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Duties of County and Local Officials
Compiled by Victor Sheronas, ENDC Volunteer
Judge of the Court of Common Pleas
In Pennsylvania, a Court of Common Pleas is a trial court of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania (the state court system). They hear civil cases with a significant focus on trials for serious crimes. They have original jurisdiction over all cases not exclusively assigned to another court and appellate jurisdiction over judgments from the minor courts (which include the magisterial district courts in all counties but Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Municipal Court and Pittsburgh Municipal Court). They also hear appeals from certain state and most local government agencies.
The courts are established by the Pennsylvania Constitution: "There shall be one court of common pleas for each judicial district (a) having such divisions and consisting of such number of judges as shall be provided by law, one of whom shall be the president judge; and (b) having unlimited original jurisdiction in all cases except as may otherwise be provided by law." The Courts of Common Pleas are organized into 60 judicial districts, 53 comprising one of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, and seven comprising two counties.
Each district has from one to 101 judges. Judges of the Common Pleas courts are elected to 10-year terms. A president judge and a court administrator serve in each judicial district. In districts with seven or fewer judges, the president judge with the longest continuous service holds this position. In districts with eight or more judges, the president judge is elected to a five-year term by the court.
The Court of Common Pleas of Chester County is a general jurisdiction trial court located in West Chester, Pennsylvania. There are 11 full time judges and 2 senior judges. The judges hear a wide spectrum of cases, including adult and juvenile criminal prosecutions, lawsuits involving money or property, divorce, custody disputes, child support issues, adoptions, and estates. In addition to court staff and Court Administration, the court supervises Adult Probation, Juvenile Probation, Domestic Relations, Bail Agency, Court Reporters, and the Law Library. The Court oversees and provides administrative services to the 17 magisterial district court offices that comprise the Magisterial District Court system in Chester County.
The three-member Board of Commissioners constitutes the chief governing body of the County. The Board, together with its executive staff, manages a large and diverse organization whose mission is to provide quality government services in an efficient, cost effective manner. Elected every four years, the Commissioners are responsible for policy-making, fiscal management and the administration of county affairs.
The Commissioners serve on the Salary, Prison, Retirement, and Election Boards as well as a variety of other boards affiliated with county departments. They appoint members of county authorities, boards and commissions, such as the Solid Waste Authority, the Industrial Development Authority and the Airport Authority.
The Commissioners create and appoint constituency-based groups that provide guidance in tackling issues of great impact and concern to taxpayers.
County District Attorney
The core functions of the District Attorney’s Office are to investigate, prosecute, and prevent crimes. The Chester County District Attorney is the chief law enforcement officer for the county. Within the county, we have over 50 law enforcement agencies working together, including municipal police departments, the Pennsylvania State Police, federal agencies, and the Chester County Detectives. It is our duty to uphold and defend the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Constitution of the United States of America.
As a county officer, the sheriff has law enforcement authority throughout their county, including its cities, villages, and townships. The sheriff’s primary responsibilities are: the maintenance of law and order in areas of the county not adequately policed by local authorities and to respond to the law and order needs of citizens within local jurisdictions if local law enforcement is unable to do so. Additional duties include the maintenance of county jails, providing security for county courts, and serving warrants and court papers, etc.
In Pennsylvania, the "Court Clerk" (Clerk of the Courts) is usually dealing specifically with the Criminal Court, while the Prothonotary is involved with non-criminal court records and filings, exclusive of property deed recording and wills (and marriage licenses) - in other words, the keeper of the civil records for the court. Work is generated from the court and through filings from both attorneys and the general public. For example, name changes, civil and family court records, passports, judgments and liens will be handled or have corresponding records administered by the Prothonotary.
The Prothonotary also provides the avenue for external oversight of the Judiciary without the legislative or executive branch of government's interference with its actions or independence. This elected official preserves for the public unfettered access to a fair and accurate record of opinions, decisions and judgments of the court.
County Register of Wills
The Register of Wills probates wills and appoints estate representatives for decedents who die with or without a will. Regardless of where the death occurred, the decedent MUST have been a legal resident of Chester County at the time of death. The Register of Wills also serves as an agent for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the filing and payment of inheritance taxes. Additionally, as Clerk of the Orphans Court, the Register of Wills oversees guardianships, adoptions and marriage licenses.
County Recorder of Deeds
The Recorder of Deeds is the elected county official responsible for the public repository of real estate records, military discharges, commissions and official documents. The Office of the Recorder of Deeds is an important interface between taxpayers, real estate professionals and county government.
OJR School Director at Large
A school board is a legislative body of citizens called school directors, who are elected locally by their fellow citizens and who serve as the governing body of each public school district. School districts in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania are governmental units considered “political subdivisions.” Because school districts are created by statute, they and their governing bodies are regarded as “creatures of the General Assembly” (our state legislature), and, as such, they function in a sense as agents of the Commonwealth. Each board consists of nine members who serve four-year terms of office. Unlike most other elected officials, school directors receive no compensation for their work even though the position can require them to dedicate many hours to it.
School Directors are responsible for:
·Setting budget priorities, so as to provide the tools and experience for students engage with the world they’ll be entering.
·Making curriculum decisions so as to help students become better informed citizens.
·Planning for the future by understanding the district’s growth and the resultant tax rate; plus ensuring the resources are available to accommodate the growth.
·Setting school safety policies.
·Determining student and faculty policy regarding civil liberty issues and hiring practices.
School director elections are held every two years, on a 5-4 rotation to ensure continuity. All board members are elected to four-year terms. While school directors are elected locally, the state constitution delegates to them the responsibility to administer the school system as agents of the General Assembly. Keep in mind that the school board’s conduct is a direct reflection on the community values.
East Nantmeal Township Supervisor (example)
Township supervisors are responsible for maintaining and improving their community. A board of three supervisors, elected at large for six-year terms as the township’s legislative body, enacts ordinances, adopts budgets, and levies taxes. Because there is no separately elected executive in East Nantmeal, the supervisors also perform such functions as enforcing ordinances, approving expenditures, and hiring employees. Supervisors also perform administrative functions such as maintaining records, dealing with personnel matters, purchasing & contracting, making appointments (manager, secretary, emergency management coordinator, boards-commissions, solicitors), agendas & minutes, etc.
By design, the structure of township government is flexible. It allows supervisors to determine what services best meet the needs of their constituents; and to provide these services with no intervening layers of bureaucracy. In addition to maintaining roads and bridges, their role includes public safety, land use, and environmental protection, among many other responsibilities. Township supervisors reflect the values of the people they serve.
East Nantmeal Township Auditor (example)
Briefly, the auditor will:
·Audit and settle all accounts of any persons elected or appointed who work for the township.
·Determine the salary of township supervisors.
·Complete, file, and publish the Annual Township Report and Financial Statement.
The auditor examines the accounting records and accounting practices of the township to enable her/him to express an informed opinion as to whether or not the balance sheet and the statement of revenues and expenditures prepared from the books and records present accurately and fairly the financial position and the results of operations of the township, and whether the township complied with applicable laws and regulations. The independent review by the auditor includes judgments as to facts, supporting evidence, and adherence to generally accepted accounting principles applied consistently from year to year.
In addition to these broad assignments, the auditor should be alert to possible irregularities and fraud, as well as weaknesses in internal control. It is important for the auditor to inform the responsible officials about such weaknesses when they are discovered.
In boroughs which have not established the office of controller, nor employed an independent auditor, three auditors are elected for a term of six years. One auditor is elected at each municipal election, providing for overlapping membership on the board.