County Governments in Texas

County Governments in Texas

Texas has a total of 254 counties, by far the largest number of counties of any state. Under Spanish and, later, Mexican rule, Texas was divided into municipios, which, despite sharing a name origin with municipalities, were more like the counties of today – large districts containing one or more settlements and the surrounding rural land.

When Texas became a Republic in 1836, the 23 municipios became counties, with a structure that changed only slightly before, during, and after the Civil War. By 1870, Texas had 129 counties, and the Constitution of 1876, still in place today, went into significant detail about their formation and operation.

Pic of Fort Bend county
Figure 6.5 Fort Bend County was created as part of the Republic of Texas in 1837. This 1898 map shows many of the original land grants.
Image Credit: Andrew Teas, Licsense: CC BY

The last new county to be established was Loving County in 1931. More on Loving County later…

The structure of county government in Texas is defined in the Constitution, so it’s not surprising that the form closely follows the plural-executive model of state government.

Pic of Harris County Commissioners Court
Figure 6.6 This Harris County Commissioners Court meeting in 2018 was chaired by former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.
Image Credit: Andrew Teas, License: CC BY

Each Texas county is run in part by a five-member commissioners’ court consisting of a county judge, elected at-large, and four county commissioners elected from each of four precincts. Many county functions are run by independently elected officials, who answer directly to the voters, rather than to commissioners’ court. While county commissioners have authority over each official’s budget, they have little to say about the day-to-day administration of county offices. In most counties, these independently-elected officials include the county sheriff, the county attorney, the district attorney, the county clerk, the district clerk, the county treasurer, and the county tax assessor-collector as well as a number of judges that varies widely with the population of the county.