Why Advisory Boards Matter
Boards of County Commissioners, Town Councils, City Commissions all go by many names depending on which local government they serve. But they’re always comprised of local elected officials and represent the highest legislative authority in their respective government. That doesn’t mean they are the only legislative authority though.
What are we talking about?
Common examples of these other legislative authorities include:
Downtown Development Authorities
Historic Preservation Boards
These deliberative bodies may be made up of the same elected commissioners or council members as the main legislative body or individuals appointed by those elected officials or some mixture of both.
Why are these advisory boards important?
Various advisory boards, trusts, agencies, committees, and panels are granted a lot of decision-making authority. Often, they provide the public’s first chance to help shape new policies as well.
Typically, they meet at more convenient times compared to the main legislative body to allow the appointed board members to convene after work. In addition, the meetings are shorter because there are fewer agenda items to cover. Each of these agenda items are also related to a single overarching topic (like transit or parks).
Yet, fewer people tend to show up for these meetings. So those that do attend will stand out more, allowing those attendees to influence policy from the start.
Advisory boards come in all shapes and sizes. Some are truly advisory in that they can only hear public input and offer guidance to government officials. However, other boards are granted broad powers. Some of these more powerful boards can act like miniature courts or legislatures within a narrow realm.
Where do these boards come from?
These boards are created in many different ways. Their authority can come from:
Interlocal agreement between governments
Mandate under state or federal law
Moreover, the importance of these boards has been recognized in other parts of our legal system. In a 1991 case called Jennings v. Dade County, a Florida court noted that a local zoning board itself acted like a court when it granted a variance. When the Board of County Commissioners approved that decision to grant a variance, the commissioners were acting like judges. Accordingly, any communications between those commissioners and lobbyists for one side, outside the presence of the opposing parties, were inherently improper (just like if a judge were to speak in private with only with one side’s attorneys). Today, Section 286.0115 of Florida’s Statutes lets local governments establish optional processes to disclose these types of communications prior to a board’s final action. These “Jennings Disclosures” remove the assumption of prejudice and enable opposing parties to respond. Nevertheless, there are exceptions. Under Florida law, these disclosures are not required for local government land use matters (although local governments are free to make their own rules).
Want to learn more?
Find out which City of Miami advisory board is the best fit for you. This quiz only reflects the City of Miami’s advisory boards (and it’s only for fun) but let us know if we should make one for your city, county, or town.
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