Voters send county vets to governor’s offices
Two gubernatorial candidates with county government backgrounds will take office in January after successful elections, and voters across the country cast ballots in favor of measures that will change county government.
Pennsylvanians elected former Montgomery County Commission Chair Josh Shapiro governor after a term as attorney general. The Democrat served on the county Commission from 2011-2017. He is the first Pennsylvania governor since Mark Schweiker (a Republican who filled Tom Ridge’s seat after the latter became Homeland Security secretary), to have county government experience. Schweiker served for seven years as a Bucks County commissioner, from 1988-1995.
Nevadans elected two-term Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, a Republican, who will succeed one-term Gov. Steve Sisolak, a former Clark County Commission chair.
Voters across the country evaluated various ballot measures, including:
• Elections: Ranked choice voting was on the ballot in several counties, with voters in Multnomah County, Ore. approving its use for county-level races, but voters in Clark and San Juan counties in Washington defeated similar measures.
In Ohio, voters prohibited counties from allowing noncitizens to vote.
In King County, Wash. elections for county executive, assessor, director of elections and councilmembers will move to even-numbered years beginning in 2026.
California’s San Benito and San Bernardino counties’ voters approved term limits for supervisors.
• Medicaid: Voters in South Dakota approved an expansion of Medicaid, which will cover 20,000 additional adults according to a 2019 analysis by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
• Broadband: In Alabama, Amendment 2 will allow counties to grant federal award funds or other state-designated broadband funds to public or private entities to provide or expand broadband internet infrastructure. Alabama county probate courts will no longer manage orphans’ business following the passage of Amendment 5.
• Economic development: Also in Alabama, Amendment 7’s passage will change the requirements for counties and municipalities to provide for financing economic and industrial development through the use of public funds, issuing bonds, and leasing property or lending bonds to private entities. Local governments will be exempted from seeking voter approval for issuing bonds unless the bond issue includes a repayment provision such as a tax increase.
• Property tax relief: Georgia voters allowed counties to grant temporary tax relief to properties destroyed in a nationally declared disaster area.
• County sheriffs: Kansas voters required that county sheriffs be elected and allowed them to be recalled.
Los Angeles County, Calif. voters have allowed the Board of Supervisors to remove the sheriff by a four-fifths vote for cause.
• Airports: Nebraska counties that operate airports will be able to spend revenue to develop commercial air travel.
• Gun permits: Oregon residents voted to require permits issued by local law enforcement agencies to buy a firearm.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County voters also supported prohibiting the importation, sale, manufacture, transfer or possession of semiautomatic firearms.
• Investment portfolios: Wyoming voters supported allowing the Legislature to let counties invest in stocks and equities, while requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to establish or increase the percentage of funds a local government could invest.
Among hundreds of local taxing measures, voters in individual counties passed ballot measures, too.
• Oath of office: Miami-Dade County, Fla. may amend the County Charter to require an oath of office, requiring that the mayor and commissioners swear that they will “support, protect and defend the Miami-Dade County Home Rule Charter and the government of Miami-Dade County.”
• Jail inspections: Multnomah County commissioners must now inspect county jails annually.
Also in that county, the county auditor’s office may now investigate the county’s administration, which includes being provided unrestricted and timely access to county employees, information and records to do so. The county Board may now appoint a charter review committee and the charter review period is extended to 18 months, from 11 months.
• Marijuana: Dane County, Wis. voters supported expungements for convictions of possession of small amounts of cannabis and Milwaukee County voters supported the county legalizing, taxing and regulating the drug.
• Housing: Sacramento County voters allowed the county and cities to develop housing for low-income people and families equal to 1 percent of current housing units in the county.
The Streamlining Federal Grants Act simplifies the grant application process for local governments to improve access to federal grant funding.
Conversations on the state of the county workforce and its competitive advantages drove input from administrators, managers and chief administrative officers last month during a Business of Counties convening.
Counties across the country, including Wake County, N.C., Kershaw County, S.C. and Mariposa County, Calif., are getting more intentional about firefighter shortages by diversifying their fire services.