Unlike the separation of powers that characterizes the federal and State governments, the Board of Supervisors is both the legislative and the executive authority in Napa County. The Board also has quasi-judicial authority in some applications. State code requires each county to have a five-member Board of Supervisors. A Board member must be a registered voter of and live in the District from which he or she is elected.
A majority of the members of the Board constitutes a quorum for conducting business. A majority of all the members must concur on any act of the Board. The Board may enact rules governing how abstentions are counted. Some extraordinary actions, like passing emergency ordinances, require four votes.
An official act of the Board of Supervisors can only be performed in a regularly or specially convened meeting. The individual members have no power to act for the county merely because they are members of the Board of Supervisors. Meetings of the Board of Supervisors are subject to the restrictions of the Ralph M. Brown Act (Government Code Section 54950 et. seq.). With limited exceptions, the Brown Act requires that all Board of Supervisors meetings be open and public. The county clerk, whose duty it is to record all proceedings of the Board of Supervisors, is the ex officio clerk of the Board, unless the Board appoints its own separate clerk. The Board must keep a record of its decisions and the proceedings of all regular and special meetings.
The Board performs its executive role when it sets priorities for the County. The Board approves the budgets; supervises the official conduct of County officers and employees; controls all County property; and appropriates and spends money on programs that meet County residents' needs.
The Board of Supervisors may supervise the official conduct of County officers and require them faithfully to discharge their duties, but the Board cannot add to those duties or relieve the officers from these obligations. The Board may not direct or control the day-to-day operations of a County department, or otherwise limit the exercise of discretion vested by law in a particular officer.
The supervision of elected officers by the Board of Supervisors is somewhat more limited. The district attorney, as public prosecutor, is a state or quasi-state officer and is under the direct supervision of the attorney general. Consequently, the Board of Supervisors does not have supervisory authority over the district attorney's prosecutorial duties. On the other hand, the Board has general supervisory authority over the district attorney to the extent that the district attorney functions as a county officer.
The Board of Supervisors may supervise the sheriff to the extent that the sheriff acts as a County officer, and may investigate the officer's performance of County duties. However, in enforcing state law, the sheriff is acting as a peace officer of the state and is under the direct supervision of the attorney general. In addition to being an officer of the County, the sheriff is also an officer of the courts. While acting in that capacity, the sheriff is not under the supervision of the Board, and the Board may not investigate the sheriff in connection with such duties. The assessor is also under state control in many respects, but not to the same degree as are the district attorney and sheriff.
The Board of Supervisors has a unique relationship with the courts. The Board shares funding responsibility for the courts with the state and cannot fully control their budget or operations. As a court of record (i.e., maintain records of proceedings), the court has all powers (i.e., inherent powers as defined in the law) reasonably required to enable it to perform its judicial functions efficiently, to protect its dignity, independence, and integrity, and to make its lawful actions effective.
The Board of Supervisors also has the power to direct and control the conduct of litigation in which the County or any public entity which the Board governs is a party, and by a two-thirds vote, it may employ outside attorneys to assist the county counsel in conducting such litigation. The decision to hire special counsel is up to the supervisors.
The Civil Grand Jury, when working in concert with the Board of Supervisors and the county executive, can prove to be a valuable tool to audit County programs and provide constructive recommendations for the improved operation of local government.
A Board of Supervisors may also establish a joint powers agreement and/or joint powers agency with another public agency. A joint powers agreement (JPA) is created where two or more local governments enter into a cooperative agreement to provide any service which either of them could provide on their own. A joint powers agreement involves mutually agreeing to specific conditions and terms which may limit each agency's ability to act independently, but it does not alter the basic structure of each agency's decision-making processes.
As the legislative body of the County, the Board of Supervisors may act by resolution, by board order or by ordinance. A resolution of a Board is ordinarily not equivalent to an ordinance; it is usually a declaration about future purposes or proceedings of the Board or a policy statement by the Board. Resolutions are often used when specific findings are made by the Board of Supervisors. A board order is usually a directive from the Board of Supervisors to its subordinate county officers.
An ordinance is a local law adopted with all the legal formality of a statute. The California Constitution allows a county or city to make and enforce within its limits all local, police, sanitary and other ordinances and regulations that do not conflict with the state's own general laws. Most legislative acts, including using the police power, are adopted by ordinance. There are, however, numerous exceptions and specific state laws sometimes indicate whether the action requires an ordinance or resolution.
The Board of Supervisors can raise local revenue by imposing or increasing a tax, an assessment or a fee. Each of these local revenue sources has its own constitutional and statutory authority and unique laws governing its use. A county can only impose those taxes, assessments and fees which the Legislature or the Constitution allow the County to impose and which are approved by either a simple or two-thirds majority of local voters per Propositions 13 and 62.
There are important differences between taxes, assessments and fees. A tax is an involuntary charge against an individual or landowner which pays for public services regardless of the taxpayer's benefit. An assessment is an involuntary charge on land which pays for public improvements or services which directly benefits the taxpayer. All revenue generated by an assessment must be used for the improvements or services specified. A fee is a voluntary charge on an individual which cannot exceed the reasonable cost of providing the service.
After the California Supreme Court ruled in Guardino (12/95), a Board of Supervisors may not impose new taxes without a vote of the people. Subject to a vote, a Board may impose a utility users tax, a business license tax and a transient occupancy tax (hotel or bed tax). If the proceeds from these taxes are designated for general purposes, majority voter approval is required. If the tax proceeds are restricted to special purposes, two-thirds voter approval is required. The Board has authority to impose taxes only within the unincorporated area. Proposition 218, passed in November 1996, applies additional constraints to county taxing authority, as well as fees and assessments.
If a Board of Supervisors decides to impose or increase a specific tax, assessment, or fee, it must follow proper notice and hearing requirements. There are different posting and disclosure requirements for each of these types of local revenue sources. The Board asks both the clerk of the Board and the county counsel at the beginning of the process to ensure that it follows all public hearing and disclosure requirements.
In its quasi-judicial role, the Board of Supervisors may settle claims made against the County and may examine and audit the accounts of all County officers as they relate to the management and disbursement of funds. The Board of Supervisors also sits as a quasi-judicial body in the case of appeals of land use decisions and tax issues (i.e., may sit as assessment appeals board to decide questions regarding the value of property).
A County supervisor may serve in other capacities on various boards, commissions or special districts. State statute authorizes, and in some cases mandates, that various services or functions be carried out by entities other than the Board of Supervisors. These entities, in addition to including locally elected officials, seek public participation and technical expertise:
The roles and functions of these entities primarily relate to planning for future development and the associated service needs (e.g., water, sewer) and impacts (e.g., air quality, airport safety). Board members serving on one of these entities may find themselves making decisions on a variety of issues from regional planning to establishing spheres of influence for new cities or special districts within the County.
This information was excerpted from the Web site of the California State Association of Counties.