This week I was able to visit one of the vaccination sites in Pierce County. This drive-thru clinic set up at the Washington State Fairgrounds was able to administer more than 2,000 vaccines throughout the day. I had the opportunity to visit with a couple just after receiving their vaccines, who shared with me their gratitude and thankfulness for those helping make this possible.
Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine in Pierce County at this website.
An overview of county government
As I am getting to know my way around county government, I thought it might be useful to write a brief overview of what a county is and what it does. I hope you’ll find this helpful.
In short, a county is a creation of the state to fulfill public purposes in every part of the state. Counties are a form of local governance common to every state in America. Like the states of which they are a part, and unlike cities, counties cover the American map (except for Washington, D.C.). In this way, counties play an essential role in the American constitutional tradition of federalism. Here in Washington State, not everyone lives in a city, but every Washingtonian is part of a county. According to Steve Lundin in The Closest Governments to the People: A Complete Reference Guide to Local Government in Washington State, “Counties are the basic regional governments in Washington State.”
Local governments are instruments of democratic rule. The opening section of the Washington State Constitution says: “All political power is inherent in the people, and governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, and are established to protect and maintain individual rights.” Pierce County actually predates the state constitution - it was formed by the legislature of the Oregon Territory in 1852.
Although cities offer a particularly localized option for self-government, counties fulfill wide-ranging needs for government services throughout their regional area. In the words of political scientist Daniel Elazar, “[C]ounties offer a ready-made vehicle for providing area-wide regulation and services where necessary, in the spirit of American local government.”
Since counties coexist with the variety of other local governments within their boundaries, county governments don’t hold the same powers in all parts of the county. “Counties exercise some powers countywide, primarily when they function as political subdivisions or agents of the state,” writes Lundin. “However, counties also exercise more visible general governmental powers primarily in unincorporated areas outside of cities. These more visible general governmental powers exercised by counties in unincorporated areas resemble some of the general municipal powers exercised by cities within their boundaries and include regulating activities and providing governmental services and facilities. County taxing authority is not exercised uniformly throughout county boundaries.”
The Washington State Constitution provides for two forms of county government: charter and commission. Originally, Pierce County was governed by a board of three commissioners. Then, in 1980, elected freeholders convened to charter a new form of government. Under the home rule charter, Pierce County’s freeholders established a county council representing seven districts along with an executive, who is elected countywide and fills a role somewhat like the governor of the state, on a smaller scale. We also have a countywide-elected prosecutor, auditor, assessor-treasurer, and sheriff.
As things have developed, there are at least five functions of county government:
1.To provide localized administration of public services, including judicial services, as an extension of the state of Washington.
2.To provide public safety, planning, and other services in unincorporated areas outside of cities and towns.
3.To coordinate activities among the local governments (cities, towns, special purpose districts) within the county.
4.To create and implement comprehensive local plans under the state’s Growth Management Act.
5.To engage in regional partnerships with other counties and local governments in matters like transportation and growth planning.
What’s on your mind?
Please contact me with any concerns or ideas you have anytime. You can reach me by phone at 253-798-2222 or send me an email at [email protected].
Also, if you have a neighborhood group, service club, or other organization you’d like me to visit virtually so I can spend time listening to community concerns, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Just send an email to [email protected].
All the best,