Poland had been divided into 49 administrative districts, or voivods, which were the basic administrative units under the Communists. One of the innovations of the 1989 Solidarity government was to replace that system with one in which the basic unit was the gmina , or local authority, which owned property and had responsibility for its own budget. The gmina elected a council, which appointed the executive officials actually responsible for day-to-day administration of the locality.
In 1994, there were 2,383 such local councils, to which the law provided a mixed system of election. In districts containing more than 40,000 people, of which there were 110 in 1994, council representation was proportionally determined, based upon party affiliation. In the smaller districts council representatives were elected by direct majority vote.
Originally these gmina councils were similar in makeup to the Solidarity Citizens Committees, from which they descended. Increasingly, however, the councils differentiated themselves, some becoming controlled by national parties, while others remained dominated by personalities, who responded primarily to local issues.
Changes in local government structure were introduced in 1999, transforming Poland's 49 provinces into 16 new ones. A three-tier division of government was established: municipalities/communes, 308 counties ( powiaty ), and 16 provinces ( wojewodztwa ). Each of these divisions is governed by a council. Council members are directly elected, and appoint and dismiss the heads of the municipalities/communes ( wojt ), the town mayors, the starosta or head of the county, and the speaker of the provincial councils.