The difference between city and county

Because Bloomington is more than half the population of Monroe County, the city and county governments rival each other in size. City and county government meetings run side by side all the time on Channel 12, the local cable TV channel devoted to government. Both city and county have executive and legislative branches.

As a result, people are always confusing the two. I have on several occasions been mistaken for a member of the county legislative body.

If you want an example of how politics is not necessarily always about political parties, survey any ten county employees and ask them to comment on their counterparts in city government, and vice versa. (You may have to filter out some choice language.)

So how to differentiate the city and county governments?

Let’s start with their bosses. The city’s chief executive is the Mayor. The chief executive body of each county in Indiana is made up of a panel of three people called “Commissioners.”

The city’s highest legislative body is the aforementioned nine-member Council. The county also has a Council, made up of seven members: four represent districts, three represent the whole county at-large.

Everyone serves four-year terms. The mayor is elected at the same time as the city councilmembers, in the year before a presidential election. The county has elections in even-numbered years; they stagger the seats of both Commissioners and Councilmembers so that not everyone is elected at the same time. (I don’t know why we don’t do that in Indiana cities, but that’s state law for ya.)

The biggest difference I see between city and county is that in the city, laws are passed by the Council, but in the county, laws are passed by the Commissioners. Yes, the executive also does legislation. The primary role of the county Council is fiscal: they approve the county’s annual budget, which gives them a lot of influence over policy, but it’s not the same as actually writing and approving laws.

One thing that confuses people is where everyone does their thing. Since Bloomington is the county seat, most county government activities take place within the city limits. The Monroe County Courthouse is smack-dab in the center of the city, and most county offices are downtown just like City Hall. County employees can be found all over downtown Bloomington. (This actually creates a political issue with one of the b?™tes noires of any locality’s politics: parking. I’ll be covering that topic soon enough.)

There’s more to untangle, such as what responsibilities are the county’s and what are the city’s. But this is good for starters.

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