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Board and commission member guide

Learn about serving on a board or commission. Get guidance on meetings, responsibilities, and rules.

Welcome to your new role as a member on a board or commission for the County of Marin

Thank you for volunteering your time and sharing your talents with your community. Your public service will strengthen Marin County government, and make it more responsive to its residents. 

Participating in government is not only a rewarding personal experience, but also key to a healthy democracy. Local government is complex, which is why your service on this commission is so important.  

This guide will help you in your new role as a commissioner. You’ll learn what your role entails, what to expect at meetings, what rules to follow, and more.  

Before we dive in, you should know that when we use the term “commission,” we are referring to both boards and commissions. 

Let’s get started!

About boards and commissions

Boards and commissions are created by governments to represent the interests, needs, and preferences of the community. County leaders appoint residents, like you, to serve on commissions. 

Some commissions are required by Federal or State laws. Others are established by County ordinances, and some are created by Joint Powers Agreements between different public organizations. 

Each commission has its own mission, purpose, and function. Because each commission serves a unique purpose, each has a unique relationship to the Board of Supervisors.

How it works  

Commissions advise the Board of Supervisors on a particular topic, issue, or policy. To do this, commissions listen to and gather input from residents, staff, interest groups, community organizations, and other appropriate sources. Commission members discuss and analyze the information at public commission meetings. 

Next, the Commission members vote on a recommendation for the Supervisors to consider. Here are typical recommendations Commissions vote on:

  • Recommendation to approve
  • Recommendation to deny
  • No recommendation

After the vote is final, staff shares the Commission’s recommendation with the Board of Supervisors. Then, the Board of Supervisors consider the topic, issue, or policy and make a final decision at a public Board of Supervisors meeting.  

Most commissions don’t have the authority to make final decisions - that’s the role of the Board of Supervisors. But, there are a few exceptions. In the County of Marin, the Planning Commission and the Personnel Commission do have decision-making authority on some matters. 

About your role

You were appointed by a Board of Supervisor to serve as a commissioner, probably because you have valuable skills, experience, or role in the community. 

As a commissioner, your appointing Supervisor may rely on you for updates, recommendations, advice, or ask your perspective on issues, topics, or policy matters. 

Here are a few ways to be an effective and productive commissioner:

  • Attend commission meetings 
  • Do your own research 
  • Engage with community members
  • Update your district supervisor regularly (if you hold a district seat)
  • Understand the rules and regulations you must follow
  • Ask questions

If you cannot attend a meeting, let the chair know you will be absent. After 3 unexcused absences, you may be asked to step down from your position.

What to expect

We all have opinions and preferences, but your role as a commissioner is to represent the interests of the public. This means the needs, interests, and protection of Marin County residents are your top concern. 

As a commissioner, you are representing not only your community, but also the County. As a community representative, you are expected to follow and uphold the County’s mission and code of ethics.


The mission of the County of Marin is to:

  • Provide excellent services that support healthy, safe, and sustainable communities
  • Preserve Marin’s unique environmental heritage
  • Encourage meaningful participation in the governance of the County by all

Code of ethics

Marin County’s Code of Ethics are guiding principles for all public officials, including board and commission members. When you follow the Code of Ethics, you commit to performing your duties to the highest standards of conduct. 

If you receive a stipend or payment from the County and serve on a board, you are required to take the State of California’s ethics training.

The Code of Ethics ensures the common good is the hallmark of the decision making process.

  • Promote decisions that serve the public interest and promote the greatest public good.
  • Actively promote public confidence in county government through your actions.
  • Recognize and support the public’s right to know the public's business.
  • Involve citizens in the decision making process and welcome divergent points of view.
  • Respond to the public in ways that are complete, clear and easy to understand.
  • Maintain a respectful attitude toward employees, other public officials and colleagues.
  • Respect and protect privileged information (i.e., personnel matters, litigation).
  • Be a good listener, carefully considering all opinions and points of view.
  • Be informed on the background on issues before your commission or board.
  • Work in partnership with other governmental agencies, political subdivisions and organizations to further the interest of the county.
  • Reference to an appointed position or title will only be used when attending official meetings or functions and in no case shall my appointed title be used to promote or advance personal or political interests.
  • Void outside interests that will interfere or conflict with maintaining an objective and impartial perspective.
  • Carefully guard against conflict of interest or its appearance in your actions or decisions.
  • Accepting gifts, services or any object of value from any source offered to influence a decision is prohibited.
  • Efforts to influence or attempt to influence other officials to act in a manner benefiting your personal/financial interests are prohibited.
  • Evaluate recommendations (or decisions) to identify the best service, product or alternative at minimal cost without sacrificing quality or fiscal responsibility.
  • Comply with all laws and regulations applicable to an appointed official and those governing the conduct of meetings.

Taking the oath of office

Taking the oath of office begins your role as a commissioner. Before taking the oath, you cannot participate on your commission or vote on any matters. 

Required paperwork and filings

Because you are an appointed official, you may be required to fill out and file certain paperwork with the state or county. 

Here’s a list of the paperwork you may need to fill out and file, depending on your role: 

  • Statement of Economic Interest
  • Ethics Training (AB 1234)

Conflict of interest

As a commissioner, you will make, participate in, or influence government decisions. If these decisions impact your finances or financial interests, then you may have a conflict of interest.

To avoid biased decision-making or the appearance of corruption, public officials with conflicts of interest may not participate in that decision. 

There are many conflicts of interest rules under the State’s Political Reform Act. If you think you have a conflict of interest, we encourage you to speak with a County attorney. 

There are 5 general types of conflicts of interest that may prevent you from participating in a decision:

  1. Business Entity. A business entity in which the official has an investment of $2,000 or more in which he or she is a director, officer, partner, trustee, employee, or manager.
  2. Real Property. Real property in which the official has an interest of $2,000 or more including leaseholds.  (However, month-to-month leases are not considered real property interests.) 
  3. Income. An individual or an entity from whom the official has received income or promised income aggregating to $500 or more in the previous 12 months, including the official's community property interest in the income of his or her spouse or registered domestic partner. 
  4. Gifts. An individual or an entity from whom the official has received gifts aggregating to $520 or more in the previous 12 months.
  5. Personal Finances. The official's personal finances including his or her expenses, income, assets, or liabilities, as well as those of his or her immediate family.

Read the full Conflicts of Interest Rules. 

Commission meetings


The Brown Act requires localities to post agendas for public meetings at least 72 hours prior to the meeting. 

The chair works with the staff liaison to set the agenda. If you have a suggestion for a topic, you can ask the chair to consider putting it on the agenda. You can also bring a topic up at a meeting and members can vote for putting it on a future agenda.


Each commission adopts its own by-laws. By-laws are the rules for administering and managing each commission. By-laws usually include the commission’s purpose, the number of members and qualifications for each seat, meeting times and quorum numbers, voting procedures, and much more. 

Be sure to read and understand the by-laws of your commission.

Robert’s Rules of Order

Most public meetings follow Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules are a well-established and accepted way to conduct public meetings. The rules ensure everyone is heard and officials can make decisions without confusion. 

Robert’s Rules do not preclude the Brown Act rules, which guide public participation in public meetings. Be sure to familiarize yourself with Robert's Rules of Order before your first commission meeting. 

Read the full Robert’s Rules of Order.

Brown Act

The Brown Act is a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in public meetings. The Act covers:

  • Rights of the public during a public meeting
  • When public meetings can go into closed session
  • Requirements for posting agendas
  • …and more

Read the full Brown Act.


Participating in government is a fundamental right of US citizens. The ADA Act and the Brown Act ensure individuals with disabilities are not denied access to government programs or public meetings. 

All public meetings must be ADA accessible. This includes public meetings held at an off-site venue or the Civic Center.

Public Records Act

The California Public Records Act gives the public access to government records, unless the records are exempt and cannot be made public. The Act defines what records can be made public, and what records are exempt. 

All County offices, public officials, and commission members must follow the rules outlined in the Public Records Act whenever someone requests a public record. 

According to California state law, a public record is “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of the public's business prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics."

Keep in mind that text messages, emails, or hand-written notes can be considered a public record. 

Read more about the Public Records Act.

Using County letterhead

Commissioners should only use county letterhead for authorized purposes. Administrative Regulation No. 21 guides the authorized use of county letterhead. Authorized uses include: 

  • Communications between Board of Supervisors and commissioners
  • Functions associated with the administration of the board, like meeting notices, agendas, or meeting minutes.  

A commissioner may not use county letterhead to represent the views of the commission. 

Read the full Resolution No. 2016-03.

Standing rules and appointment procedures

Resolution No. 2016-03, also known as the Standing Rules and Appointment Procedures, guide:

  • How board and commissions are created and dissolved
  • The standing rules for board and commissions 
  • How members apply for a board or commission
  • How members are appointed to a board or commission  

Read the full Resolution No. 2016-03.

Role of staff liaison

  • Reviews all bylaws, policies, and website, and helps the Commission to keep these items accurate and up to date
  • Responds to questions from the Commission
  • Creates and manages records, such as agendas, meeting materials, minutes, bylaws, and the membership roster
  • Supports and hosts the Commission meetings
  • Keeps up to date on any meeting laws applicable to their commission and works with County Counsel to ensure the commission is following the correct procedures
  • Notifies the Clerk of the Board division if there are any vacancies
  • Reviews applications received for membership and notifies the Clerk of the Board division when the commission has a recommendation for appointment for the Board of Supervisors


Page updated January 23, 2024