People often ask me, “What does a County Supervisor do?”
My ten-second, oversimplified response is, “do you know what a city council member does?; I do that, but for the County”. An alternative oversimplified answer is “I represent my constituents in county government.”
Neither of those explains what a supervisor does, especially since people likely lack a grasp of what a city council member does. However, they seem to have a better understanding of that than the role of a supervisor.
I decided to write a blog post about it.
Throughout all of the specific responsibilities discussed below, the point is to take actions that serve my constituents and do all I can to accomplish what’s best for those I represent.
Formal Role – Policymaker & County Legislator
The primary role of a Supervisor, and likely the one that takes the least time, is to formally vote on resolutions, ordinances, contracts, and budget items at public meetings. In Yuba County, the Board of Supervisors meets twice a month, and sessions typically last from one to three hours, although they occasionally wrap up quicker or extend longer. County staff prepares an agenda for the meeting, and each item typically has a staff report and supporting documentation. The meeting agenda, combined with the staff report and supporting documents, is called the board packet, is available to the public, and typically ranges from 100 to 900 pages. The supervisors’ responsibility is to review all the material before the meeting in preparation for voting. Sometimes we reach out to staff before the meeting to ask questions, and sometimes we’ll ask at the meeting. It’s essential to ensure county staff isn’t caught off guard and can prepare an answer if necessary, but sometimes there is a benefit to the public hearing the question/answer at the meeting. During the meeting, the staff presents each item on the agenda, there is an opportunity for public comment and the board to comment or ask questions, and then a vote is taken. The formal role of the board is to set policy by voting on these items, and this is where the authority of the board resides; a single board member has no authority on their own, either at the meeting or outside it.
Represent the County on Boards, Committees, and Commissions
Another formal role of a County Supervisor is representing Yuba County on other boards, committees, and commissions. Committees are generally advisory, but many boards and commissions are for independent government agencies or organizations where board members take formal votes and set policy for that organization. Yuba County supervisors are assigned to represent the county on over 40 boards, committees, and commissions. Some of these meet monthly, some bi-monthly, and some quarterly. In many cases, these meetings are run like the Board of Supervisors meeting with agendas and board packets that must be reviewed before attending and voting. You can find a list of assignments for the full board here and my specific assignments here.
Yuba Water Agency Responsabilities
Yuba County Supervisors also sit on the board of the Yuba Water Agency, along with two additional elected board members. Like the Board of Supervisors, the Yuba Water Agency holds monthly board meetings that board members must attend, prepare for, and vote at. In addition, board members are assigned to Yuba Water Agency committees. They may represent Yuba Water Agency in external organizations such as the Mountain Counties Water Resources Association, the Northern California Water Association, and the Association of California Water Agencies.
One of the responsibilities of a supervisor is to engage with their constituents. This involves both sharing information and answering questions, and receiving feedback. For me, this most often occurs over social media, but it can also entail phone calls, email messages, in-person meetings, and town hall or community meetings.
Be an Advocate & Assist in Issue Resolution (Casework)
Casework is a fancy term elected officials use for the role of helping constituents engage with government. If someone has a question or an issue with a county service, they will often reach out to their supervisor to help get it resolved.
Education, Learning & Networking
This is a huge part of the role and includes a wide range of activities from meetings with staff to learn about or drive solutions to various issues to meeting with other elected officials to discuss issues and move initiatives forward, to attending webinars, meetings, and conferences.
Attend Community Events
A supervisor must be out and about participating in community events. In some cases, the supervisor has a formal role at the event; in others, they are just attendees. Still, they must be out in the community, supporting events and engaging with the public.
Appendix: Some Basics About Electing a Supervisor
Let’s start with the name “Supervisor,” which is confusing as we don’t supervise anyone. Most states call the position a “Commissioner.”, but a few call it a “Supervisor” or a “Councilmember.” While the structure of the County government varies a lot across the US, every California county, from Alpine with only 1200 residents to Los Angeles with almost 10 million, has a Board of Supervisors made up of five supervisors*. (Note: San Francisco is legally a City and a County with eleven supervisors/city council members). Each County is divided into five districts with equal populations, and voters elect a supervisor to represent their district. Supervisors serve four-year terms, and elections for the board are staggered between presidential and mid-term elections, with three members typically elected in presidential years and two elected in mid-term elections. Like all local government elected officials in California, Supervisors are non-partisan. Supervisor election cycles start with the primary. If no candidate for a specific district receives more than 50% of the vote, the top two candidates run off in the general election.