Governance and Scope of Authority

The specific role or function of each commission, board or committee in County government depends primarily on the reason (including the legal basis) the committee was established. It is very important for each appointee to understand the committee's function, as provided in legislation, and the source of its governing authority.

Classification of Types of Boards, Committees, and Commissions

Discretionary vs. Mandated Advisory Bodies:
The primary purpose of a citizen's advisory body in Contra Costa County is to assist and advise the Board of Supervisors in its decision-making process. Advisory bodies are established to assess the impact of County services and programs on the community, to identify specific community needs, and to make advisory recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on issues related to each body’s assigned purpose or charge.

Many advisory committees are established solely "at the discretion" of the Board of Supervisors in order to serve a purpose that is designated by the Board of Supervisors. On the other hand, some committees are not "discretionary" because they are legally required, or "mandated," by Federal or State laws. However, most of the mandated committees that are required under State or Federal law are still 'governed' by the Board of Supervisors.

Independent Boards, Commissions, and Committees:
The Board of Supervisors also makes appointments to certain "independent" boards, committees and commissions that serve as independent decision-makers. Some examples of independent boards and commissions include the County Planning Commission, the Assessment Appeals Board, and the Merit Board. These appointments are administered by the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors in a manner similar to the County's citizens' advisory bodies.

Policies for Municipal Advisory Councils:
Municipal Advisory Councils are established pursuant to State law (Government Code 31010) to advise the Board of Supervisors for the unincorporated areas of the County; in these areas, there is no city government to provide services or address residents' concerns.

Each Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) has a separate establishing Resolution of the Board of Supervisors which describes its mandate and purpose. The Board of Supervisors has also adopted policies to ensure consistency among Contra Costa County’s Municipal Advisory Councils (MACs). Policies affecting MACs appear in Appendix 3 of the Advisory Body Handbook, which may be amended from time to time. County staff liaisons should be attentive to the specific needs and legal requirements of the MACs, and contact Clerk of the Board or County Administrator's Office as needed with ongoing questions or problems.
Committee Governance:

County advisory bodies may not engage in activities that conflict with State or local law, or with policies that have been established by the Board of Supervisors. Committees should seek to fulfill the goals and objectives for which they were created. Committees should not engage in activities or projects that are not specifically authorized by the Board of Supervisors.

Committee members must collaborate with their designated County staff liaisons (departmental staff or Supervisors' District offices) to ensure compliance with all legal and administrative requirements.

Committee Mandate or Purpose:
All committee members should become familiar with the establishing ordinance (or Establishing Resolution) as approved by the Board of Supervisors. In addition, the committee itself will usually produce bylaws that describe its rules and operating procedures, an Annual Report to describe its activities and achievements, and an annual work plan to establish ongoing goals and priorities. These are discussed below.

Committee members should become familiar with all of these important documents. Committee members should strive continually to work collaboratively, based on these documents and guidelines, to achieve the committee's established objectives.

1. Establishing Ordinance or Resolution

The Board of Supervisors usually creates a County board, committee or commission by approving the committee's "establishing resolution" or "establishing ordinance." This action serves to establish the committee's overall purpose, its membership structure, the specific requirements for membership, and related "oversight" matters.

2. Committee Bylaws

Committee bylaws are developed by every advisory committee and are reviewed and approved by the Board of Supervisors before they take effect. The bylaws provide guidelines about such essential organizational matters as the number of seats on the committee, number of committee meetings, requirements for a quorum, qualifications and/or residency requirements for specific seats, methods of selecting officers, designation of any sub-committees (and their responsibilities). If possible the bylaws should provide for the selection of a Member to serve as committee Secretary to coordinate with County staff concerning the committee's administrative needs and operating procedures.

Bylaws should be understood and carefully observed by members of advisory committees and their County liaisons. Committee members and their County staff liaisons should contact the County Administrator's Office whenever organizational changes are considered by an advisory committee that could require amendments to its bylaws.

Sample bylaws appear (for information purposes) in Appendix 1.

3. Annual Report:

Each advisory committee, board or commission established by the Board of Supervisors is required to prepare an Annual Report. Some objectives of the Annual Report are to:

  • Review past accomplishments related to fulfilling the committee's mandate(s).
  • Identify new goals as needed in order to focus the advisory body on its mission.
  • Communicate to the Board of Supervisors and the public concerning the activities and impact of the committee in the community.
All Annual Reports must be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for review and approval. Committee staff should forward the Annual Report before the second Tuesday in December, if possible, to the County Administrator's Office for placement on the Board of Supervisor's agenda for review. Reports not received by January 31 will be delinquent.

The Annual Report to the Board of Supervisors should include the following:

  • Activities and accomplishments of the year (1 page)
  • Work Plan and goals for the coming year (1/2 page)
  • Attendance report of committee members (1/4 page)
  • Committee Records: (1/4 page):
  • Indicate person who is responsible for maintaining committee records archive
  • Indicate the physical location where "archived" records are located and can be requested;
  • Append copies of training certifications for appointees during the report period.
4. Triennial Sunset Review Process

The Board of Supervisors conducts a "Triennial Sunset Review Procedure" to review the boards, committees and commissions that it has established. The Resolution and related materials appear in Appendix 5 of the Advisory Body Handbook.

Every year between December and May, the Board of Supervisors will review and evaluate one-third of the committees, boards, and commissions that it has established. As a result, each individual committee, board or commission will be reviewed once every three years. The sunset review enables the Board of Supervisors to evaluate the purpose, scope, and effectiveness of each committee, review any legislative or policy changes that may have occurred, and consider proposed changes, if desired, to areas such as the committee's mandate, membership, or long-term goals.

The sunset review process is initiated by the Clerk of the Board of the Supervisors. Survey materials are sent to the selected committees by July 1, and responses must be submitted to the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors before December 1. The submitted materials are reviewed by the Internal Operations Committee (IOC) of the Board of Supervisors. The IOC recommendations are then submitted to the full Board of Supervisors for consideration.

Limits and Scope of Authority:

Advisory bodies and other boards, commissions, or committees that have been created by the Board of Supervisors must strictly observe the scope and limits on their authority that are outlined in the committee's governing documents, as discussed above. The following section will review some of these restrictions in more detail.

1. Scope of Authority

Unless otherwise specified by statute, advisory committees serve at the pleasure of the Board of Supervisors in an advisory capacity only, and have no authority to establish policy, make decisions, or create fiscal or other obligations of the County.

Each committee's governing resolution specifies the body’s scope of authority, and generally describes the expected range of activities the committee is authorized to undertake. Each committee, board or commission must adhere to its defined scope of authority.

Committee members must be familiar with the committee's adopted bylaws, and must abide by these policies, as well as the requirements of the Board of Supervisors that are outlined in the Advisory Body Handbook.
2. Limits on Authority

Certain activities may not be undertaken by committees, boards, and commissions (unless expressly provided in their establishing legislation or otherwise authorized by the Board of Supervisors). These include:

  • Bank Accounts, or cash handling of any kind
  • Expenditure or commitment of County funds (MAC expenditures require prior approval of District Supervisor)
  • Contracting for goods or services, of any kind
  • Setting and/or waiving of County fees
  • Personnel actions, including hiring staff or independent contractors
  • Closed meetings of any kind
  • Engaging in any type of legislative or public advocacy as a committee or committee member - except in an advisory capacity to the Board of Supervisors.
3. Legislative Advocacy

Members of mandated boards commissions and committees should review the Board of Supervisor's policy on "Legislative Advocacy by Mandated Advisory Bodies" that was adopted 10/14/2008 (B.O. C.31) and which appears in Appendix 2.

  • An advisory body may not take any action that would imply the County’s support or opposition to proposed legislation in the absence of, or inconsistent with, adopted Board positions.
  • Only the Board of Supervisors can send letters on a particular piece of legislation. The only exception is when a state or federally mandated advisory body has followed the specified protocol (see Board Order C.31 referenced above.)