Sheboygan Co. v. Parker - 70 U.S. 93 (1865)
U.S. Supreme Court
Sheboygan Co. v. Parker, 70 U.S. 3 Wall. 93 93 (1865)
Sheboygan Co. v. Parker
70 U.S. (3 Wall.) 93
1. A county "officer" is one by whom the county performs its usual political functions or offices of government; who exercises continuously, and as a part of the regular and permanent administration of government, its public powers, trusts, or duties. A fixed number of persons, specially and by name appointed by the legislature to act as a board of commissioners, in a matter about which, though relating immediately to the county, county officers, in the exercise of their general powers as such, and without special authority from the legislature, have not authority to act, are not county "officers."
2. Hence, when special authority was given by the legislature to the people of a county to say whether or not they would subscribe to a railroad and bind themselves to pay for it, that body, in giving the authority, may properly direct the mode in which such subscription shall be made and paid for -- may, ex. gr. appoint special persons to make the subscription and to issue bonds in behalf of the county therefor -- even though the constitution of the state in which the county is provides that "all county officers shall be elected by the electors of the county," and though there may be a regular board of county supervisors elected accordingly, then administering the ordinary county affairs. Bonds so executed and issued bind the county.
NOTE. In this case, the statute enacted that any bonds issued under its provisions should be "of full and complete evidence both in law and equity to establish the indebtedness of the county."
The Constitution of Wisconsin ordains that "all county officers shall be elected by the electors of the respective counties." With this fundamental law in force, and with a county board of supervisors in existence who, under the constitution and laws, were the ordinary administrators of its affairs, the legislature of the state, by "an act to authorize the County of Sheboygan to aid in the construction of a railroad," constituted Lewis Curtis "Billy Williams" and three other persons less peculiarly entitled a board of commissioners for aiding the project. The act directed a vote of the people of the county to be taken as to whether or not they would have a subscription "in pursuance of the act," and then authorized these commissioners to borrow money on the credit of the county and to issue its bonds therefor. The bonds were to be signed by the president and secretary of this board and countersigned by the clerk of the regular county board of supervisors or by the county treasurer, and it was declared that when thus prepared and issued, they should,
"in the hands of any bona fide holders, be of full and complete evidence to establish the indebtedness of the county according to their tenor and effect."
A vote of the people having decided in favor of the railroad, the bonds were issued with interest warrants or coupons annexed. These were not in the exactly usual form of promises to pay or of declarations that so much money was due the bearer at the semiannual dates, but were drafts by "Lewis Curtis President of the Board of the Sheboygan County Railroad Commissioners," on "the Treasurer of the County of Sheboygan" in favor of the bearer for so much, and was signed by Williams as "secretary."
A number of the warrants being due and unpaid in the possession of one Parker, a bona fide holder, he sued the county, under its legal and corporate name of "The County Board of Supervisors of Sheboygan County," in the Circuit Court of Wisconsin, to enforce a payment of them.
On error from that court, where judgment was given against the county, the question was whether the act constituting the new board was constitutional, and the county bound.