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Friday, May 1, 2020

What is the County Board of Commissioners?

I asked that question in my first post. When I first started my journey of citizen re-engagement back in the fall of 2016 I had no real firm idea what it was that the Lenawee County Board of Commissioners did in any real and tangible sense. I had some notion that they were the legislative arm of county government and that they passed some enforceable regulations and had some other related duties. It turns out it is a bit more complicated than that.

Fifty seven odd years ago, in 1963, the State of Michigan rewrote its constitution. The previous constitution had been written in 1908. Who cares? Right? Well, the 1963 Michigan Constitution details how state government shall be organized and structured, enumerates rights and responsibilities of individuals and also for various subunits of government, like counties, cities, and townships, of government, etc. Specifically, for local government we want to look at Article VII.

So, that’s it? Just look over article VII of the 1963 Michigan Constitution and you’re ready to go? Nope. There are a few things which muddy the waters, here. Constitutional Amendments, like 2018’s Proposition #2 - to establish an Independent Redistricting Commission, modify the Constitution. So, we need to know about any of those which passed since 1963 which specifically affect or address local government in order to know what’s what.

So, just the Constitution and the amendments. Got it. Good? Nope. What? More? Authorizing legislation, friends and neighbors. Authorizing legislation and ballot initiatives. See, the Michigan Legislature, the Governor, and even the people of the state can affect changes to the legal mumbo jumbo stew that are the laws, regulations, and the like which impact local government.

Almost done, I promise.

Finally, the Michigan State Supreme Court and the courts superior to it have made rulings regarding the interpretation of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, the various amendments, and authorizing language and ballot initiatives. Wow. That’s a lot. What was the question again?

Oh, right, what is the County Board of Commissioners? Well, the 1963 Michigan Constitution Article VII Section 7 quite clearly states:
§ 7 Boards of supervisors; members. Sec. 7. A board of supervisors shall be established in each organized county consisting of one member from each organized township and such representation from cities as provided by law.
See, easy, one member from each township and somehow we pick some number of members for cities. We’re guessing that “by law” here is something which wouldn’t exist as of the writing of the 1963 Michigan State Constitution, but would come later by act of the legislature. Guess what? That’s not how it works. What? How is that possible?

Footnote to this Article VII Section 7
Section held invalid under federal constitution. Advisory Opinion re Constitutionality of 1966 PA 261, 380 Mich 736; 158 NW2d 497 (1968); In re Apportionment of Ontonagon County Board of Supervisors, 11 Mich App 348; 157 NW2d 698 (1967).
What is the County Board of Commissioners? It doesn't seem like the answer is straight forward, does it? More on that next time.