North Dakota County Commissioners Association: Handbook

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ND County Commissioners Handbook 

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Chapter 1

County Government Organization and Structure Options

1.01 Introduction

North Dakota is divided into 53 counties.  Counties are political subdivisions of state government, each organized as an incorporated body for civil and political purposes only.  Counties may sue and be sued, contract and be contracted with, and purchase and hold real estate for the use of the county.  The board of county commissioners is the primary policy-making body in the county and has broad authority, including adopting the annual budget and approving tax levies as well as significant appointive, administrative and regulatory powers.  The North Dakota Century Code establishes options for county government structure.

Optional Forms of County Government

Terms of County Officials

County Redistricting

 

 


1.02 Traditional County Structure (NDCC 11-10-02Back to top

Each organized county, unless it has adopted one of the optional forms of county government (see below) or combined or separated the functions of county offices or redesignated offices as elected must have the following officers elected to four-year terms.

  1. Auditor (NDCC 11-13)
  2. Recorder (ex officio clerk of court in counties less than 6,000)
  3. Treasurer (NDCC 11-14)
  4. Coroner (ND 11-19.1-03)
  5. Board of Commissioners (3 or 5 members) (NDCC 11-11-02) and (NDCC 11-11)
  6. Elected State’s Attorney (unless voters approve being appointed) (NDCC 11-10-02.3) and (NDCC 11-16)
  7. Elected Sheriff (NDCC 11-15)

 

1.03 Tool Chest Legislation  Back to top

A “Tool Chest” of statutory changes was enacted in 1993 to give citizens and their local officials the ability to modify their government structure to meet the changing needs.  Included in this collection of statute changes was a process that would allow the citizens of two or more counties to merge without the automatic reduction in services, access, or identity.

 

Tool Chest Related Links:

Optional Forms of County Government

1.04  County Consolidated Office  (NDCC 11-08)  Back to top

Any county in the state may adopt the county consolidated form of government by resolution approved by the majority of the board of county commissioners and also approved by voters at the next primary election.  If approved by voters, the consolidated form of government becomes effective the first day of January after the election.

Officers in county adopting consolidated office form of government:

  • Board of Commissioners (elected)
  • Auditor (appointed) who serves as ex officio recorder and clerk of court (unless clerk of court is employee of the state)
  • Auditor assumes the duties of the recorder and clerk of district court
  • Auditor serves as chief administrative officer of the county
  • Auditor duties are assigned by county commissioners
  • State’s Attorney (elected)
  • Sheriff (elected)
  • Treasurer - unless combined with Auditor (appointed)
  • Coroner (appointed)

1.05  County Manager (NDCC 11-09)  Back to top

Four types of county manager forms of government: 

  1. Short Form – Manager appointed
  2. County Manager Form – Manager appointed
  3. Short Form – Manager elected
  4. County Manager Form – Manager to be elected

Any county may adopt one of the county manager forms of government by resolution approved by the majority of the board of county commissioners and also approved by voters at the next primary election, or by petition filed with the county auditor signed by at least 10% of the qualified electors voting in last general election for office of governor, and approved by voters at the next regular primary or general election.

If the county adopts an appointed county manager form of government, the county commissioners shall appoint the manager.  If the county adopts an elected county manager form of government, the county commissioners shall appoint a temporary county manager until the next general election where the county manager is elected.

Powers and duties of the county manager:  (NDCC 11-09-12)  Back to top

Administrative activities county manager is responsible for:  (NDCC 11-09-14)  Back to top

The State’s Attorney (except as provided in section 11-10-02.3) and Sheriff of a county adopting any form of county managership must be elected.

 

1.06  Home Rule Counties  (NDCC 11-09.1)  Back to top

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TERMS of COUNTY OFFICIALS – As of June 2018  Back to top

North Dakota county commission boards consist of either three or five members voted on by the county electors.  (Insert link to table showing number of commissioners by county).

The terms for county elected officials have changed some over the years, and multiple sections of law are involved.  Overall, NDCC11-10-05 states: “Except as otherwise specifically provided by the laws of this state, the regular term of office of each county officer, when the officer is elected for a full term, shall commence on the first of January next succeeding the officer's election…” 

The table below details which offices are governed by this “general section of law” and which have other specific start dates, as of the date above.

 

County Office

Start of Term *

NDCC

County Commissioner

1st Monday in December

11-10-05.1

Sheriff

January 1st

11-10-05

State’s Attorney

January 1st

11-10-05

Recorder

January 1st

11-10-05

Clerk of District Court (Note: 14 are state employees)

January 1st

11-10-05

Auditor

April 1st

11-13-01

Treasurer

May 1st

11-14-02

 

*  It is important to note that through a home rule charter or the use of the “tool chest” provisions of state law, counties may combine traditionally elected positions.  While some of these have been made appointed in the process, many of these combined positions have remained elected.  Thirteen auditor/treasurer combinations have been created as combined elected positions and three counties have combined the treasurer with the recorder (two of these also with the clerk).   By law the charter or the “plans” implementing these combinations must set out the dates of their terms. 

Term of County Officials Back to top

11-10-05. When terms of county officers commence. When officers qualify. Except as otherwise specifically provided by the laws of this state, the regular term of office of each county officer, when the officer is elected for a full term, shall commence on the first of January next succeeding the officer's election and each such officer shall qualify and enter upon the discharge of the officer's duties on the first of January next succeeding the date of the officer's election. If the office to which an officer is elected was vacant at the time of the officer's election or becomes vacant prior to the date fixed for the commencement of the officer's term, the officer may qualify and enter upon the duties of the office forthwith even though the officer was not elected to fill such vacancy. If an officer is elected to fill an unexpired term in an office then held by an appointee, such officer may qualify and enter upon the discharge of the duties of such office at any time after receiving a certificate of election to that office but not later than the first Monday in January next succeeding the date of the officer's election to the unexpired term of office.

11-10-05.1. When terms of county commissioners commence. The regular term of office of each county commissioner, when the commissioner is elected for a full term, commences on the first Monday in December next succeeding the officer's election and each such commissioner shall qualify and enter upon the discharge of the commissioner's duties on or before the first Monday in December next succeeding the date of the commissioner's election or within ten days thereafter. If a commissioner is elected to fill an unexpired commission term held by an appointee, such officer may qualify and enter upon the discharge of the duties of such office at any time after receiving a certificate of election to that office but not later than the first Monday in December next succeeding the date of the commissioner's election to the unexpired term of office.

11-13-01. When county auditor to qualify and take office. The county auditor shall qualify and enter upon the discharge of the duties of office on the first of April next succeeding the auditor's election.

11-14-02. When county treasurer to qualify and take office. The county treasurer shall qualify and enter upon the discharge of the duties of the office on the first of May next succeeding the treasurer's election.

For offices restructured or consolidated by the home rule provisions of NDCC 11-09.1 or the  “tool chest” provisions of NDCC 11-10.2, but remain elective, the term of office may be different if specifically established by the charter or plan approved.

County Redistricting  (NDCC 11-07)  Back to top

The redistricting board shall meet within three months after the official publication of the decennial census, unless the county commissioners are elected at large, or if a resolution is passed by the board of commissioners, or if a petition calling for a redistricting meeting is signed by ten percent of the qualified electors in the last gubernatorial election is presented to the board of commissioners.  The redistricting board members shall include:

  • Chairman of Board of Commissioners
  • State’s Attorney
  • Member of largest city governing body
  • Township Supervisor (if more than half of townships are organized)
  • Citizen at Large (if less than half of the townships are organized)
  • County Auditor