Mason County Michigan



The board of county commissioners is the governing body and the major policy approval center for county government.  It is the legislative body with authority over most aspects of the county.  Its responsibilities, however, are not all encompassing.  There are several instances where the power of the county board is limited.  The county also has other agencies and boards that, while part of the county, are rather independent from the board of commissioners.  It is for this reason that we sometimes think about county government not as a government but as a collection of governments.

Legislative Oversight
The first legislative function of county boards is to pass laws.  The county board accomplishes this by passing resolutions or ordinances.  Their ability to pass ordinances is restricted by state statute.  County boards only have authority is areas specifically authorized in state statutes

The second legislative function, legislative oversight, may be especially important for county boards.  Because of the limits on county lawmaking powers, county commissioners may devote some of their time to looking over the shoulders of the administrators in county government.  In so doing, they try to assure that county administrators carry out their tasks effectively and with minimum waste.  And they may try to assess the effects of programs that county funds are being used for.

When do commissioners conduct oversight? Occasionally we find them doing so in formal settings at the county board meetings or in public hearings.  Board committees in their meetings also contribute to the oversight function.  But much of it comes about in informal ways.  It may occur in conversation with administrators or elected officials, as commissioners walk the corridors of the county courthouse or attend the county fair.  Whenever county commissioners get information from newspapers, financial reports and audits, and a variety of other places and store it away for later use, they are exercising their oversight responsibilities.

The third legislative function is providing constituent service.  They check on problems their residents may have, help them obtain services of a county agency, or by providing information to their constituents.  This involvement with residents also strengthens the oversight function because it gives commissioners a sense of how county programs are working.