An Introduction & Historical Overview of the Governing Body of Baldwin County, Alabama

Introduction

Baldwin County, ten years older than the State of Alabama, remains Alabama's largest county (covering over 1,600 square miles - larger than the State of Rhode Island) and has the distinction of having four seats of county government throughout its history (McIntosh Bluff - which is now in Mobile County, Town of Blakeley, Daphne & Bay Minette).

Created by the Mississippi Territorial Legislature and carved out of a portion of Washington County, Baldwin County was organized at the County Seat at McIntosh Bluff on December 21, 1809, during the days when it fell within the confines of the Mississippi Territory. Only Washington County, organized at Chatom on June 4, 1800, and Madison County, organized at Huntsville on December 13, 1808, remain Alabama counties older than Baldwin County.

After Alabama's admission into the Union as the 22nd State on December 14, 1819, Baldwin County found itself situated within the territorial limits of the newly created state and, as with all Alabama's then-existing counties, was in later years (1821) established by the Legislature of Alabama as a body corporate to perform an assortment of local governmental functions within the unincorporated areas of the county (those areas outside the incorporated limits of any of the county's municipalities). As a footnote, after Statehood some of Baldwin County's land was later divided, by an Act of the Legislature of Alabama, on December 14, 1820, between the counties of Washington, Mobile & Monroe, and later Escambia in 1869.

The duties, functions and powers of the governing body of Baldwin County are prescribed by General Law (relating to all counties in Alabama) and Local Law (relating only to one county or political subdivision of the state).

Within General Law, many of the powers, duties & functions authorized Alabama counties can be found within several, yet scattered, parts of the General Law (called "Titles" or "Sections") of the Code of Alabama 1975. Nevertheless, a majority of those general governmental powers, duties & functions delegated to the governing body of Baldwin County, and all Alabama county governments, are enumerated in Chapter 3, Title 11, Article 1, et seq., of the Code of Alabama 1975.

Within Local Law, additional powers, duties & functions authorized the governing body of Baldwin County are enumerated throughout a series of Local Laws relating only to Baldwin County (such as authorizing planning & zoning, Sunday liquor sales & certain county officials operating additional offices removed from the main courthouse, to name but a few), with Act No. 239, 1931 Regular Session of the Legislature of Alabama, as amended, considered the first Local Law, specifically related to the governmental authority of the Baldwin County Commission, in such series.

Many citizens inquire as to why there isn't just one place to look for those powers, duties and functions prescribed to Alabama Counties. In short, when Alabama formed its many and varied county governments, after entering the Federal Union, there was an effort to provide some uniformity as to county government being the same from county to county. However, because of Alabama's unique diversity, from region to region, many individual laws, called "Local Laws" were passed in the Legislature of Alabama by respective county Legislative Delegations to only apply to one county, while other county Legislative Delegations wrote other "Local Laws" to apply to their respective counties.

Generally, the place to begin researching for the powers, duties and functions of the governing body of Baldwin County starts with a review of Chapter 3, Title 11, Article 1, et seq., Code of Alabama 1975; however, please keep in mind that Act No. 239, 1931 Regular Session of the Legislature of Alabama, as amended, adds other powers, duties & functions which strengthen the framework of the institutional governmental authority of the governing body of Baldwin County. The auxiliary place to research the additional powers, duties & functions of the governing body of Baldwin County, through the General Law , should include a detailed review of the Ready Reference Index / General Index (Volume 24) of the Code of Alabama 1975 under the sections titled "Counties," "County" & "County Commission," published under the supervision of the State of Alabama Legislative Council. The auxiliary place to research the additional powers, duties & functions of the governing body of Baldwin County, through the enactment of Local Laws relating to the County, should include a detailed review of the State of Alabama Local Laws Index, published by the Legislative Reference Service of the State of Alabama.

Additionally, when assessing those powers, duties & functions exercised by any Alabama county, it is detrimental to remember that counties are considered public quasi-corporations created by the State to serve as political subdivisions of such and, as a result, are limited, by the Legislature of Alabama, in what functions they perform.

Therefore, the express purpose of their creation is to assist the State in carrying out the authorized functions necessary to protect the health & welfare of the citizenry within a geographical area. As a result of having legislatively limited and narrowly defined powers, almost all counties in Alabama are considered to be lacking of "home rule" (with the exception of a handful of counties granted limited home rule powers) which, if established, would give a county those powers already exercised by municipalities - such as the power to unilaterally establish rules and regulations deemed appropriate by their respective governing bodies to be applicable within their jurisdictional limits without the consent of the Legislature of Alabama.