Fence Viewers, Drain Commissioners and Other Strange Governmental Positions
Each election day we head to the polls and vote for a vast array of candidates: mayors, judges, assemblymen and governors. Some states and municipalities have much stranger sounding offices on their ballots. Here are some of the oddest.
Have a problem with your neighbor’s fence? Is it in disrepair or maybe encroaching on your property? In the states of Nebraska, Massachusetts and Vermont, your solution is just a call away to your local fence viewer. The position dates back to the earliest colonial days and are still used today in some states. A person who holds this office “views fences to see that they are in good repair and in case of disputes between neighbors, works to resolve their differences. Problems such as size, condition, and distance from property lines are complaints that still arise between neighbors,” according to Wikipedia.
An elected office unique to the state of Michigan is that of Drain Commissioner. Each county in Michigan elects a drain commissioner. It’s a silly name but a serious office. The drain commissioner is the second highest government official in the county after the sheriff. Drain Commissioners do manage water drainage, but also have the power to assess taxes for their work. Owing to the lowbrow name of the position, some counties have renamed Drain Commissioner to the more highfalutin Water Resource Commissioner.
Despite their name, Police Juries have absolutely nothing to do with actual police work or sitting on a jury in court. In parts of rural Louisiana, a Police Jury is the name of the board of elected officials who oversee county government – a position similar to county commissioners or legislators in other states. The name Police Jury dates back to early territorial days in the Pelican State.
The office of Clerk of the Peace dates back several hundred years to nearly the Magna Carta days in England. The Clerk had many assorted law enforcement and judicial duties. The office of Clerk of the Peace has been abolished in England and other countries once under the British Crown – except in the State of Delaware. Each county in Delaware has a Clerk of the Peace and today they have only one official duty: issue marriage licences and perform civil marriage ceremonies.
Similar to Louisiana’s Police Juries, the state of New Jersey has unique nomenclature for their county legislative body: Chosen Freeholders. The title dates back to New Jersey’s first state constitution written in 1776 and defines a freeholder as a citizen who owns land free of any debt or mortgage worth at least 50 pounds. Today each county in Jersey selects a board of Chosen Freeholders now generally overseen by a County Executive.