County board of supervisors
The Board of Supervisors is the body that supervises the operation of county
County (United States)
In the United States, a county is a geographic subdivision of a state , usually assigned some governmental authority. The term "county" is used in 48 of the 50 states; Louisiana is divided into parishes and Alaska into boroughs. Parishes and boroughs are called "county-equivalents" by the U.S...

 government in all counties in Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

, Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...

, Mississippi
Mississippi is a U.S. state located in the Southern United States. Jackson is the state capital and largest city. The name of the state derives from the Mississippi River, which flows along its western boundary, whose name comes from the Ojibwe word misi-ziibi...

, Virginia
The Commonwealth of Virginia , is a U.S. state on the Atlantic Coast of the Southern United States. Virginia is nicknamed the "Old Dominion" and sometimes the "Mother of Presidents" after the eight U.S. presidents born there...

, Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

, and Sussex County, New Jersey
Sussex County, New Jersey
The County of Sussex is the northernmost county in the State of New Jersey. It is part of the New York City Metropolitan Area. As of the 2010 Federal decennial census, 149,265 persons resided in Sussex County...

 as well as a handful of counties in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

. There are equivalent agencies in other states, as explained further in the last section below.

Similar to a city council
City council
A city council or town council is the legislative body that governs a city, town, municipality or local government area.-Australia & NZ:Because of the differences in legislation between the States, the exact definition of a City Council varies...

, a board of supervisors has legislative, executive, and quasi-judicial powers. The important difference is that a county is an administrative division of a state, whereas a city is a municipal corporation; thus, counties implement and, as necessary, refine the local application of state law and public policy, while cities produce and implement their own local laws and public policy (subject to the overriding authority of state law).

Legislative powers

Under a board's legislative powers, the supervisors have the ability to pass and repeal laws, generally called ordinances, as in cities. Depending on the state, and the subject matter of the law, these laws may apply to the entire county or only to unincorporated area
Unincorporated area
In law, an unincorporated area is a region of land that is not a part of any municipality.To "incorporate" in this context means to form a municipal corporation, a city, town, or village with its own government. An unincorporated community is usually not subject to or taxed by a municipal government...

s not under jurisdiction by a city. The board is also responsible for approving the county budget. County governments frequently collect state taxes and, in some states, they or their citizens are allowed to set certain tax rates. However, because they are ultimately organs of state law and policy, it is unusual for counties to have power to establish their own taxes—they, or their citizens, merely adjust the rates of tax measures created by the state government. Cities, by contrast, typically have power to create their own taxes. Detroit
Detroit, Michigan
Detroit is the major city among the primary cultural, financial, and transportation centers in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. As the seat of Wayne County, the city of Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and serves as a major port on the Detroit River...

, for example, has its own income tax, and New York
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 has its own sales tax, on top of the New York State sales tax.

In some states, including Michigan
Michigan is a U.S. state located in the Great Lakes Region of the United States of America. The name Michigan is the French form of the Ojibwa word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake"....

, and in some New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

 counties until recently, county governing boards were composed of township (Michigan) or town (New York) "supervisors". These were the chief elected officials of each civil township (called "town" in New York) in a county—hence, the term "Board of Supervisors", because they were originally composed of the various town/township supervisors from across the county. This system gave every township one vote on the county board regardless of its population, resulting in (usually rural) townships with a few people having influence in decision-making that was disproportionate to their populations. A township with fewer than 1,000 people had the same clout as a city with more than 1,000,000 people.

Both Michigan and New York changed how they elected county boards by dividing counties into single member districts, drawn so that each district has more or less the same sized population. In Michigan, the new board model was implemented in 1968. The name "Board of Supervisors" was changed to "Board of Commissioners" in 1970, however, to avoid confusion with township government (where the term "Supervisor" was still used). In New York, the new boards were called "county legislatures" (and their members, "county legislators"), but not every county has adopted this system. Those which retained the old boards of supervisors after the 1960s assigned each member a proportional vote based on the population represented.

Executive powers

Under a board's executive powers, the board controls county departments. Generally this is done under the aegis of a chief administrative officer
Chief administrative officer
A chief administrative officer is responsible for administrative management of private, public or governmental corporations. The CAO is one of the highest ranking members of an organization, managing daily operations and usually reporting directly to the chief executive officer. In some companies,...

 or county executive
County executive
A county executive is the head of the executive branch of government in a county. This position is common in the United States.The executive may be an elected or an appointed position...

. The power of the CAO or county executive to act independently depends on the composition of the board. Generally, like most city manager
City manager
A city manager is an official appointed as the administrative manager of a city, in a council-manager form of city government. Local officials serving in this position are sometimes referred to as the chief executive officer or chief administrative officer in some municipalities...

s, the CAO or county executive has authority over the day to day operations of the county's departments. Many boards independently appoint department heads, while other boards may delegate that authority to the CAO or chief executive. Some department heads, like the sheriff
A sheriff is in principle a legal official with responsibility for a county. In practice, the specific combination of legal, political, and ceremonial duties of a sheriff varies greatly from country to country....

 or district attorney
District attorney
In many jurisdictions in the United States, a District Attorney is an elected or appointed government official who represents the government in the prosecution of criminal offenses. The district attorney is the highest officeholder in the jurisdiction's legal department and supervises a staff of...

, may be elected separately by the electorate; however, the board still exerts some power over these departments' budgets.

When department heads are directly elected and hence not responsible to the board of supervisors, this can create tension. Typical examples include the sheriff's decision to implement arrest procedures which a court later declares to be unnecessarily brutal or the district attorney's decision to start charging every conceivable crime in sight. Either way, the board of supervisors will find itself having to pay out judgments to the sheriff's hapless victims, or expanding the jail to accommodate all the criminals prosecuted by the district attorney.

Despite the presence of a CAO or chief executive, it is not uncommon for an individual supervisor to become involved in the affairs of individual departments, like setting priorities for projects in one's district or independently requesting investigations of problems in a department. In some counties, the county executive is elected.

In the City and County of San Francisco, which, as the legal name indicates, has a consolidated city-county
Consolidated city-county
In United States local government, a consolidated city–county is a city and county that have been merged into one unified jurisdiction. As such it is simultaneously a city, which is a municipal corporation, and a county, which is an administrative division of a state...

 government, the Board of Supervisors does double duty as a county board of control and a city council, while the mayor
In many countries, a Mayor is the highest ranking officer in the municipal government of a town or a large urban city....

, likewise, is simultaneously city head of state and county executive. Or to put in cross-comparative terms, San Francisco is the only city in California with a county Board of Supervisors instead of a city council; and it is the only county in California with a mayor instead of a county executive.

Quasi-judicial powers

Under a board's quasi-judicial capacity, the board is the final arbiter of decisions made by commissions underneath a board. This generally involves land use planning
Land use planning
Land-use planning is the term used for a branch of public policy encompassing various disciplines which seek to order and regulate land use in an efficient and ethical way, thus preventing land-use conflicts. Governments use land-use planning to manage the development of land within their...


Other states

In other states the equivalent body is called the County Council
County council
A county council is the elected administrative body governing an area known as a county. This term has slightly different meanings in different countries.-United Kingdom:...

or County Commission
County commission
A county commission is a group of elected officials charged with administering the county government in local government in some states of the United States. County commissions are usually made up of three or more individuals...

for Louisiana
Louisiana is a state located in the southern region of the United States of America. Its capital is Baton Rouge and largest city is New Orleans. Louisiana is the only state in the U.S. with political subdivisions termed parishes, which are local governments equivalent to counties...

 parishes, the equivalent body is a police jury
Police Jury
In the U.S. state of Louisiana, the typical governing body of the parish is called the Police Jury. Not every parish is governed by a Police Jury, but 41 of the 64 parishes use this system....

In New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

, the equivalent is the Board of Chosen Freeholders
Board of Chosen Freeholders
In New Jersey, the Boards of Chosen Freeholders are the county legislatures in each of that state's 21 counties.- Origin :New Jersey's system of naming county legislators "freeholders" is unique in the United States...

, while in Kentucky
The Commonwealth of Kentucky is a state located in the East Central United States of America. As classified by the United States Census Bureau, Kentucky is a Southern state, more specifically in the East South Central region. Kentucky is one of four U.S. states constituted as a commonwealth...

 the equivalent is titled Fiscal Court
Fiscal Court
The Fiscal Court, under the Kentucky Constitution of 1891, is the name given to the county legislature and governing body of each of the counties in Kentucky. Despite the name, it no longer has any responsibility for judicial proceedings....

. In Nebraska
Nebraska is a state on the Great Plains of the Midwestern United States. The state's capital is Lincoln and its largest city is Omaha, on the Missouri River....

, some counties are governed by a board of supervisors while other counties are governed by a county commission. In New York, counties are governed by a county legislature, a board of representatives, or a board of supervisors.

In Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is a U.S. state that is located in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. The state borders Delaware and Maryland to the south, West Virginia to the southwest, Ohio to the west, New York and Ontario, Canada, to the north, and New Jersey to...

, "Board of Supervisors" is the name of the body governing township
The word township is used to refer to different kinds of settlements in different countries. Township is generally associated with an urban area. However there are many exceptions to this rule. In Australia, the United States, and Canada, they may be settlements too small to be considered urban...

s of the second class that have not adopted a home rule charter. By default, a Pennsylvania township board of supervisors consists of three members, elected at large in odd-numbered years to staggered six-year terms. Voters of a township of the second class can vote to expand the board to five members. In contrast, townships of the first class elect a Board of Commissioners, one member from each ward, ranging from seven to 15 in number.


  • Alameda
    Alameda County Board of Supervisors
    The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is the five member non-partisan governing board of Alameda County, California. Members of the board of supervisors are elected by district based on their residence...

  • Butte
    Butte County Board of Supervisors
    The governing body of Butte County, California. The board consists of five members elected by district for four year terms. As of January 3, 2010, the board of supervisors consisted of Bill Connely, Larry Wahl, Maureen Kirk, Steve Lambert, and Kim Yamaguchi....

  • Contra Costa
    Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors
    The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors is the governing body for the unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County, California in the San Francisco Bay Area's East Bay region. These are divided into five districts...

  • Kern
    Kern County Board of Supervisors
    The Kern County Board of Supervisors is the legislative and executive body that controls Kern County, California.-Modern:In October 2011 the members were:* 1st District, Jon McQuiston.* 2nd District, Zack Scrivner.* 3rd District, Mike Maggard....

  • Los Angeles
    Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
    The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is the five-member nonpartisan governing board of Los Angeles County, California. Members of the board of supervisors are elected by district. They were as of December 2, 2008:*District 1: Gloria Molina...

  • Marin
    Marin County Board of Supervisors
    The Marin County Board of Supervisors is the governing body for the unincorporated areas of Marin County, California in the San Francisco Bay Area's North Bay region...

  • Orange
    Orange County Board of Supervisors
    The Orange County Board of Supervisors is the five-member governing body of Orange County, California.-Membership:The Board consists of five Supervisors elected by districts to four-year terms by the citizens of Orange County...

  • Sacramento
    Sacramento County Board of Supervisors
    The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is the five member governing board of Sacramento County, California.Like all other counties in California, with the exception of San Francisco County, Sacramento is split into five districts and each district elects a supervisor every four years.-Current...

  • San Francisco
    San Francisco Board of Supervisors
    The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is the legislative body within the government of the City and County of San Francisco, California, United States.-Government and politics:...

  • San Mateo
    San Mateo County Board of Supervisors
    The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors is the five-member elected body that supervises the operation of San Mateo County, California. Board members represent one of five districts of roughly equal population within the county, but are elected at-large by all county voters...


  • Albemarle
  • Fairfax
    Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
    The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sometimes abbreviated as FCBS, is the governing body of Fairfax County; a county of over a million in Northern Virginia. The board has nine districts, and one at-large district which is always occupied by the Chair...

  • Loudoun
  • Prince William
    Prince William Board of County Supervisors
    Prince William County, Virginia is divided into seven magisterial districts: Brentsville, Coles, Gainesville, Neabsco, Occoquan, Potomac, and Woodbridge. The magisterial districts each elect one supervisor to the Board of Supervisors which governs Prince William County...


  • Eau Claire
    Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors
    The Eau Claire County Board of Supervisors is the non-partisan 29-member governing board of Eau Claire County, Wisconsin. Members of the board of supervisors are elected by district and the chairperson and vice-chair positions are elected from within members of the board.-Board meetings:The board...

  • Milwaukee
  • Winnebago
    Winnebago County Board
    The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors is the legislative branch of the government of Winnebago County, Wisconsin, United States. Supervisors serve two year terms and are elected to the board in a nonpartisan election held the first Tuesday of April in even numbered years. There are currently 36...

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