Who you should know in your local government
Many Americans are involved with their local governments; it’s one of the best ways to make your voice heard when it comes to community improvement. Writing letters, making calls, and attending town council meetings—even if they can get a little heated—can lead to real action when it comes to municipal decision-making.
If everything you know about the who’s who of local government comes from NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” you’re still in decent shape. As Leslie Knope says: “What I hear when I'm being yelled at, is people caring really loudly at me.”
According to the latest census data, there are more than 89,000 local governments in America. A successful local government can positively impact its citizens, just as a dysfunctional one can harm them—and in recent years, local media is not always there to cover it either way. As a result, citizen involvement is more important than ever.
Here are 30 elected and appointed positions to consider reaching out to the next time you have a suggestion, complaint, or even a compliment.
City managers are appointed officials who direct the administrative operations of a city or town. The position was first created to centralize local authority and prevent political parties from influencing how individual cities or towns were run. The city manager is responsible for overseeing day-to-day municipal operations and keeping city departments running smoothly.
Aided by the assistant city manager, the city manager adheres to a strict code of conduct to ensure he or she consistently has the public’s best interest in mind. This includes remaining unbiased in decision-making, reporting ethics violations, and actively promoting equal opportunities. The salary for this job is typically starts upwards of $100,000.
Assistant city manager
Stepping in to assist the city manager is the assistant city manager, who provides support and acts in the place of the city manager when required. The assistant city manager also acts as a liaison between the manager and department heads. Education and experience focused in public administration is typically required, and salaries can range from $50,000 to $85,000 to more than six figures, depending on the size of the municipality. How long one stays in this often high-stress position can vary.
A planning director’s job is a mix of civil engineering, budget and contractor management, and political know-how. This typically high-paying job requires a great deal of education, certifications, and experience, but offers $150,000 or more annually. The recently appointed planning director of Nashville, Tennessee, is the first woman to hold the position in the city’s history. She holds three degrees in history, urban and environmental planning, and art and architectural history.
Public works director
This position reports to the city manager and manages the day-to-day operations of a city’s utility infrastructure and billing. Their jurisdiction: streets, sanitation, water, power, and general facilities. Steamed up about constant road work? Problems with your pipes’ supply source? This is the office you’ll want to call up.
Not only is it the fire chief’s responsibility to manage his or her local station, it’s up to them to instill best practices and contribute to the field of fire education. While it’s a risky job—chiefs fight fires right alongside their teams—salaries can top $100,000. Firefighters work their way up to this appointed position with at least a decade of experience as well as specialized training.
The chief of police supervises the day-to-day operations of his or her precinct, serves as a spokesperson to the media, and works on the most urgent criminal cases. The chief of police also works with the city manager to plan the police department budget and attends city council meetings. The position pays upwards of $100,000.
Parks and recreation director
This individual is responsible for overseeing matters pertaining to a city’s public and private parks as well as other communal facilities like sports fields and swimming pools. The parks and recreation director manages the department’s budget, and revenue from entrance fees, permits, and rentals.
The parks and recreation director also supervises personnel and liaises with the city council—to make some unpopular decisions. Salaries top out around $60,000. Planning a music festival in a city park? Expect to be in contact with the parks and recreation director as well as members of his or her staff. Chances are, you won’t find a Ron Swanson-type.
There are dozens of types of law professionals, and city attorney is one of them. These government-appointed lawyers handle legal matters within (and against) the city alongside department heads and serve as an integral part of the city’s civil courts. Extensive knowledge of complex municipal law is required and not limited to rent laws, union agreements, public finance, land use, and zoning and water rights.
A city’s mayor has a hand in directing every aspect of the municipal government, from budgeting and long-term planning to drafting and approving or vetoing legislation. Most mayors are elected by local voters and serve as chief spokesperson for the city, but some are elected by a city council. Terms last between two and four years, depending on the region. The first female mayor of a major city was Oklahoma City’s Patience Sewell Latting, who took office on April 13, 1971.
An elected position, county auditors prepare fiscal reports and manage real estate taxes, licenses for liquor, pet registration, and public records. They are also responsible for managing the everyday accounting of a county’s incoming and outgoing funds. The auditor’s annual review assesses the overall financial health of his or her county and recommends budgetary adjustments to improve it.
County prosecuting officer
The county prosecuting officer is an attorney who conducts criminal prosecutions on behalf of the county. This position may be filled by a district attorney and may provide quotes regarding their cases to the media. Fulfilling the duties of a county prosecuting officer can help a lawyer advance in his or her career path.
The county coroner is either elected or appointed and makes inquiries into all natural deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or medically unattended. This individual, along with his or her team of medical examiners and assistants, utilizes forensic laboratories to provide positive identification of the deceased and assists law enforcement in determining cause of death. They may determine and release information to the media regarding certain investigations and release an annual report.
Do you need a passport, ID card, trade name certificate, birth, death, or divorce certificate, mail-in or sample ballot, court record, or notary public oath? You can get these official documents and a number of others at the office of the county clerk, responsible for keeping extensive records and providing copies to the public. Many county clerks have additional responsibilities, like overseeing local elections and compiling notes on government committee meetings.
The city treasurer, an elected official, oversees fiscal duties like bill, tax, and loan payments, and manages the city’s debt. It’s also this individual’s responsibility to provide monthly and annual reports and establish strategies for saving money and reducing overhead and waste. The salary varies, from $50,000 for a small city to nearly $200,000 for a large one.
City law director
The city law director is the head of the city’s legal department, and can be an elected or appointed position—or shifted from one to the other. Responsibilities might include attending city council meetings, negotiating contracts, developing ordinances and resolutions, attending administrative hearings, and furnishing general and specialized legal advice to officials from all city governmental departments.
This position is also responsible for prosecuting criminal cases at the highest municipal level. Legal jobs often offer higher salaries, and this one is no exception: City law directors earn upwards of $100,000 annually.
School board president
Though this elected position is often portrayed as a punchline, school board president is an enormous responsibility for someone—typically a parent in the district—to take on. In addition to conducting board meetings, overseeing task committees, and keeping a board of largely volunteer members on-agenda, the school board president is the primary voice of the school board, communicating with parents, teachers, and the superintendent on matters that require intervention. No big salary here—typically well under $10,000 as more of a stipend.
City council president
As spokesperson for the elected city council, this individual presides over meetings, assigns members to task forces, presents the council’s findings to the city manager, and performs one other very important function. Should the mayor be out of town, the city council president in many cases becomes acting mayor. City council members often make a six-figure salary, and the president can expect slightly more than his or her counterparts.
This position, which is either elected—if you live in Ohio—or appointed, is an experienced civil engineer with multiple specialties and certifications. The role entails supervising the construction and maintenance of public roads and bridges, updating and improving the city’s maps and plans, overseeing highway construction, and keeping track of project expenditures. Average salaries range from $75,000 in a mid-sized city to $100,000 or more in large cities.
County clerk of the circuit Court
The county clerk of the circuit court serves participants in the local judicial system and is the record-keeper for all matters that come through the courts, including transactions involving these records. The position dates back to 1658 when it was first established in the Maryland Constitution.
Real property appraiser
A real property appraiser can be elected or appointed, and provides a number of assessment services to decide the fair value of different kinds of properties within the county. Using this data, the appraiser will determine the rate at which they should be taxed. The appraiser may analyze farms, shorelines, homes, industrial buildings, specialized properties, and undeveloped lots. Salaries range from $48,000 to $75,000.
Public health commissioner
A city’s public health commissioner is either a board-certified physician or an individual with an advanced degree in public health administration and substantial experience in the field. The commissioner is also the chief liaison between local medical professionals and policy-makers in matters of public health, from infectious disease outbreak planning to more chronic problems like diabetes and obesity. Some municipalities employ public health directors, a similar position.
The sheriff serves as the chief officer of law enforcement. What’s the difference between a police chief and a sheriff? Sheriffs are elected and preside over a county, whereas police chiefs are appointed by local government officials to supervise law enforcement in towns or cities. Salaries vary widely, starting around $40,000 to over $100,000 in certain regions. Several folk legends over the history of the American West endure: most notably, Wyatt Earp and “Wild” Bill Hickok.
Equally important is the job of deputy sheriff. Like assistant chief, the deputy sheriff serves as a first responder for vehicular accidents or medical emergencies. The deputy sheriff also has a long list of diverse responsibilities within the judicial system. From border patrol to crime scene investigation and disaster response—if there’s an urgent situation, you can bet the deputy sheriff will be there soon. Salaries range from $38,000 to $55,000, though it’s typically more in California.
City council member
These elected town officials form the legislative and policy bodies of their local municipalities. While tensions are known to run high in meetings that will directly impact the lives of the city’s citizens—who are often present to offer insight on the issues affecting them—serving on a city council is often one of the best ways to affect change in one’s own neighborhood. Salaries are generally lower than the national average, owing to the job’s part-time nature. On average, a city council consists of six members.
Local state, county, and circuit court judges—90% of whom run for office—oversee general trials at the state or county level. These officials must have substantial knowledge of the intricacies of state and local laws in order to effectively analyze cases and disputes as well as issue penalties. In most states, an elected judge’s term spans 10 years. A judge’s salary is traditionally high, owing to the specialized experience and advanced education required for the job, and starts around $175,000.
Soil and water conservation district manager
A municipality only has so much soil and water for personal, public, and agricultural use. The soil and water conservation district manager oversees matters pertaining to soil erosion control, moisture conservation, wildlife protection, and sound land use. The department also provides advice for the public on best conservation practices.
Depending on the region, this job requires surveying and technical experience as well as specialization in multiple environmental sciences. The average salary is about $60,000, but the pay can be substantially higher for a manager with a dynamic science background in a region with complex environmental challenges.
Register of deeds
Also called the county recorder, this elected position is similar to county clerk of the circuit court. However, the position manages real estate and vital—birth, death, and marriage—records rather than those of the judicial system. Salaries range from $40,000 to $65,000, but pay can be substantially higher in larger metro areas.
A superintendent is akin to CEO of a public school district and is appointed by the district’s board of directors. They hire and supervise teachers and staff, manage the district’s funding and spending, supervise facilities maintenance, and meet regularly with school principals.
A precinct captain, also known as precinct chairperson, delegate, or committee officer, is an elected position that dates back hundreds of years. They serve as chief liaison between a geographic area’s political party and its voting public. Abraham Lincoln famously accepted a ballot from the precinct captain on the day of his presidential election and tore it up, refusing to vote for himself.
This position was created with the notion that taxes are collected most effectively and accurately on a local level by an elected official. Today, whether a tax collector is elected, or even collects taxes, remains up to individual states—it can get complicated. Tax collectors either receive no salary or a modest stipend.