county officers, and for all necessary expenses of county government.
(6) They represent the county when it is sued for damages. (All local governments are corporations in some respect and can be brought into court to defend a suit as if they were persons.)
II. The Sheriff. This officer has been called the "arm of the judge." If the judge orders a man to be taken to prison, or orders property to be sold, or sentences a man to be hanged, the sheriff executes the command. It is his duty also to preserve peace and order, and when necessary he may call to his aid deputies. In times of great danger or disturbance he may call to his aid the posse comitatus, which includes every able-bodied man in the county. The sheriff usually lives at the county-seat and has charge of the county jail and its prisoners.
III. The Clerk of the Circuit, or District Court. Any court above a police court, or above that of a justice of the peace, is a “court of record”; that is, its proceedings are enrolled in permanent form. In every county there is a court of record, and the keeper of its records 'is the clerk of the court, or prothonotary. This officer often keeps a record of deeds and mortgages given in the county, issues marriage certificates, and records all births and deaths.
IV. The Probate Court-the Orphans' Court. It is the business of this court to examine the wills of deceased persons and decide whether they have been made as wills by law, ought to be made. When a person dies without having made a will, and leaves no one to take charge of his estate, the probate court will appoint an administrator to take charge of it. When a child is left without father or mother, the probate court will appoint a guardian, who will manage the estate until the child comes of age. In general, the business of the probate court is to see that the property of the dead falls into rightful hands. In some States the probate court is called the orphans' court. In New York and New Jersey it is called the surrogate's court.
V. The Recorder, or Register keeps a record of mortgages, deeds and leases.
VI. Tax Collectors and Assessors.
VII. The County Treasurer pays out as well as receives all money raised by taxation.
VIII. The Auditor. Sometimes the county elects an auditor, whose duty it is to examine the books of the treasurer and other officers and report whether the public accounts are properly and honestly kept.
IX. The Coroner. When a person is murdered, or is found dead, or dies mysteriously, this officer takes charge of the corpse and inquires at once into the cause of the death. If he thinks there has been foul play, he summons six or twelve men to act as a jury and holds a 'coroner's inquest." Witnesses are summoned, and the jury after hearing evidence, states the probable cause of the death.
X. The State's Attorney is a lawyer whose duty is to give legal advice to county officers, and to appear in court at the trial of one who is charged with crime and present the side of the State. This officer is sometimes called a district attorney or prosecuting attorney; sometimes he is called the solicitor.
XI. The Superintendent of Schools is the executive officer of the school system of the county. He sets the examinations for teachers, visits the different schools of the county, and inspects their work. He grades the work of the schools and devotes his time to improving them in every way he can.
XII. The Surveyor makes surveys of land when the county has need of such.
In New England, in the Middle States, and in most of the States of the West, the county shares the business of local government with a minor civil division known as the town or township.
In New England a most important unit of local government is the town and the central fact of town government is the town meeting. Once a year all the qualified voters of the town meet together to discuss measures relating to town affairs and take action thereon. At the town meeting the rate of taxation is fixed; money is appropriated for the necessary expense of town government; by-laws are passed for the regulation of local matters; and town officers are elected. The most important town officers are: the selectmen, the town clerk, the town treasurer, assessors and collectors of taxes and overseers of the poor. The selectmen are the governing body in the town. In the Middle States and in most of the States in the West the county shares the business of local government with a minor civil division known as the township. The presence of townships in the county results in a compromise system of local government often called the county-township system. Under this system the county government attends to those affairs which interest the whole body of the people of the county, while the township administers the affairs of a small area.
The township has been found to be an institution of great convenience. For a sparsely settled society the county is, perhaps, the only practicable form of government; but as population increases the needs of the neighborhood multiply, and many of these needs are such as can be attended to by the people directly interested if they only have the power granted to them. It is not necessary to travel twenty miles to the county-seat to see an officer about the repair of a washout in a road, or about the purchase of a stove for a school-house, when we can have a government near at hand to attend to such things. The township has been introduced as an agency by which the needs of the immediate locality may be attended to.
Especially has the public school been a factor in the development of the township system. Local government in the South developed around a court-house, and in New England around a church; in the Middle States and in the West it developed around a schoolhouse. Then, too, the care of the roads, and the support of the poor are services that may most conveniently be rendered by the neighborhood government.
The powers of the township vary slightly in the different States, but as a rule where the county-township system prevails the township (1) supports the public schools, (2) cares for the roads and (3) helps the poor, leaving other matters of local government to the county. The taxes necessary for doing these things are levied by township authority.
The organization of township government differs greatly as we pass from State to State. In some States, as in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas, there is at the head of the township government a committee or a board of supervisors or trustees consisting of several persons, the number varying from three to eleven. In New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma there is at the head of the township a single officer known as the supervisor, or trustee. In Wisconsin this officer is known as the town chairman. These supervisors or trustees have general charge of township affairs, although their powers and duties vary considerably as we pass from State to State.
Besides the head executive officers (or officer) there is usually a township clerk who keeps the records of the township; a township assessor; a township auditor who examines the accounts of the township; a justice of the peace; one or more constables; overseers of the poor; and election officers. In most instances town. ship officers are elected by the people.