The Constitution of Tennessee, legislation enacted by the General Assembly and administrative rules and regulations issued by agencies of the executive branch control the relationship between the State of Tennessee and its political subdivisions. The courts of the state interpret the provisions of the Constitution and ultimately determine the validity of statutes and regulations. The attorney general regularly issues opinions on the constitutionality, operation and effect of statutes. Opinions by the attorney general are particularly influential in Tennessee. For example, county officials frequently resolve disputes over various interpretations of law following the issuance of an attorney general’s opinion, avoiding the necessity and expense of a court test. Also, legislators often request opinions about the authority of counties to perform functions contemplated in pending legislation or about what actions the state can legally take with regard to county governmental affairs.
County officials and personnel deal with state government as a matter of course in their daily activities. The county is not separate from the state, but is part of the state. It is a basic unit in the organization of political parties and in the administration of elections. County officials administer what are essentially state programs in areas of health and welfare, schools, courts and the collection of license fees and taxes. Counties supply services the state cannot provide or chooses not to provide. County sheriffs enforce state law and counties incarcerate thousands of state prisoners in local jails. The state oversees these activities performed on its behalf and often provides county programs with administrative and financial assistance.
The state comptroller’s office has a division of local government audit responsible for seeing that local government finances are audited properly, while watching for potential financial difficulties. Another official in the office of the comptroller reviews local bond issues and advises local governments on bond problems. The state provides an Elections Coordinator in the office of the Secretary of State who works with local governments on local election problems and issues, giving assistance in election law and procedures. The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is available to assist any local government in times of disaster. The Police Officers Standards Commission prescribes qualifications and training for local law enforcement officers. County jails are inspected in accordance with state laws.
The state is particularly cooperative in county purchasing and financial management. State law empowers counties to make purchases under the state purchasing contract without letting bids. This means automobiles, road salt, typewriters and anything that the state purchases can be purchased by local governments under the same contract. The state operates a Local Development Authority (LDA). Under the LDA, the state issues revenue bonds and loans proceeds to local governments for the construction of wastewater treatment projects. Local governments pay off these bonds through the revenues from local user charges. The state has also authorized a local government investment pool through which counties and other entities can invest idle funds with full protection.
State and counties share some of the same revenue sources. The state collects not only the state sales tax, but also county and municipal sales taxes. The state retains a small administrative fee for collecting local sales taxes and remits the balances to the county trustee for distribution within that county. The state also collects the state gasoline tax which is shared with cities and counties.
There are numerous worthy governmental programs and purposes which could not be performed or executed without extensive state and county cooperation. For example, the state Fire Marshal’s office in the Department of Insurance , is responsible for reviewing the plans of all schools, multi-story office buildings and institutional buildings in each local jurisdiction to make sure they are safely constructed. The Department of Health and Environment has a technical assistance program to assist local wastewater treatment facility operators to comply with environmental regulations. The Department of Economic and Community Development works with cities and counties to help them recruit industrial prospects and to publicize local resources. These are a few of the ways counties interact with the state on a daily basis for a variety of reasons and functions.
The state of Tennessee has been divided into nine development districts for the purpose of regional planning, joint community and economic development projects, and the provision of certain services on a regional basis. Each development district serves as an area agency on aging that administers many programs based on federal funds that are passed through the state to the development districts to assist elderly and disabled citizens. Each county, plus each municipality is represented on the board of the development district for the region along with other state representatives. The county mayor represents his or her county on the development district board and may serve on its executive committee.
Another form of intergovernmental cooperation is the representation of local governments on state boards and commissions. Some of the bodies on which county officials are represented include the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, the Air Pollution Control Board, the Consolidated Retirement System Board of Trustees, the Emergency Medical Services Board, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission, the Solid Waste Disposal Control Board, the Water Quality Control Board, and many others. Local government representation on these boards and commissions is provided for by statute.