Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you.
So I took the chief of your tribes, wise men, and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.Deuteronomy 1: 13, 15
During the Declaration of Independence era, the Bible was heavily quoted and relied on for inspiration on how to organize our nation. Deuteronomy was one of the most frequently cited sources, especially chapter 1. Moses had wise men elected to serve in their tribes. There were also different duties entrusted to these wise men. We can see a similar structure in County organizations. The Idaho Constitution Article XVIII lists the following County elected positions:
This elected position is one of the most visible positions. The name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon, shire rif, or leader in a shire. Note that they envisioned protection against foreign attacks as the most important function of the shire. For this reason, this responsibility was delegated to their shire leader.
Sheriffs are different from police in that the sheriff is elected by the people, while the police are employed by the local government. We want him to be elected because we want him to represent us, and protect us. The Founding Fathers recognized the necessity of governments. At the same time, they also recognize the immense oppression that can come from governments. Sheriffs represent the last-ditch effort to protect us from enemies foreign and domestic. For example, suppose the federal government wants to arrest us for COVID violations (a hypothetical parallel borrowed from the events in China), they are required to notify the local sheriff, and he can deny such actions.
Earlier this year, the Florida governor fired a sheriff for refusing to rescue hostages in a school. Florida’s Constitution allows that action. But, not in Idaho and most of the states. A sheriff is elected by the People, and he cannot be fired by the Governor or even the President. There are, however, Impeachment and Recall processes. We will discuss them separately.
To properly manage the budget and provide accountability, a Treasurer is elected. This position is similar to the Finance Director or Accountant in any company. Note that the Idaho Constitution allows this position to administer other executive functions within the County. In Bannock County, the Treasurer also oversees the procurement process.
The Constitution lists our basic rights as Life, Liberty, and Property [the pursuit of happiness]. The protection of Property Rights is especially important. Without it, the other two basic rights would be voided. Excessive and unreasonable taxes erode the sanctity of property rights. Its importance prompted the creation of the position of County Assessor, with the primary role to protect our property rights.
I attended the debates between the two Assessor candidates in Bannock County. Both said that they work for the people. In the same breath, they also said that there are State laws that govern their every action. I sincerely caution them to establish their priorities!
The role of the Coroner is relatively simple. One of the citizens died. The cause may be accidental or maybe not. The Right to Life is so sacred that a system to check on its pronouncement was deemed necessary. The Coroner’s role, therefore, is to check on the pronouncement of the Right to Life.
The Coroner’s role does overlap with the role of the Sheriff allowing the Coroner to function as a checking power on the Sheriff. This brings up the question of Impeachment and Recall.
Recall and Impeachment
Elected officials can be recalled or impeached. The former is done by the voters. The latter is done by the Commissioners, who form the Legislative Branch of the County. Once impeached or recalled, the Sheriff has the responsibility to see the removal of that elected official. If the Sheriff is impeached or recalled, the Corner has the responsibility to remove the Sheriff.
Note: This is the second in a three-part series on local government. The first installment, The Proper Role of Local Governments. Next week’s installment will discuss the roles of Judges and Commissioners.