County government structure and “home rule”
In English and American law, a county is an administrative unit which is responsible for conducting business as authorized by the central government, in this case the government of the State of Oregon. When Oregon became a state it was divided into only four counties. Today there are 36. Oregon state law affords significant authority to county governments to address local issues, but originally all decisions of the county government required the authorization of the state government. Oregon voters amended the state constitution in 1958, however, to allow counties if they chose to adopt individual “home rule charters” which permitted them to exercise a significant amount of authority independent of state law. Currently, nine of the 36 counties in Oregon have adopted home rule charters. Multnomah County is one of these home rule charter states. Because Multnomah County has adopted a home rule charter, the functions and structure of county government here will necessarily be different here than in other counties in the state.
To read more about the structure of the government of Multnomah County and to see links about the topic please expand this section.
The County Home Rule Charter was adopted in 1966 and may be revised by citizen vote each six years after a review by an appointed Home Rule Charter Commission, as directed by the Charter. The current version of the Home Rule Charter can be found at https://web.multco.us/sites/default/files/county-attorney/documents/charter9-2011.pdf It defines the operations of the Multnomah County government.
The current organization chart of county government can be found at: https://www.portlandonline.com/oni/index.cfm?c=39641&a=41382
This chart outlines the lines of authority of the county government. There are number of independently elected officers who are in charge of running the government of Multnomah County. The Board of County Commissioners consists of four Board members elected from geographic districts of the county and the County Chair, who is elected by a county-wide vote. The Chair exercises executive authority, with the approval of the other four Board members, over all county departments under his or her control. The Board of County Commissioners establishes budget policy and approves budgets for all county government, whether or not under direct administrative control of the Chair.
Three additional county departments are headed by independently elected officials, the County Auditor, the District Attorney, and the Sheriff. These officials have authority for the administration of their agencies which is independent of the Board of County Commissioners and the Chair. In short, the Board of County Commissioners cannot control the operational decisions of these three agencies. However, as a practical matter, since the Board does control the budget appropriations of these three independent county agencies, there is significant collaboration between the Board and the Auditor, District Attorney and Sheriff in establishing operational goals. Information regarding the county government can be found at the county government’s website at http://web.multco.us