Civics Education
Local Government in Virginia

Responsibilities of Local Governing Bodies

Virginia’s local governing bodies have a wide range of duties and responsibilities.

Blacksburg Town Council Meeting
Blacksburg Town Council Meeting
Courtesy of the Town of Blacksburg

These include:

Portsmouth City Council
Portsmouth city council
Courtesy of the City of Portsmouth

Elected Constitutional Officers in Virginia

Elected governing bodies share some of their governing obligations with elected constitutional officers. Most Virginia cities and counties have five officers, as provided by the state constitution: Constitutional officers are elected at large for a term of four years, except for the circuit court clerk, who serves an eight-year term.

Commissioner of the Revenue: The commissioner of the revenue prepares real estate and personal property tax books and bills; assesses personal property, machinery and tools, merchants’ capital, and some business taxes; and, in some cities, assesses real estate. The commissioner serves a significant state function as the receiving point for state income tax forms.

Treasurer: The treasurer is charged with the collection, custody, and disbursement of local funds. The treasurer also collects funds for the state, reporting on these accounts to the state comptroller. A few cities and counties have either eliminated the office of the commissioner of revenue or the treasurer or have combined the two offices into a finance department.

Clerk of the Circuit Court: The duties of the clerk of the circuit court fall into two major categories, associated with:

Commonwealth’s Attorney: The Commonwealth’s attorney is primarily responsible for prosecuting violations of criminal law.

Sheriff: The sheriff, in cities, is the custodian of the jail and process server and bailiff for the courts. In cities and counties operating a regional jail, generally a jail superintendent (rather than the sheriff) is the jail custodian. In most counties, the sheriff also is the chief law enforcement officer, a duty assigned to police departments in cities and towns. Some towns have entered into a joint cost-sharing agreement with a county for law enforcement services.

Constitutional officers are legally independent of the governing body. The funding of the constitutional officers is complex. Funding levels vary according to the officer, particular positions within the offices, and duties in a particular locality. Under state statutes and administrative guidelines, the locality pays a certain percentage of operational costs of the constitutional officers because they perform local functions.

Appointed Officials in Virginia

Virginia’s local governing bodies also appoint certain administrative officials, including the chief administrative officer or executive, the clerk, and legal counsel. In some localities, they also play a role in the appointment of other officials such as the police chief, finance director, internal auditor and assessor. The Code of Virginia sets the responsibilities of these positions.

According to Title 15.2, Chapter 15, of the Code of Virginia, “The governing body of any locality may appoint a chief administrative officer, who shall be designated county, city or town administrator or manager or executive, as the case may be.” These forms of government include:

In this video Mr. Ken Chandler, city manager for Portsmouth, provides a review of the roles of elected officials, constitutional officers, and appointed officials within local Virginia government.

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