The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site -



Opinion No. 5097

January 27, 1977


Civil Service




Establishment of Civil Service for Deputy Sheriffs

Regardless of its population, a county may establish a civil service system for all of its employees or only employees of the sheriff's department.

Mr. Richard Celello

Prosecuting Attorney

County of Dickinson

101 E. Ludington Street

Iron Mountain, Michigan

Your predecessor has requested my opinion concerning the establishment of a civil service system for deputies in the County Sheriff's Department of Dickinson County. Your letter raises two questions which have been restated as follows:

1. May a county which fails to satisfy the population requirement of 1941 PA 370, MCLA 38.401 et seq; MSA 5.1191(1) et seq, (1) nevertheless establish a county civil service system under the authority of Const 1963, art 11, Sec. 6?

2. If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, may the county institute a limited civil service system covering only deputies in the County sheriff's Department and no other county employees?

The constitutional provision which is the basis of your first question, Const 1963, art 11, Sec. 6, reads as follows:

'By ordinance or resolution of its governing body which shall not take effect until approved by a majority of the electors voting thereon, unless otherwise provided by charter, each county, township, city, village, school district and other governmental unit or authority may establish, modify or discontinue a merit system for its employees other than teachers under contract or tenure. The state civil service commission may on requst furnish technical services to any such unit on a reimbursable basis.'

This provision was analyzed and applied in OAG, 1965-1966, No. 4534, p 313 (June 13, 1966). In that opinion, the history of Const 1963, art 11, Sec. 6, was considered, and it was determined that "The governing body of the political subdivision or municipal corporation is authorized to establish, modify or discontinue a merit system for its employees by ordinance or resolution". OAG, 1965-1966, No 4534, supra, p 315.

The opinion went on to note that:

'The provisions of Section 6 of Article XI are self-executing and require no legislative implementation. Sault Ste. Marie Hospital v Chippewa County Treasurer, (1920) 209 Mich. 684, 689.

'The provisions of said section being self-executing, the legislature is without authority to limit the type of civil service which may be adopted by a county. Soutar v. St. Clair County Election Commission, (1952) 334 Mich. 258, 265.'

[OAG, 1965-1966, No 4534, supra, p 315]

Thus a county board of commissioners may adopt an ordinance or resolution establishing a merit system for county employees which also provides for the submission of the question to a vote of the electorate of the county for approval or disapproval. Further discussion of this issue as it relates to a township may be found in OAG, 1965-1966, No 4507, p 349 (August 29, 1966).

Your second question was the subject of an unpublished letter opinion to the Prosecuting Attorney of Muskegon County dated July 14, 1966. That letter referred to the provisions of 1966 PA 298, MCLA 51.351 et seq; MSA 5.1191(101) et seq, which deals with the creation of a civil service system exclusively for the sheriff's department. In that letter, attention was first directed to OAG, 1965-1966, No 4534, supra, and to Const 1963, art 11, Sec. 6. It was stated:

'Obviously, discretion was intended to be vested in the local governing body. Was such discretion intended to be limited to the selection of the type of civil service system established and the pertinent details with respect thereto or may the governing body in adopting such ordinance or resolution determine whether to include all the employees of the county or just those of one or more departments, boards, or offices? The constitutional provision does not specifically answer that question, but instead refers to a merit system for its (the county's) employees.

'Intent to vest the board of supervisors with broad discretion is evidenced by the amendment to Committee Proposal No. 76, adopted during its consideration by the 1961 constitutional convention, as well as the rejection of the Downs-Danhof amendment offered to said committee proposal both of which acts had the effect of limiting legislative action on this subject. Burdick v Secretary of State, (1964) 373 Mich 578.

'It is my opinion that the board of supervisors has discretion to provide by ordinance or resolution for a merit system for all employees of the county or, if deemed preferable, for only those employees in one or more of the county departments or offices. Should a board of supervisors decide to extend a merit system to only those employees of one or more county departments or offices, then the class of employees so determined must have some reasonable basis of selection. The classification must meet the application tests required by the 'equal protection clause' found in both the Federal and Michigan Constitution. These tests are discussed in the cases of Naudzius v Lahr, 253 Mich 216, and Gauthier v Campbell, Wyant & Cannon Foundry Company, 360 Mich 510.

'You suggest the establishment of a merit system for the employees of the sheriff's department. It would appear that the nature of the duties of these employees, desirability for freedom from political office holding, the opportunity for advancement based on merit, and other similar grounds would be sufficient to support their separate classification and inclusion in a merit system as reasonable.'

(Opinion p 3-4)

To summarize, a county may establish a civil service system on the authority of the self-implementing provision of 1963 Const, art 11, Sec. 6, and membership in such a system may be limited to deputies in the sheriff's department.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

(1) 1941 PA 370, supra, Sec. 2, provides that, '[U]pon the adoption of a resolution therefor by a majority of the members-elect of the board of [commissioners] of any county now or hereafter having a population of 1,000,000 or more, . . . the question of adopting the county civil service system . . . shall be submitted to a vote of the electors of the county. . . .'