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The Division of Roles Between Elected Officials and Staff


Elected officials collectively decide policy issues for the agency.  Staff is responsible for implementing that policy direction.

In most local agencies, the governing body appoints a top staff person, such as a county executive officer, city manager, or special district general manager. This person is responsible for implementing the governing body’s policy directives and agency laws, as well as overseeing the administrative operation of the agency. Many of these administrative professionals bring public administration training from graduate school as well as other education and experience to their job.

Having an administrative professional to oversee the agency’s day-to-day operations enables elected officials to focus on big-picture policy issues for the agency, without the distraction of administrative tasks like managing personnel and preparing and implementing budgets. It also enables the governing body to hold one individual accountable for the agency’s administration. Top staff members also have the authority and responsibility to resolve inter-departmental disputes.

In some situations, voters elect certain department heads.  The table in the box at right describes common staff positions within California counties, special districts and cities. It also indicates whether, in some agencies, some of those positions are elected.

Public agency staff often are members of and participate in professional organizations that keep them current on management and other important issues. These organizations are a valuable source of continuing education, professional development and connections with fellow public servants. The table in the box at right provides links to those professional organizations.


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