County board rules

The Guide to Michigan County Government is a great source of detailed information about the structure, function, and services provided by counties in Michigan.

The work of county boards in Michigan is directed by the state constitution and state laws, as well as various court decisions and attorney general opinions. Most county boards have also added another layer of policy direction, their own policy about how to carry out their day-to-day board operations. This type of policy is typically called board rules of order or another similar name which also describes the function of the policies contained therein. 

Board rules generally cover topics such as meeting time and place, agenda order and procedure for setting the agenda, special meetings, role of the chair, consent calendar, minutes, and committee structure and procedures. A parliamentary authority to settle other procedural issues, such as Robert’s Rules of Order, is almost always identified in the board rules as well. 

Ken VerBurg, MSU professor emeritus explains the usefulness of board rules in the 2007 edition of his book, Guide to Michigan County Government. “A board of commissioners can assist the chair in the conduct of the meetings by adopting rules of order—a set of guidelines that govern the conduct of the board chairperson as well of individual members. Having the board adopt a “customized” set of rules of order provides the board with rules that relate to county government and not just formal parliamentary procedure. 

Providing members with a copy of such rules will provide answers to most procedural policy questions that arise during the meeting. Rules of order also assure that such issues will be resolved objectively and consistently. The board’s rules of order may include a policy statement to the effect that procedural matters not addressed in the rules of order are to be resolved by the application of rules stated in Robert’s Rules of Order.” 

VerBurg emphasizes the value of creating board rules when a board is working together well, as opposed to when they are in a dispute about some policy issue. Such rules may then be a valuable means to help resolve issues when they arise. 

Annual review of the board’s rules is also an important practice. This enables the board to make timely revisions when practices need to change. It also serves as a good learning tool for all board members to ensure they know the rules well enough to follow them consistently. 

Watch for future Michigan State University Extension articles with more information about county government. Professor VerBurg’s book, Guide to Michigan County Government, Fourth Edition, is available in electronic form online on a CD or a USB drive with nearly 500 pages of detailed information about county government, with extensive footnotes to constitutional and statutory information. The update process is underway to be sure the information and statutory notations are current, with rollout of the Fifth Edition expected in fall 2016.

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