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. Today every county has a commissioner; many have a board of commissioners (BOC). As part of general county operations, the BOC must finance county programs and pay the salaries of constitutional officers.
In addition to those positions, voters also elect judges, district attorneys, solicitors, school board members and other officials to carry on the business of the county.
The sheriff enforces the law, maintains peace in the county, and serves as the jailer.
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.
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. Larger, more urban counties distribute governmental responsibilities among many departments, whereas smaller, more rural counties often employ only a few officials, each of whom serves several functions.
Excerpted from The New Georgia Encyclopedia