North Carolina State Government - The Executive Branch


Council of State

North Carolina’s Council of State is composed of the elected officials enumerated in Article III of the Constitution of North Carolina. Each of these officials is the executive head of a department of state government. The Council advises the governor on certain important administrative matters of state. The Council is also charged by statute with other specific duties and responsibilities.

Some historians assert that the Council of State had its origin in the Constitution of 1776. Drafted and promulgated by the Fifth Provincial Congress in December, 1776, this document was created without being subsequently submitted to North Carolina voters for popular approval. The Constitution — and its accompanying declaration of rights — set forth the organizational structure of the new state government while, at the same time, limiting its ability to intrude in the private live of many state citizens.

Much earlier, however, with their instructions to the first governor, William Drummond in 1664, the Lords Proprietors required a six-man Council to help guide the colony and to serve as the "upper house" in a somewhat bicameral General Assembly that also included a small House of Burgesses. With the introduction of the Fundamental Constitutions in 1669 and 1670, the Lords Proprietors refined this small group of advisors to consist of "Deputies" appointed by each of the Lords Proprietors - the governor/deputy governor was the deputy appointed by the Palatine and the seven other deputies were appointed to serve him, first for only four years. As time went on, these Deputies were essentially appointed "for life" or until they did something really heinous or really stupid. When the Crown purchased Carolina from the Lords Proprietors in 1728/1729, the new policy was to have twelve (12) members on the Council. Over time, these small groups of advisors became known, historically, as the Executive Council, and these councils served as the real basis for the Council of State being included in the original North Carolina State Constitution.

The 1776 Constitution established the familiar three-way separation of power that still forms the basis of state government in North Carolina. True power of state, however, was first concentrated in the legislative branch. A profound distrust of executive power was evident throughout the Constitution of 1776. It allowed the governor only a one-year term with a limit of only three terms in any six years. The small amount of executive authority granted to the governor was further limited by requiring, in many instances, the concurrence of the Council of State before the governor could exercise power.

In 1776, the Council of State consisted of seven men elected by joint vote of the two houses of the General Assembly. They were elected for a one-year term and could not be members of either the state Senate or the state House of Commons. If a vacancy occurred, it was filled at the next session of the General Assembly. The Council was created to “advise the governor in the execution of his office,” but was independent of the governor.

The role of our Council of State today is similar to what it was centuries ago. While no longer a separate and distinct body elected by the General Assembly, the functions of advising the governor and making decisions which are important to the operation of government have survived.

Article III, Section 7, of the Constitution of North Carolina provides for the election of the following eight (8) key state officers, which are currently also designated as the Council of State:

- Secretary of State
- State Auditor
- State Treasurer
- Superintendent of Public Instruction
- Attorney General
- Commissioner of Labor
- Commissioner of Agriculture
- Commissioner of Insurance

All of these officers, including the governor and lieutenant governor, are elected by the citizens of North Carolina at the same time that votes are cast for president and vice president — November of every other even-numbered year. They are elected to four-year terms and, except for the governor and lieutenant governor, who can be elected to only one additional consecutive term, there is no limit on the number of times each member of the Council of State may be elected. In the event of vacancy on the council due to death, resignation or otherwise, the governor has the authority to appoint someone to serve until a successor is elected at the next general election for members of the General Assembly. Section 8, Article III of the Constitution provides that these eight (8) elected officials shall constitute the Council of State.

The duties and responsibilities of the Council of State, as prescribed in the General Statutes of North Carolina, are to:

- Advise the governor on calling special sessions of the North Carolina General Assembly.
- Advise the governor and state treasurer on investment of assurance fund.
- Approve transfers from state property fire insurance fund agencies suffering losses.
- Approve the purchase of insurance for reinsurance.
- Control internal improvements and require the chief executive of public works to report on improvements to the council and the General Assembly.
- Approve the sale, lease and mortgage of corporate property in which the state has an interest.
- Investigate public works companies.
- Approve the governor’s determination of competitive positions.
- Allot contingency and emergency funds for many purposes.
- Approve survey of state boundaries.
- Sign bonds in lieu of treasurer.
- Authorize the treasurer on replacing bonds and notes.
- Authorize the treasurer to borrow in emergency and report such to the state legislature.
- Approve the issuance of bonds, set interest rate and approve the manner of sale.
- Request cancellation of highway bonds in sinking funds if necessary.
- Approve borrowing in anticipation of collection of taxes.
- Approve parking lot rules.
- Participate in lease, rental, purchase and sale of real property.
- Approve motor pool rules.
- Approve general service rules and regulations.
- Approve property and space allocations.
- Approve war and civil defense plans.
- Approve banks and securities for state funds.
- Approve all state land transactions.

The Council of State meets monthly at a time agreed upon by its members. Currently, the Council meets the first Tuesday of each month. Prior to 1985, Council of State meetings were exempted from the State Open Meetings Law by an Act of the General Assembly. There was, however, so much public uproar over this practice that since 1985 the meetings have been open.

© 2016 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved