The roles and relationships that play out in county administered systems are not always clear. Although local ownership of the service delivery agency lends credibility to its function among county residents, the role played out by county commissioners particularly in its relationship to the Executive Director of the State Department, is poorly understood. The answer lies in the fundamental role for which county government was designed and in the authority vested in county and state government by the Constitution and State Statute.
[from State Dept of Social Services v. Board of County Comm’rs, 697 P.2d 1 (Colo. 1985)]
• Prior to statehood, the territory’s county governments were charged by various legislative provisions with the responsibility of providing relief to poor persons who either had no relatives in the territory or whose relatives could not or would not support them. These provisions continued in force upon Colorado’s admission into the Union.
• The State first assumed some responsibility for public assistance programs in response to the economic environment during by the Great Depression. In 1933, the General Assembly created a state relief committee and declared that providing the necessities of life was a “State, County, City and Town purpose.”
• In 1935, in response to passage by the federal Congress of the Social Security Act, the General Assembly enacted the Welfare Organization Act of 1936….This act created state and county welfare departments and established a pattern of joint state and county funding responsibility together with general state control over public assistance programs, including federally assisted programs.
• The present version of the Code retains much of the structure first designed by its depression era predecessors.
Both the Colorado Constitution and Colorado Statute have clearly defined counties as political subdivisions of the state with only such powers as the state delegates to them. They are agents of the state, created for the convenient administration of the state government.
Statute has defined certain roles and functions, such as publishing forms which counties must use or requiring reports from time to time, that give narrow focus to the relationship; however, the two overriding statutory issues which bear on the relationship in the Human Services arena are:
26-1-111 The State Department shall “…….provide services to county governments including the organization and supervision of county departments for the effective administration of public assistance and welfare functions as set out in the rules of the executive director and the rules of the state board.” [emphasis added]
26-1-118 (1) The county departments or other state designated agencies, where applicable, shall serve as agents of the state department and shall be charged with the administration of public assistance and welfare and related activities in the respective counties in accordance with the rules and regulations of the state department.
26-1-122 (3) (b) and (4) (b) “…..if the county departments are administered in accordance with the policies and rules of the state department for the administration of the county departments, eighty percent of the costs of administering assistance payments, food stamps, and social services in the county departments shall be advanced to the county by the state treasurer …..”
Additionally, case law speaks to “ County Board bound by state board’s rules. Pursuant to statute, county boards of social services act as agents of the state board, and are bound by the rules promulgated by the state board.” Board of County Commissioners v. Merit System Council. 622 P2d 1093 (Colo. App. 1982)
Clearly the intent is that the county departments function for the convenient administration of the state government and that the state should provide service to them in order to best achieve the goals of state government. Further, the state should advance 80 % of the cost of administration and programs.
In its most concrete definition, county administration is the county government managing statewide social services programs at the local level. State supervision is indirect management as exercised through program development, practice standard development, workload standard development, model office design, rule promulgation, technical assistance, monitoring, and program evaluation.
The effective relationship is one in which the state is assisting counties to reach state-county objectives. This is consistent with statute and is the most efficient way to operate in a county administered system. Although final authority may exist at the state, the goals of state social services programs can only be attained by the county departments. Our ability to operate within this relationship is critical to the success of both the state's and the counties' programs. It is the intertwining of formal v. functional power in the process of achieving positive outcomes for our clients that is most difficult for observers of the system to understand.
States with County Administered Systems [circa 2000]
California North Carolina
Colorado North Dakota
Georgia - CW Only Ohio
Maryland Oregon - Pub. Asst. Only
Minnesota Pennsylvania - CW Only
Montana - Pub. Asst Virginia - CW Only
Nevada - CW Only Wisconsin - CW Only
New Jersey - Pub.Asst. Only