Several amendments to the Tennessee Constitution were approved in 1978; among them was an amendment restructuring the basic framework of county government. Article VII, Section 1 of the Tennessee Constitution now provides counties with the following constitutional officers: county executive, sheriff, trustee, register, county clerk, and assessor of property. This Section also requires the election of a legislative body of not more than 25 members, with no more than three members to be elected from a single district. The General Assembly sets the qualifications and duties of these offices.
Before the 1978 constitutional changes, county government had been difficult to divide into executive, legislative, and judicial branches. With the creation of the office of county executive and of the county legislative body, along with several judicial interpretations of the powers and duties of each, county government is now more clearly divided into three branches, even though the county executive must share executive powers with other constitutional officers. The legislature is afforded wide latitude in determining the duties that may be assigned to the various constitutional officers. Metropolitan Government v. Poe, 383 S.W.2d 265 (Tenn. 1964).
Article VII, Section 1, also provides that the General Assembly "may provide alternate forms of county governments including the right to charter and the manner by which a referendum may be called." The Tennessee Supreme Court has stated that when the General Assembly authorizes any deviation from the government provided for in this article, such action must be ratified by the people in a referendum called for that purpose. State ex rel. Maner v. Leach, 588 S.W.2d 534 (Tenn. 1979). Other than the county charter (T.C.A. §§ 5-1-201 through 5-1-214), no additional alternatives are now offered by the General Assembly except for the metropolitan and unification forms of government which were provided for in an earlier constitutional amendment and implementing legislation. Tenn. Const., art. XI, § 9; T.C.A. §§ 7-1-101 through 7-3-313, 7-21-101 through 7-21-408.