Extraordinary governance for county boards

Key points for all boards to ensure top-notch governance for your county.

Most of the content of the Guide to Michigan County Government is focused on the specifics of county government. This short excerpt that I have written for the upcoming Fifth Edition speaks to the broader roles of boards, and is applicable not only to county boards, but to any board of directors. It takes ten components of extraordinary governance and combines them into 3 simple focus areas for board members. You can read more about the components in the Michigan State University Extension article titled, “Components of extraordinary governance: Background and development”.

“The job of a board, whether government, non-profit, or corporate, is more complex than just following the law. Much has been written about principles of governance, lists of functions for boards to pay attention to, and models which lay out in considerable detail how the board can govern well. Research shows little significant advantage for one approach over another. The ongoing research does indicate that the intentional, conscientious use of such principles does correlate to better board performance.

Extraordinary governance is the result of a board continually investing itself in three key areas: accomplishing the mission, empowering both board and staff to excel, and building trust.

Focus and fund the mission

Accomplishing the mission requires having a clear mission and specific goals. It also means that policies are written utilizing the best possible information, and designed to support the mission and goals. Appropriate resources must be secured, and both finances and impacts must be monitored to assure they are accomplishing the mission.

Empower people

Empowering people to achieve the mission starts with board members who are committed to working together to solve challenging problems. Another critical component is a constructive partnership between the board and all staff, with the board assigning responsibility and then providing staff with the tools and creative freedom to get the job done. It includes planning great meetings, focusing on the board’s policy making role, and actively involving stakeholders, which in the case of county government, includes all the citizens.

Build trust and excellence

Finally, and most important, the board must build trust, beginning by earning the trust of county citizens. Accountability, transparency, and integrity are fundamental, in every action a board and its members take, in order to build and maintain the trust of the people. Board members have to look far beyond their term in office to anticipate and plan, so that their actions today contribute fully to an excellent future for the citizens of their county.”

MSU Professor Emeritus Ken VerBurg’s book, Guide to Michigan County Government, has been an important resource about county government since 1972, with nearly 500 pages of detailed information about county government, and 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 during winter 2017.

Michigan State University Extension News Digests are available on many topics, including fiscal management, government, public policy, leadership, natural resources, and civic engagement. The digest will email you links to the latest MSU Extension News articles on the selected topic. Sign up here for the latest on this and other topics.

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