There are two types of elected county offices that help underscore their differences and authority. They are discretionary offices and ministerial offices.
A discretionary office is one in which, by law, the professional responsibilities of the office holder usually involve the exercise of judgment and professional discretion in performing duties. For example, by statute, a sheriff is directed to “make all lawful arrests” and a county attorney has a statutory responsibility to prosecute felonies; however, in these and other cases the law recognizes that a sheriff and an attorney retain the professional discretion to determine whether to arrest or prosecute in particular circumstances, based on specific events.
By contrast, some elected offices perform what is referred to as a ministerial duty, typically requiring the management, custody or certification of official documents by the clerk or recorder; no professional discretion would permit that official from declining to accept a document that is properly filed. Discretionary and ministerial functions also extend to an elected officer’s deputies.
The county commission or council has the legal authority to control salaries and hiring among elected officials and to set their budgets. However, the courts have found that this authority does not permit the commission or council to underfund an elected official or their office to the extent that they cannot reasonably perform their statutory functions.