Boards, Committees, & Commissions Handbook
Boards/Committees/Commissions vs. Subcommittees vs. Task Force
In most instances (and throughout this handbook), the terms boards/committees/commissions are used interchangeably. A subcommittee is a smaller subset of a larger board, that might or might not contain a quorum of the larger board and report back to the larger board. A task force is a temporary organization created to solve a specific problem.
Oath of Office
Before your first meeting you must complete your Oath of Office. Instructions for completing your oath are in your appointment letter. If you need assistance, please contact your staff liaison or the County Clerk's Office.
All public bodies in Washtenaw County hold their meetings in the spirit of the Open Meetings Act. The State of Michigan's OMA Handbook is a valuable resource that covers some common scenarios and frequently asked questions regarding OMA.
Some key OMA takeaways:
- Do not email about substantive commission business
- If your commission does not have a quorum, the commission may hold non-substantive discussions and receive public comment
- Be aware any commission business discussed via email may be accessed through a FOIA request
- Emailing about commission business during a meeting (ex. seeing how a colleague will vote on an item) is a direct violation of the Open Meetings Act
- All decisions of a public body must be made at a meeting available to the public
- Chance encounters of other commissioners are allowed as long as the board does not deliberate towards a decision
Many, but not all boards, committees, & commissions have bylaws. Bylaws serve as a framework for a board, detailing their general structure, including:
- Board Name
- Board Purpose
- Board Meeting Dates (ex. the 3rd Tuesday of every month)
- Board Composition (membership, member requirements if applicable)
- Term Length and Term Limits (if applicable)
- Officer Requirements and Terms
- Attendance Requirements
If a particular board does not have bylaws, most of this information is usually contained in the board’s establishing resolution or in the MCL.
All public meetings must have proper notice to allow opportunity for public participation. Staff liaisons create meeting notices and send them for proper posting in various county buildings to make sure meetings are accessible to the public. A proper public notice must be posted at its principal office and any other locations the public body considers appropriate and should contain all of the following:
- The Public Body's Name
- The Body's Telephone Number
- The Body's Address
- Staff Liaison Name and Contact Information
- Date Posted
- "Posted in compliance with the Open Meetings Act, Public Act 267 of 1976."
- Reasonable Accommodation Notice for Individuals with Disabilities
- Remote Meeting Information, if applicable
A public body is required to provide notice for regular meetings within the first ten calendar days of a year. For a change in the schedule of regular meetings of a public body, notice shall be posted within three days of the meeting. For a rescheduled regular or special meeting, notice must be provided at least 18 hours before the meeting. Per Michigan DTMB GS6, meeting notices are retained for one year after their creation date.
Agendas & Agenda Packets
Agendas are an important document that keep the meeting on track and show the topics of discussion. Agenda packets are supporting documents that have materials distributed to members for review and actions. Although it varies across boards, typical agenda items in meetings include:
- Call to Order
- Roll Call
- Approval of Previous Minutes
- Officer/Committee/Liaison Reports
- Special Orders of Business
- Unfinished Business
- New Business
Staff liaisons prepare draft minutes after a meeting. Per OMA, these minutes must be available eight days after the meeting. These minutes are action minutes, that show: meeting date, location, start time, end time, attendance, who moved an item, seconded an item, and votes on an item. Depending on staff or board preference, minutes may include more detail, but this is not required. Draft minutes are sent to commission members for review and correction if necessary and approved at the commission's next meeting. Minutes for county boards, committees, and commissions are available through Agenda Center. Once the minutes are approved at the next meeting, the finalized minutes must be available for public inspection within five days of approval.
The Board of Commissioners makes appointments throughout the year. Although the majority of appointments occur in December for terms staring the January 1st of the next year, appointments occur year-round due to some boards having different term start/end dates, vacancies, and various other reasons. All applicants are asked to submit a resume and letter of interest along with an application. If you need any assistance with your application, email [email protected]. If you are not appointed, your application will be kept on file for one year and will be considered again if any vacancies occur during that time.
Most boards in Washtenaw County have terms ending December 31 each year. In September, the Washtenaw County Clerk’s Office sends out a letter to board members whose terms are set to expire. If you are interested in re-applying, you may apply via the board application link. If you are not interested in renewing your term, please notify [email protected] so we may promote the vacancy.
If you need to miss a meeting, email your staff liaison and Chair ahead of time to let them know you will not be able to attend. Although meeting frequency and attendance requirements vary across boards, the general rule is you cannot miss more than 3 meetings in a 12-month period.
If you need to resign from your board or commission seat, please send an email to your staff liaison and chair. In the email, please let your staff liaison and chair know briefly why you are resigning and the effective date of your resignation. Your staff liaison will forward this information the the Clerk's Office who will begin the appointment process for your seat.
Remote Meetings in 2022
Per OMA, beginning January 1st, 2022 remote meetings are not allowed unless the member is on active military duty. However, in January 2022, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners passed Resolution #22-007, which allows for bodies that are not explicitly required to comply with OMA may meet remotely. If you have any questions about whether your board may meet remotely, please contact the Washtenaw County Clerk's Office.
Chairs and Vice-Chairs
Board/Commission Chairs run the public meeting. Chairs have many responsibilities while running a meeting, including, but not limited to:
- Opening and Closing Meetings
- Announcing the next activity/agenda item
- Recognizing (calling on) members including fellow commissioners and the public
- Stating questions and putting items forth for a vote
- Enforcing decorum
- Enforcing parliamentary procedure
- The Chair of a public body is also a member of the public body, meaning they vote and participate in discussion. In nearly every instance, the chair is a tenured member of the public body.
- The Vice-Chair acts as a backup to the Chair in the event of their absence. Vice-Chairs are usually tenured members with relevant board and parliamentary procedure experience.
All boards, committees, and commissions follow some form of parliamentary procedure. The most common used by boards is Robert's Rules of Order. Click here for a brief overview and guidelines of Robert's Rules of Order.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
While serving on a citizen board, commission, or committee, you represent Washtenaw County and while engaging in a public meeting, you are part of creating the public record. Please be aware that what you say and do becomes part of the public record and may be accessed through a meeting recording, minutes, or a Freedom of Information Act request.
Role of Each Support Service
Board of Commissioners
Your staff liaison is your main point of contact within the county. Staff liaisons handle agenda creation, create meeting notices, record and publish minutes, ensure the board is in compliance with OMA, and in many cases maintain a board website.
County Clerk's Office
The County Clerk's Office oversees the appointment lifecycle. The Clerk's Office collects applications, sends application packets to the Board of Commissioners, coordinates with the Chair of the Board of Commissioners on timelines for appointments, manages the reappointment and vacancy process, and completes and maintains Oaths of Office.
If you still feel uncertain about any responsibilities for your board, committee, or commission, please reach out to your staff liaison, board chair, or the County Clerk's Office.