Counties were created by a rural society that looked to government to keep the records straight and the justice swift.
To help counties administer state programs and conduct state courts, the state constitution originally created four elected county officers: the sheriff, the tax commissioner, the clerk of the superior court and the judge of the probate court. In 1868 the state began creating the position of county commissioner to administer the general operations of the county.
For many years counties were governed by a sole commissioner, a practice which continues today in only eight counties and only in Georgia. Over the years the sole commissioner form of government has been replaced by boards of commissioners. As part of general county operations, the BOC must finance county programs and pay the salaries of constitutional officers.
The sheriff enforces the law, maintains peace in the county, and serves as the jailer. In some counties the BOC has established a county police department. The county police may supplement the law enforcement ability of the sheriff, but they do not replace the sheriff.
The functions of the tax commissioner resemble those of an accountant for the county. He or she receives all tax returns, maintains the county's tax records, and collects and pays tax funds to the state and local governments. To assist the tax commissioner, the BOC in some counties has established a tax assessor's board, an equalization board, and/or a board of appraisers. The purpose of these appointed, not elected, boards is to ensure that everyone pays his or her fair share of taxes.
The clerk of the superior court is the primary record keeper for the county. The clerk maintains all the court records and supervises the registration of property transactions. Each BOC also has its own county clerk, who is responsible for keeping the records for the board.
The judge of the probate court has a broad range of powers, mostly unrelated to criminal matters. He or she oversees matters pertaining to property deeds, marriage licenses, guardianships, and wills; supervises elections; and administers public oaths of office. To assist the judge of the probate court, the state has created a local board of elections in almost every county.
Beyond the powers assigned to the constitutional officers, the BOC is the county governing authority. It has the power to adopt ordinances, resolutions or regulations relating to county property, county affairs and the operation of local government.