The Statutory Responsibilities of the Board of County Commissioners
Regardless of the form of government, G.S. 153A-76 gives the board of commissioners broad authority to organize county government:
The board of commissioners may create, change, abolish, and consolidate offices, positions, departments, boards, commissions, and agencies of the county government, may impose ex officio the duties of more than one office in a single officer, may change the composition and manner of selection of boards, commissions, and agencies, and may generally organize and reorganize county government in order to promote orderly and efficient administration of county affairs, subject to the following limitations:
1) The board may not abolish an office, position, department, board, commission, or agency established or required by law.
2) The board may not combine offices or confer certain duties on the same officer when this action is specifically forbidden by law.
3) The board may not discontinue or assign elsewhere a function or duty assigned by law to a particular office, position, department, board, commission, or agency.
4) The board may not change the composition or manner of selection of a local board of education, the board of health, the board of social services, the board of elections, or the board of alcoholic beverage control.
This seemingly broad grant of responsibility nonetheless leaves many county functions outside the commissioners' direct control:
1) The sheriff and the register of deeds are elected officers.
2) Board of education members are elected and appoint the superintendent.
3) The state of board of elections appoints the local board, which in turn appoints the director of elections.
4) The directors of health and social services are appointed by their respective board except in the state's two largest counties.
These exceptions notwithstanding, the commissioners still have fairly broad authority to organize the administrative apparatus to carry out the board's policies, including the options for appointing a county manager to oversee the administration of county services.
G.S. 153A-39 requires that the board of commissioners select a chair from among its members at its first regular meeting in December, unless the chair is elected by the people or otherwise designated by law. The board also elects a vice-chair to serve in the absence of the chair, and when both are absent, the commissioners present may choose another member to act temporarily as chair. The statutory powers and duties conferred on the chair are few: G.S. 153A-39 designates the chair as the presiding officer and requires him or her to vote on measures before the board. The only other clearly stipulated duty of the chair is to use his or her authority under G.S. 143-318.17 to direct persons who disrupt a meeting to leave (the refusal to do so being a misdemeanor). Without any further enumeration of powers and no provision for the board of commissioners to confer additional powers and duties, the chair's ability to lead or guide the board is largely dependent on his or her personal and political skills and willingness to do so.
Unlike mayors of cities who are expressly prohibited from assuming the duties of the manager on the basis (G.S. 160A-151), chairs of county boards of commissioners are certainly able to do so by action of the board in accordance with G.S. 153A-81, as mentioned earlier.