Introduction

Board of Supervisors

 

A. Citizen Participation

Members of Boards Commissions and Committees provide an important service to our County.  They advise the Board of Supervisors on a wide variety of complex and significant policy issues or programs of concern to the Board.

The County of Marin is fortunate to have many community-minded citizens who have special experience and interests and who generously volunteer their time and expertise to serve on commissions.* The complexity of local government and the increasing interest in citizen participation in the decision-making process is reflected in the existence of over 60 such appointed bodies functioning within the County of Marin.

Serving on a commission can be a rewarding experience and is an excellent way to participate in county government and make a personal contribution to the community.  If we are to have a government that is truly reflective of our democratic ideals, “of the people, by the people and for the people,” we must rely on the active participation of many dedicated commission members.

The Board of Supervisors recognizes the level of commitment and professionalism required to serve as a commission member.  Your role as a commission member assists the Board immeasurably in making Marin County government both effective and responsive to its citizens. In fact, the Board of Supervisors has adopted “Defining Values” for the County that include responsiveness, collaboration, accessibility, diversity and citizenship. Commissions serve as a catalyst in supporting the Board by incorporating these values throughout the decision making process.

You make a living by what you get,
but you make a life by what you give.
Winston Churchill

B. Roles and Responsibilities

What is my role as a commission member?

The primary purpose of a commission is to serve as an advisory body to assist governmental bodies in the decision-making process. Commissions serve as a conduit for citizen input by gathering, analyzing and recommending options to the Board of Supervisors. Some commissions are mandated by Federal or State statute or established by County ordinance or resolution; others may be established by Joint Powers Agreement. Regardless of the establishing mechanism, the Board of Supervisors usually retains the final responsibility and authority for making policy decisions. The Planning and Personnel Commissions are exceptions and have the authority to take independent actions.

What does a commission member do?

Each commission shall have a set of by-laws outlining the mission, purpose and specific details on the functioning of the group. For most commissions there is typically an establishing ordinance, resolution, or legal mandate that outlines the scope and function of the commission. This is very useful in orienting members to the specific charge and focus of the assigned commission. New commission members should familiarize themselves with these documents. A County staff person is usually assigned to support the commissions’ activities and is an excellent resource.

The Board of Supervisors has also adopted a resolution establishing standing rules and application and appointment procedures. This document is one that every commissioner should carefully review as it clarifies Board policies and roles and responsibilities of commissioners. (See Section 2)

Many commissions also have an annual list of goals and priorities that guide their work program for the year. Reviewing these goals and priorities will assist you in understanding the function of the commission you now serve; especially its authority, work programs and relationship to the Board of Supervisors, county staff and other commissions. The most productive and effective commissions are those whose members are clearly committed to fulfilling the mission and goals of their commission and focus on accomplishing the annual priorities.

Remember that being a commission member is not an honorary assignment, but rather an assignment of honor.

Are there legal requirements I should know about?

Yes. One of your first assignments will be to familiarize yourself with the legal requirements relating to the conduct of “public business.” Commission meetings are by definition public meetings. With very few exceptions you are required by law to observe both the Brown Act, commonly called the open meeting law (See Section 3) and the Public Records Act. (See Section 4)

How does the Brown Act affect the meetings I attend, and how do I know if the requirements are being followed?

The following is a condensed version of the Brown Act “basics” to give you a sense of what you need to be aware of in your role as a commissioner. There is a more detailed discussion of the Brown Act in Section 3. Additionally, the staff person who supports your commission is aware of the Brown Act requirements and its application to commission meetings.

The Ralph M. Brown Act has regulated the conduct of meetings by the governing boards of local public agencies in California since 1953. The intent of the Brown Act is to “declare that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other public agencies in this state exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.”

  • All regular meetings must be noticed at least 72 hours (3 days) prior to the meeting. Agendas may also be forwarded to local media.
  • Special meetings require public notice and the 24 hour posting of notice as well as delivery of the notice to commission members and the media.
  • Standing committee meetings must be similarly noticed.
  • Ad hoc committee meetings that do not consist of a quorum do not have to be noticed.
  • Notice of all meetings must be posted in a place that is easily accessible to the public 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Actions (motion or vote) can only be taken on items that have been publicly noticed on the published agenda.
  • The body can declare “urgency,” and therefore discuss an item not on the agenda at a regular meeting, if the need for immediate action came to the attention of the agency subsequent to posting of the agenda. This requires a vote of at least two-thirds of the members present (or all members if less than two-thirds are present) to determine there is the need for immediate action which cannot reasonably wait for the next regularly scheduled meeting.
  • The body may discuss a non-agenda item at a regular meeting in open session if, by majority vote, the body determines the matter constitutes an emergency. Declaration of an “emergency” item means that the public safety is at risk.
  • Meetings must provide for public input (open time) for both regular and special meetings.
  • Meetings must be accessible to all without reservation.
  • Meetings may be audio or video taped by any person as long as it is not disruptive.
  • Generally, meetings must be held on a regularly scheduled basis and within the jurisdiction.
  • Voting must be done by voice or hand – no secret ballots or proxy votes are permitted.
  • "Straw votes" conducted outside of the public meeting, either in person, by phone, e-mail or other methods are not permitted. Serial conversations by phone, e-mail, in person or other methods to determine action in advance are prohibited.

Taking the "Oath of Office"

Commission members may not participate or vote on matters before their appointed commission until the Oath of Office has been fully executed before an authorized County representative. (See Section 5)

What is a “Conflict of Interest” and how will I know if I have one?

Financial Conflicts of Interest

A conflict of interest applies when a decision may have a financial impact on personal income or assets of an individual or the personal income or assets of their spouse or dependent children. The conflict applies whether the financial impact is positive or negative and is “material” if it exceeds a certain dollar amount as set by the Political Practices Commission. (See Section 6) Depending on the nature of his/her financial interest and other factors, a commission member may be disqualified from voting on a matter.

Additionally, commission members may not be financially interested in any contract made by themselves in their official capacity, or by any body or board of which they are members. Depending on the nature of a commissioner's financial interest in a contract, the entire commission could be disqualified from taking action on the item.

Any commissioner who is appointed by the Board of Supervisors, and where the commission makes recommendations to the Board, will have certain filing obligations under the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) Conflict of Interest Code. You may have to file a Statement of Economic Interest with the State or with the Clerk of the Board. (See Appendix 6 for Marin County's filing requirements) Commission members with questions regarding such financial conflicts of interest are encouraged to contact the FPPC hotline at: 866-ASK-FPPC.

Incompatible Activities and Offices

State Law provides statutory provisions against any officer or employee of a local agency from engaging in employment or any other activity which is in conflict with his or her public duties. An officer or employee must be notified by the public agency that his or her activities constitute a conflict of interest before the state law prohibitions are applied.

A public officer must also be aware of the doctrine of incompatibility. This issue arises when a public official holds two public offices simultaneously and a potential conflict or overlap in the functions or responsibilities of the two offices may be present. The central question is whether there exists a clash of duties or loyalties between the offices. If one office exercises a supervisory, auditory, appointive or removal power over the other then it may be improper for one person to continue to hold both offices.

Section 6 contains a pamphlet titled "Can I Vote" which is published by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and may help answer additional questions regarding conflict of interest issues.

What is Assembly Bill 1234 (Ethics Training) and who is required to take it?

AB 1234 applies to commission members who may receive compensation and/or expense reimbursement by the County. Pursuant to AB 1234, the County adopted revised Administrative Regulation No. 1 (AR No. 1) regarding reimbursement of expenses for County commissions, committees or boards. Please refer to Appendix 10 for the full text of the policy as it relates to commission members. Additionally, commission members listed in AR No. 1, and therefore covered under AB 1234, must complete Ethics Training every two years.

C. Communications and Collaboration

How does a commission member accomplish the goal of being effective?

As with any new assignment, it is important to begin building relationships with fellow commission members, local elected officials and their staff and the department staff person(s) who provide technical support to your assigned commission. An attitude of cooperation, spirit of tolerance and understanding and a goal of promoting consensus will be key attributes in your role as a commissioner. When requesting assistance that requires direct staff support on a project or for special research, please check with the department head or supervisor in advance to get prior approval for such assignments.

As with any new assignment, it is important to begin building relationships with fellow commission members, local elected officials and their staff and the department staff person(s) who provide technical support to your assigned commission. An attitude of cooperation, spirit of tolerance and understanding and a goal of promoting consensus will be key attributes in your role as a commissioner. When requesting assistance that requires direct staff support on a project or for special research, please check with the department head or supervisor in advance to get prior approval for such assignments.

You will also want to have a working knowledge of your commission's By-Laws so you are clear about the purpose, membership, meeting times and operating procedures of the group. Robert’s Rules of Order are widely accepted as the “standard” rules for conducting meetings. These procedures also insure that the flow of communication is clear and everyone has an opportunity to be heard. (See Section 7)

Who does a commission member represent?

Commission members represent the whole community and not the exclusive point of view of a particular group or special interest. The role of the commission is to gather and analyze public input prior to making a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. The guiding principle of any decision or recommendation is that of addressing the overall public benefit. Please see the Marin County Code of Ethics for public officials summarizing the ethical standards that govern conduct for both elected and appointed public officials. (See Section 8)

Can I be a spokesperson for my Commission?

Unless authorized as the designated spokesperson by the Commission, an individual commissioner may not represent the commission before any other commission, outside agency, to the press, or the general public. Members of commissions who are responsible for conducting public business for the County of Marin shall not knowingly or otherwise misrepresent the scope of their influence or authority in matters assigned to their commission or represent recommendations of their respective advisory body as official County policy until such time as formal action, such as adoption of a resolution, has been taken by the Board of Supervisors.

Where does a commission member gather information?

Be aware of specific issues addressed by the commission, as well as far-reaching ones that will impact all sectors of County programs and services. Be acquainted with the Board of Supervisors' priorities and interests. These are defined in the County’s Mission Statement and Defining Values adopted by the Board of Supervisors in September 2001. (See Section 9) The Board of Supervisors' meeting agendas are posted at several Civic Center locations and are available on the internet. Audio/video recordings of Board of Supervisors' meetings are also available on the internet.

What is the best way to prepare for commission meetings?

You will typically receive a meeting agenda and a packet of related material a minimum of three days prior to the scheduled meeting date. This should allow adequate time for you to review any background information in preparation for agenda items to be discussed or acted upon at the meeting. Stay informed about commission matters by reading minutes, staff reports and related material. Be prepared to ask clarifying questions, invite and consider public input, and promote discussion.

What happens if I need to miss a meeting?

Regular attendance at meetings and important related events is vital to the overall functioning, success and effectiveness of the commission. Although regular attendance at commission meetings is essential to the work program and functioning of the committee, there will be occasions when it is not possible to attend a meeting. In this situation, please give a courtesy call in advance to your staff support person, so they will be aware of your absence. This can be critical, especially if there are other member absences; this can result in less than a majority (quorum) of members present, with no formal action possible at the meeting.

Regular attendance at meetings and important related events is vital to the overall functioning, success and effectiveness of the commission. Although regular attendance at commission meetings is essential to the work program and functioning of the committee, there will be occasions when it is not possible to attend a meeting. In this situation, please give a courtesy call in advance to your staff support person, so they will be aware of your absence. This can be critical, especially if there are other member absences; this can result in less than a majority (quorum) of members present, with no formal action possible at the meeting.

What about my point of view?

Although each of us has opinions and preferences, the role of the commissioner is to represent the public—this can be achieved by being open-minded, respecting and valuing the perspective of others and inviting differing points of view. This will insure a process that is both open and inclusive. Your responsibility as a commission member is to represent the public interest, putting the needs, interests and protection of the citizens as your primary concern.

As a commissioner, do I have access to County business cards or letterhead stationery that identifies me as an appointed representative? Where do I get these, and under what circumstances can I use them?

The Board of Supervisors has adopted a policy addressing this issue which requires that County letterhead stationery and business cards may be used by persons appointed by the Board of Supervisors to a County board, commission, committee, task force or other advisory body only when such use is duly authorized for use by the County Administrator, and only when such use is consistent with the duties or the purpose of the County advisory board (see Appendix 10, Administrative Regulation No. 21).