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10chapter12 - Counties Horse-Drawn Buggies Historical and...

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12 Counties: Horse-Drawn Buggies? Historical and Legal Background Counties, the oldest form of local government in America, vary greatly in size and importance. The 254 counties in Texas range in size from Brewster's 6,208 square miles to Rockwall's 147 square miles. Population among Texas counties ranges from a low of 67 (2000 census) in Loving County to 3.4 million in Harris County. Texas counties were created by the state to serve as its agents, but the state exercises little supervisory authority over them. Because most county officials are elected by voters in the county, they do not feel primarily accountable to the state. Although they are responsible for administering state laws and programs, county officials' lack of accountability to the state combined with the discretion they possess permits considerable variation from county to county in the enforcement of state law. C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C
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12 Counties: Horse-Drawn Buggies? Organization and Operation of County Government County government in Texas reflects many of the same concerns and styles manifested in the organization of the state government. The decentralized executive found at the state level is reproduced at the county level in the county commissioner’s court and in semi-independent county agencies. C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C
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12 Counties: Horse-Drawn Buggies? Organization and Operation of County Government Structure One distinctive feature of Texas counties is the absence of home rule which allows local government to adopt their own charters. All counties in Texas, regardless of size, are organized the same way. Counties have often had to ask voters in a statewide vote to remove unnecessary offices, however after a 1993 Constitutional amendment only residents of the county involved need to vote to abolish an office. Each county is divided into four precincts, each of which elects, in a partisan election, a commissioner to the commissioners court. The presiding officer of the commissioners court is the county judge who is elected in an at-large election . C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C C
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12 Counties: Horse-Drawn Buggies? Organization and Operation of County Government Apportionment County precincts had long been malapportioned, both to try to insure the reelection of incumbent commissioners and to divide county road mileage equally among precincts. The Supreme Court ruled in 1968 ( Avery v. Midland County ) that counties are subject to the one person-one vote rule, requiring that electoral districts must be of roughly equal population size. County apportionment has resurfaced as an issue in recent years in disputes over adequate opportunities for ethnic minorities to contend for county offices.
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