Electing County Board Officers

How does a County Commission elect its chair and vice-chair?

This November, in addition to the Presidential election and elections for many other offices, Michigan residents elected the people who will represent them for the next two years on their County Commission. Michigan State University Extension’s Government and Public Policy team have spent the last few weeks traveling the state conducting its New County Commissioner Workshops.  These workshops are a great opportunity for new (and returning) commissioners to learn more about their responsibilities and powers before taking office in January 2017.

The first thing the Board of Commissioners has to do after taking office is to elect the chairperson and vice-chair for the board. At a recent New County Commissioner Workshop, the question was asked: “What is the process for selecting the Board chair and vice-chair?”

State law is fairly straightforward when it comes to how the chairperson and vice-chairperson are elected. The law states that the election of a chairperson or vice-chairperson shall take place at the first meeting of the county board of commissioners in each odd-numbered year. It is the County Clerk that oversees the election of the chair. The chairperson is elected for a two-year term unless the board passes a resolution to make it a one-year term, and the vice-chair is elected to a one-year term.  The chair and vice-chair are elected by a majority of the members present at the meeting. Any member of the board is eligible for nomination as board chair. The election of the chairperson may be done by secret ballot, and this is the only vote the board may cast by secret ballot. The election of vice-chair may not be done by secret ballot.

When deciding who to support for chair of their board, commissioners should consider the duties of the board chairperson. Official duties of the chairperson, as laid out by state law, include administering oaths and issuing subpoenas for witnesses in connection with board matters, acts as a signatory for the board on official documents, and other duties that boards may assign. One of the most visible duties of the chairperson is to chair meetings of the county board. This involves ensuring that each motion is handled fairly and that the board has an understanding of each motion and their implications. 

The chairperson also acts as a spokesperson for the board and is the person many in the county look to for leadership on the board. Media often look to the chairperson for explanations of county actions, for example.

So, the county board chair does not hold significantly more power than the rest of the board. That said, the chair can provide leadership by defining problems they see in the county and presenting their ideas on how the county should address those problems. As chair, they have a special opportunity to place these items on the board agenda.

Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on Government and Public Policy provide various training programs, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local Government and Public Policy educator for more information.

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