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Board of Supervisors Department

Appendix C

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Governance Standards

Governance is the act of transforming the needs and desires of the community into policies that direct the organization. The way in which those responsible for governance set direction related to policy, budget and finance, human resources, collective bargaining, facilities and advocacy is critical to the success and health of the County. The integrity of the County is dependent upon the responsible and professional manner in which each Board member, the Board collectively, the County Administrator, and the County executive team fulfills their governance obligations

The community elects Board members to set and monitor the direction of the County. High performing Boards have four essential characteristics that are the building blocks of effective governance:

  1. Maintaining a Unity of Purpose: Represents a common focus, goals, and values about the organization and the community that transcends individual differences and political purpose.
  2. Governing within the role as a Board: Represents a respect for the essential and distinct roles of the Board, the County Administrator, County Counsel, and the County’s executive team.
  3. Creating a positive governance culture: Represents the norm and expectations of tone and of the way people in an organization treat each other with respect and decorum.
  4. Structuring work for effective governance: Represents the formal structure and processes used by the Board and the County Administrator in their functioning as a team; how they operate and do business.

One of the most important governance relationships that exist is that between the Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator. It is essential that this relationship be clearly defined, collaborative and based upon mutual trust and respect. Such a relationship ensures the best governance results. It is especially important for the Board to establish and maintain a strong communication relationship with the County Administrator. In particular, it is important for the Board to honor, affirm and celebrate the value of those who work for the County; provide direction through the County Administrator and County Counsel; and seek significant staff resources through discussion with the County Administrator and full Board for consideration.

Generally, governance is about setting policy by defining the “what” of the organization, and administration is focused on the “how” policy gets implemented. If the Board is focused on long-term outcomes, it tends to be strategic; if it is about short-term objectives or incremental steps, it tends to be administrative. Since the line between policy and administration can vary from topic to topic or issue to issue, it is essential that the County Administrator and the Board have a clear, mutually agreed upon understanding of how their roles and responsibilities will be defined.

Accordingly, the primary role of the County Board of Supervisors is to collectively set the strategic direction and policies for the organization, which ensures fiscal sustainability, sets forth strategies for addressing the community’s pressing issues, supports harmony and success within the organization, and defines the objectives of the Strategic Plan. The primary role of the County Administrator is to implement the direction and policy set by the Board, advise the Board’s strategy deliberations, implement the County’s strategic plan, and safeguard the public’s resources.

More specifically, the primary responsibilities of the Board of Supervisors are to:

Set the strategic direction for the County. Ensure a long-term vision is established for the County and identify strategic priorities. Staff is charged with tactical decisions to support the strategic direction.

Establish the governance structure for the County. Appoint the County Administrator, County Counsel, and certain Department/Agency Heads; adopt the County Budget; adopt ordinances and policies; attend and advise numerous boards, commissions and committees; and work with affiliated elected officials.

Provide support to the County. Provide clear and consistent direction; support/advocate for programs and policies adopted by the Board; provide policy direction that supports programs and aligns resources; support staff carrying out the Board’s direction; and hold itself accountable for high quality governance and adherence to protocols and policies.

Ensure accountability. Hold the County Administrator accountable for achieving the goals set by the Board; monitor and assess the effectiveness of policies and programs approved by the Board; and monitor the fiscal health of the County.

Demonstrate community leadership. Engage and involve county residents and other stakeholders in appropriate and meaningful ways in setting the goals, objectives and major programs of the County; communicate clear information about County policies, the fiscal condition of the organization and progress on goals; identify intersecting issues through ongoing interaction with a wide variety of stakeholders; become and remain immersed in the needs and concerns of residents; represent the needs of individual districts as well as the needs of the county as a whole; and be visible and accessible.

Specific Norms and Expectations

Behavioral Norms for all County leaders (examples)

  1. Treat everyone with dignity and respect.
  2. Attend Board meetings, fully prepared, on time, and focused.
  3. Strive to build trust in every interaction by demonstrating empathy, speaking personally, and giving the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Use “I statements” – provide feedback in the spirit of sharing information; take ownership for your feelings.
  5. Refrain from being judgmental; stay curious, inquire, and assume that everyone is operating with the best intentions.
  6. Refrain from publicly criticizing any County employee’s performance.
  7. Reflect positive cultural norms and values in public forums.
  8. Ultimately, we rise and fall as one. Take mutual credit for successes and losses.
  9. Comply with the County’s Contracting Principles to reaffirm the County’s commitment to conducting fair, open and competitive procurements for key safety net programs. The Contracting Principles are attached to these Board Rules as Appendix D.

Supervisor’s Mutual Expectations (examples)

  1. Refrain from exercising the “Power of 1”.
  2. Represent the needs of our County as well as the needs of our Districts.
  3. Operate from a list of shared priorities, goals, and strategic priorities.
  4. Speak up and be clear about perspectives; do not acquiesce by remaining silent when you disagree.
  5. Show respect for issues in each other’s Districts and policy positions.
  6. Consult with another Supervisor to gain perspective on unique issues and needs in all Districts.
  7. Demonstrate sensitivity of each other’s needs.
  8. While respecting transparency and legal requirements, always aim to work out differences directly with peers versus involving the County Administrator or others.
  9. When the needs of other Districts inhibit consensus, strive for compromise.
  10. Depending on the circumstances, understand that being in the minority may be appropriate politics.
  11. After a difficult vote, be prepared to respect the majority point of view. Comment on one’s own thought process and intention.

Supervisor relationship with CAO 

  1. Engage the County Administrator’s office whenever significant staff resources are required.
  2. Engage the County Administrator’s office whenever more than a nominal amount of financial resources are required.
  3. Include the County Administrator’s office when making requests of Department Heads.
  4. Strive to be clear about your District’s needs.
  5. Support the County Administrator by providing direct, specific, timely non-punishing feedback - positive and corrective.
  6. Be clear with the County Administrator about intentions and goals for policy and projects.
  7. Respect the County Administrator’s role in having to make decisions, influence, and/or control department resources.
  8. Understand and accept that some of the County Administrator’s input and information may be unwelcome at times.

County Administrator's relationship with Supervisors

  1. Facilitate the Supervisor’s success and the Board’s Success.
  2. Calendar and conduct a timely, annual strategic planning process with clear deliverables and quarterly updates.
  3. Support Department Heads in delivering work product to meet the Board’s needs. Facilitate, and usher work through; be the gatekeeper, when necessary.
  4. Strive for positive working relationships with all members of the body equally regardless of personality, philosophy, positions on issues, etc.
  5. Work for “evenhandedness” recognizing that communication preferences may require spending more time with certain Supervisors.
  6. Strive to understand the intentions of Supervisor’s goals.
  7. Provide information equally to all members of the body.
  8. Minimize surprises for the Board.
  9. Be engaged with community leaders and organizations to inform and improve services to best meet the needs of the community.
  10. Help hold Supervisors accountable for their commitments and actions.

Supervisor relationship with Department Heads

  1. Understand the level of effort before chartering or requesting work and refrain from the Power of 1.
  2. Strive to be clear about scope, urgency, expectations of the assignment and include the County Administrator (cc) when it is not a constituent issue.
  3. Stay open to further clarifying details, providing specifics, and revising assignment.
  4. Leave project management and implementation to Departments and analysts.
  5. Bring Department Head performance issues and performance feedback to the County Administrator’s office first.
  6. Respect Department Head professional judgment even if the perspective is unwelcome (e.g. refrain from Power of 1).

Supervisor relationship with Other Staff

  1. Individual Supervisor work requests to staff should be in the form of gathering information (as opposed to directing work).
  2. Include the Department Head when requesting work from department staff.
  3. If Supervisors have concerns and/or specific information needs, provide staff a ‘heads-up’ in advance of Board meetings so staff can be prepared to address them.
  4. Manage questions or issues about staff competence privately with appropriate Department Head.