Released May 26, 1998




The five-member Board of Supervisors has a budget of $1,246,756 and a staff of sixteen employees. Their funding is entirely from the county’s general fund. (See Exhibit 1) The Board oversees the county budget of $459,388,304, or almost a half billion dollars.


The County Budget document, entitled "Paths to Performance," contains sections where each department has related its strategic priorities and how the budgeted funds will be used to accomplish these priorities. For example, the Fire Department lists eight priorities, such as "hazardous materials regulation." The Parks Department lists "Partnering with private and non-profit sectors to meet community needs…." Health Care Services has a priority of "Implementing a computerized immunization registry employing SmartCard technology." The Board of Supervisors, as a separate county department, did not state any performance priorities. (See Exhibit 2)


The Board of Supervisors adopted a Strategic Plan for the County dated April, 1996, which is a "statement of our collective beliefs and aspirations." Goal III of the Action Plan of this document is to "Strengthen the County’s Administration and Organization," with the Objective to "Clarify the role of the board, county administrator’s office, department heads, and managers."


The Grand Jury has met with each Supervisor, and with the County Administrator. In the course of our studies, meetings were conducted with individual Supervisors on various matters. In order to help each member of the Board clarify the role of the Board, the Grand Jury wrote to each of the Supervisors to request that they answer the following questions:

  1. What is the role of the Board of Supervisors?
  2. How do you describe the role of a County Supervisor?


Their written responses regarding the role of the Board of Supervisors are quoted here, in the order received by the Grand Jury:

Many of the County’s responsibilities are established federal and state mandates. Sometimes, the County is the agency of last resort for indigent persons or during emergencies. The Board must consider all aspects of County operations, dedicate resources to meeting constituent needs, and work together to make the County as efficient and effective as possible. The County is effective if it provides the highest priority services under its jurisdiction that are needed by its constituents."


or elsewhere when permitted by law; make contracts and purchases and hold personal property as the interest of the inhabitants require; levy and collect taxes authorized by law; and exercise such other and further powers as may be especially conferred by law or as may be necessarily implied from those expressed."





Two of the Supervisors mentioned "micro-management of County government by Board members." One Supervisor saw micro-managing as a problem that elected officials find "irresistible," and "open to wide interpretation." Another Supervisor viewed it as having been resolved by hiring the new County Administrator.


According to information compiled by the County Supervisors Association of California (CSAC) and provided to the Grand Jury by two different Supervisors, the Board has authority in these roles: executive, legislative, and quasi-judicial.


Executive Role

The Board sets policy as acknowledged by the responding Supervisors. The Board may supervise county officials, but may not add to their duties, nor "direct or control the day-to-day operations" (micro-management) of county departments or officials. The Board has limited authority to supervise elected officials. Regarding the courts, the Board shares funding responsibility with the state, yet can’t control their budget or operations. However, there are limits to the court’s ability to order the Board to provide funding.


If the County is involved in litigation, the Board has power in directing the conduct of litigation, may employ outside attorneys by a two-thirds vote, and may hire special counsel. The Board can enter into a joint powers agreement, whereby the county and a local government agree to provide services. For example, the sheriff’s department may

provide police services to a city. The Board may also join a joint powers authority, whereby a new governing board is formed with representatives from each of the member

agencies, such as the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG). As a member of a joint powers authority, that governing board sets the policies for the authority.


Legislative Role

The Board of Supervisors may legislate by resolution, board order, or by ordinance. A resolution is not the same as an ordinance. A resolution may be issued as a policy statement, or used when specific findings are made by the board. A board order usually is a directive to staff. An ordinance is a law, which applies locally. The state Constitution allows cities and counties to make laws within their jurisdictions, as long as these laws do not conflict with state law. Cities and counties also enforce local laws. Public notice and hearings are required for ordinances before adoption, except for emergency situations, which require an urgency ordinance.


The Board of Supervisors has the authority to generate revenue through taxes, assessments, or fees, but only those that are allowed by the state Constitution or Legislature; and which are approved by the voters as required by Propositions 13 and 62. A tax is an involuntary charge to pay for public services. An assessment is an involuntary charge on land that directly benefits the landowner. The proceeds of the assessment must be used for the services or improvements, such as library services or park maintenance. A fee must be used to cover the cost of providing the service.


Quasi-Judicial Role

The Board of Supervisors has the authority to settle claims against the county, and to audit the accounts of county officers regarding management of funds. The Board has subpoena power to require that accounts files are produced for audit. The Board acts as an assessment appeals board when a question arises about the value of property.


The responses regarding how each Supervisor describes his/her role as a County Supervisor are quoted here in the order of responses received:


"Supervisors should ascertain the needs and priorities of the constituents in their districts and attempt to move policy in the direction needed to meet those priorities. Supervisors often act as ombudsmen for their constituents, representing their needs before the Board and acting as liaison with other parts of the government and with community-based organizations. A Supervisor’s office is often a problem-solving

organization for the people of the district and a ‘bully pulpit’ to inform the constituents about the County’s policies."



"The first role is similar to that of a member of a corporate board of directors. In this case, a Supervisor provides proactive leadership on issues and challenges facing the organization. In any private sector corporation, the Chief Executive Officer seeks the approval of his or her board of directors on budgetary, strategic, and policy matters. Similarly, our county Administrator brings budgetary, strategic, and policy matters to our Board for consideration."


"In addition to re-actively responding to issues and challenges that are brought to

the board, each supervisor has the ability and responsibility to provide leadership on matters that are important to each Supervisor."


"The second, and equally important role, is that of constituent advocacy and representation. Citizen service is at the core of our democracy. Tasks such as helping residents get their potholes filled, or guiding them as they navigate their way through any given bureaucracy, or helping a neighborhood establish a Neighborhood Watch program, are a few of the tasks that county residents expect and deserve from a Supervisor."




"It is this level of access and responsiveness that the public, at least in the ____ District, expects from their Supervisor. My office receives calls on every issue affecting County government. Our policy is to respond within 24 hours with information that the individual requested, or we refer the constituent directly to the department responsible for that issue. We then follow up to ensure that the individual received a satisfactory reply."


"Finally, my belief is that this office should be used to bring the community together. County government is in a unique position to have a positive influence on its

residents. The public comes into regular contact with an employee of this county, whether it is through the Public Works, Sheriff, Fire, or Health Departments. Our

goal is to provide cost effective, high quality service each and every time a County employee interacts with the public…."



Board of Supervisors as employers

Although the CSAC information about the role of the Board of Supervisors lists their executive responsibilities, only one Supervisor included "monitors the operations of the County" as part of the role of the Board. None of the Supervisors mentioned his/her involvement in appointing and evaluating the county’s department heads. The County’s Executive Management Performance Evaluation form states that the County Administrator will evaluate all appointed department heads (those not elected by the voters) "after consultation with the Board of Supervisors." (See Exhibit 3) The Board contracts directly with some employees such as the County Administrator, and some independent contractors such as the Economic Development Director.




  1. There is no consensus among the members of the Board of Supervisors regarding the Board’s role.

  3. The Board lists no stated priorities in the budget document. Individually, each board member has stated that they provide constituent services. However, as a board, they do not state how funds budgeted to the Board of Supervisors as a unit will be used.

  5. The Board is directly responsible for contracting with those who provide services to the county. These contractors are accountable only to the Board, rather than to the County Administrator.




  1. The members of the Board should arrive at a consensus regarding the role of the Board of Supervisors as called for in the Strategic Plan, or else remove that Objective from the Strategic Plan. [Finding 1]

  3. The Board should establish priorities and state them in the budget document. [Finding 2]

  5. The Board should consistently evaluate contract performance of service providers hired by the Board and reportable directly to the Board. [Finding 3]



Board of Supervisors [Findings 1,2 and 3; Recommendations 1,2 and 3]






Naomi Schwartz, Tom Urbanske, Gail Marshall, Timothy J. Staffel, Jeanne Graffy



Affected Agency


We want to advise you that California Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that responses to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations must be made in writing to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and the Grand Jury Foreperson within 90 days (Governing bodies) or 60 days (Department heads) of the issuance of the report


Therefore the Grand Jury requires that you respond to each of the Findings and Recommendations that applies to your agency.


Please send your response to:

Honorable Judge Frank J. Oachoa

Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court

1100 Anacapa Street

Santa Barbara, CA. 93121


Grand Jury Foreperson at the same address.


Responses to the Grand Jury should be submitted on a 3 ½ inch computer disk (preferably in Word) along with the printed response.