The Constitution of the State of Georgia, Article 9, Section 1, Paragraph 1, provides the existence and empowerment of counties. The Constitution also states specific powers that can be exercised by counties. Prior to the home rule provision in the 1983 State Constitution, all additional authority granted to counties was done so by state law.
The early history of government in Gwinnett County was one of creation and then abolition of a Board of Commissioners to govern the County. Between the years 1872 and 1915, some form of a Board was created and abolished four different times. Finally, in 1915, a law was passed which established a three-member Board of Commissioners of Roads and Revenues to govern the County. This Board was made up of full-time members, elected by the voters. Between 1915 and 1968, no substantial changes were made to Gwinnett's governing body. In 1968, a state law was passed which increased the size of the Board to five members: one full-time chairman elected countywide and four part-time district commissioners.
Under current state law, the County government is granted such powers as the following: to levy taxes, make appropriations, and fix the rates of all other charges; to authorize the incurring of indebtedness; to order work done where the cost is to be assessed against benefited property and fix the basis for such assessment; to authorize and provide for the execution of contracts; to establish, alter, open, close, build, repair, or abolish public roads, bridges, and ferries according to law; to establish, abolish, or change election precincts and militia districts; to exercise all powers, duties, and authority formerly imposed upon or vested in the Commissioners of Roads and Revenues in respect to zoning and planning; and to call elections for bond referendums.
In addition, under the home rule provision of the Constitution, the County was given powers to provide such services as: police and fire protection; street and road construction and maintenance, including curbs, sidewalks, street lights, and devices to control the flow of traffic on streets and roads; parks, recreational areas, programs, and facilities; stormwater and sewage collection and disposal systems; development, storage, treatment, purification, and distribution of water; and codes, including those which cover building, housing, plumbing. and electrical standards.
In 1987, under the home rule provision, the Board of Commissioners passed a series of resolutions that changed the government management to a county manager form. This series of resolutions created the position of county manager and reorganized more than 30 county departments into seven.
In 1993, the Board replaced the office of county manager with that of a county administrator and abolished the office of director of public safety, separating the departments of Police Services, Fire and Emergency Services, and Corrections. In a management structure common to many local governments in the United States, the Gwinnett Board of Commissioners is responsible for legislation, policy formulation, and overall direction setting for the government. The County Administrator is responsible for carrying out the policy directives of the Board and managing the day-to-day operations of the executive departments.
The County Administrator and the County Attorney are appointed by the Board and serve at its pleasure. In addition, the County Administrator has been delegated almost identical powers to those formerly held by the County Manager, including the power to hire and fire department directors, although dismissal of any director of a major department requires Board concurrence.
To implement the Board's policy directives, the County Administrator uses a management team consisting of members of his immediate staff and 12 department directors. The 12 departments that make up the executive side of county government are Police Services, Fire and Emergency Services, Corrections, Support Services, Financial Services, Community Services, Human Resources, Information Technology Services, Law, Planning and Development, Water Resources, and Transportation. Each department is run by a director who is charged with managing departmental operations in a manner which stresses efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and customer service.
In addition to the internal departments that comprise the executive side of County government, certain services are provided to citizens through Constitutional officers and independent elected officials. These external offices are created by the Georgia Constitution or through state law. In Gwinnett County, they include the Sheriff, Tax Commissioner, District Attorney, Probate Court Judge, and Chief Magistrate. These independently-elected officials exercise authority assigned to them by the Georgia Constitution or by state law. Accordingly, the Board of Commissioners cannot exert direct authority or control of their internal operations to any significant degree. These offices have responsibilities assigned to them by the state Constitution or state laws.