Boards and Commissions Handbook

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​​​ Second floor, 301 E. Huron Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48104

8 a.m.-12 p.m., 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
(excluding holidays)

Jacqueline Beaudry,
City Clerk

Fax: 734.994.8296


Welcome! We are delighted that you have chosen to join a City of Ann Arbor board or commission. In so far as this service requires no prior experience in public service, City staff designed this handbook to help you navigate your new position. This guide will introduce you to local government and provide some of the key information you will need as you begin your new role on a board or commission in service to the Ann Arbor community. Boards and commissions are established to increase community input and participation in City government and to enable the City Council and other policy makers to gain additional knowledge, perspective, and guidance on important issues as part of their decision-making process. Some of the boards, committees and commissions exist to advise and make recommendations to City Council, while others have distinct regulatory responsibilities that are established by law. This guidebook will help you learn about the different roles and responsibilities of each board and how you can best serve the City and your board. By accepting this appointment, you are now a vital part of your local government’s effort to enrich community life on a wide variety of issues. The greater the participation in the work of the board or commission by its members, the greater the effectiveness that body will be in carrying out its charge and ultimately assisting City Council to improve the community. On behalf of the City of Ann Arbor, please accept our thanks for your time, dedication, and commitment to serve. In this new role, you will help to make the City a better place to live, work and visit, by bringing a community member perspective to the governing process. Congratulations and thank you!​

The City of Ann Arbor appoints over 200 people to over 50 boards and commissions that advise and assist in carrying out the functions of local government. These boards and commissions provide a critical reservoir of knowledge and community input that inform City policy and operations. The City is a Council-Manager form of government. Under this system, the City Council (which includes the Mayor) sets policies, while the City Administrator is the chief executive who implements those policies and manages the daily operations of the City. This is somewhat analogous to a corporation, which is governed by a board of directors, but managed by a CEO. Over 750 City employees work across over two-dozen departments to deliver services to the residents of Ann Arbor. Most boards and commissions are created by City Council resolution or ordinance and serve as advisory bodies to the City Council or City Administrator. They provide information, analysis, and recommendations to City Council and the City Administrator on matters pertaining to the board or commission's specialized knowledge. A few boards and commissions have the authority to make binding decisions in certain matters, such as the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic District Commission, and Building Board of Appeals. These bodies generally derive their decision-making authority from state law. Regardless of their specific duties, each board and commission plays an important part in City government. Members of boards and commissions perform a public service and have both an obligation and an opportunity to provide thoughtful input that will help shape their community. This requires a thorough understanding of their board or commission's role as well as a willingness to engage constructively with the public, elected officials, and City staff. Each board and commission has its own duties, procedures, and customs, so it may take some time for new members to get up to speed. The goal of this handbook is to provide some basic information and introductory guidance to help with the transition.

Process fo​r New Appointments

Appointees who have been confirmed by City Council will receive a letter from the City Clerk's Office notifying them of their appointment. The appointment letter will include information on the swearing-in process, contact information for the staff liaison to the board or commission, and the term start and end date. Commissioners should contact the staff liaison to determine the first meeting for their appointed term. Prior to participating in any meeting, commissioners are required to sign an oath of office. The oath is currently digital and the oath is provided with your confirmation letter from the Clerk's office. 

Prior to your first meeting, you should familiarize yourself with the bylaws of your board or commission and review the upcoming agenda materials. You may also wish to review materials or videos from prior meetings. See the Resources section of this handbook for links to access these materials. Your staff liaison should also be able to provide you with a schedule of meetings and any other pertinent information. 

You can resign from your board at any time for any reason. If you would like to resign from your position on your board or commission before your term expires, please send an email to the Boards and Commissions Coordinator and your designated Staff Liaison stating your board or commission name and the effective date of resignation. Your resignation will be a included as a communication at the next City Council meeting​

Duties of Boar​ds and Commissions

General Duties and Responsibilities of Appointees

Members of boards and commissions are appointive officers of the City and are expected to uphold a high standard. Generally, the role of a member is to gather information, discuss and deliberate with other members, and vote on recommendations or decisions in accordance with the board or commission's stated purposes. Here are some general tips and expectations:​

  • ​Act courteously during meetings and treat other members of the body, the public, and City staff with respect. Disagreements are inevitable, but appointees should remain civil and focus on issues rather than personal differences  

  • Observe good parliamentary practice. The chair's role is to run an efficient meeting while allowing all points of view to be heard and a full discussion. Assist the chair by being concise in making your points and not interrupting others  

  • Arrive to meetings on time and let your staff liaison and chair know if you will be absent. Unexpected absences can cause a meeting to be cancelled​ if not enough members are present to establish a quorum. If a quorum is not present the commission will be unable to conduct regular business, so as a courtesy​ to your fellow commissioners​ and the public, please provide advanced notice of any absences 

  • Come prepared. Review proposed minutes, agenda packets, and other information ahead of time to allow for informed deliberation

  • Represent your board or commission appropriately. As an appointee, people may perceive you to speak on behalf of the City or your board or commission. Do not speak for your board of commission unless appropriately authorized to do so. Make clear that you are speaking in your personal capacity if there is any doubt

Duties of Specific Members and Information about ​​Member Types

The bylaws of each board should state the number and type of members and their roles. 

Voting Members

Most appointees are voting members of their board or commission. Voting members have the right to speak, discuss, make motions, and vote on matters before the body. Typically, only voting members are eligible to serve as officers, including Chair and Vice Chair. A certain number of voting members are required to be present to have a quorum to conduct business.

Non-Voting Me​​mbers

Many boards and commissions have non-voting members. Non-voting members are typically there to provide a certain perspective or expertise. They lack the right to vote but may participate in discussion. Non-voting members may include members of the City Council, members of the City staff, representatives from other boards, commissions, or organizations, or youth members. 


Occasionally, boards and commission will have designated "liaisons". These typically are representatives of other groups or entities that have expertise or an interest in subject matter of the board or commission. Liaisons may be described in the bylaws, but may also be ad hoc appointments. Liaisons typically function similarly to a nonvoting member

Governing Ru​les

A few key resources provide structure for operating a healthy board and commission. It is important to be knowledgeable about bylaws and other legislation surrounding boards and commissions.


When you are appointed, your staff liaison should provide you with a copy of the bylaws of your board or commission. The bylaws will contain most of the information you need to perform your duties. The City's bylaws are standardized for most boards and commissions, with some specific provisions applicable to each body. ​

The standard bylaws include sections on duties, ethics and conflicts of interest, and procedural matters, including scheduling, noticing, and conducting meetings and preparation of agendas. If, after reviewing the bylaws, you have questions or want clarification, contact your staff liaison

Open Meetings Act

City commissions are expected to conduct themselves according to the procedures contained in the Michigan Open Meetings Act (“OMA”). Essentially, this means that City commissions should deliberate and make all their decisions during a public meeting, including a full discussion of the reasons for those decisions. Commissioners should avoid emailing, talking, or otherwise communicating with other members outside of a public meeting about how they will vote, reasons for voting a particular way, or the pros and cons of an issue or petition that may come before the commission.

Commissioners should avoid emailing the entire commission (or a quorum of the commission) about commission business. If commissioners have factual information they wish to communicate to the entire body, they should send it to the staff liaison and request that it be provided to the body. Commissioners should never “reply to all” if they receive such an email.

Sometimes, discussion between commissioners outside of a public meeting may be necessary (for example, when developing draft policy recommendations for presentation to the full commission). In such cases, the discussions should involve as few commissioners as possible and never involve a quorum. If the matter warrants substantial discussion with multiple commissioners outside of the regular meeting schedule, a subcommittee may be appropriate, the meetings of which would be posted and open to the public.

Basic Rights of the Public during a meeting governed by the Open Meeting Act:

  • The public can attend without a requirement to sign in or identify themselves. 

  • The public can record or broadcast the proceedings if they so choose. 

  • The public can address the body under rules prescribed for public comment.

Freedom of Information Act

​In general, records of the City are subject to disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Email communications about board or commission business are generally considered to be public records subject to disclosure under FOIA. For this reason, email correspondence regarding the board or commission's business should generally copy the staff liaison so that the City has a record of the correspondence. Commissioners are otherwise responsible for retaining and producing emails and other records, including text messages related to board or commission business that they have in their possession upon request by the City's FOIA Coordinator or the City Attorney's Office. Note that email addresses used by commissioners may be subject to public disclosure, so commissioners may wish to create a separate email address for commission business if they have privacy concerns.

Local Rules Relating to Meeting Documents

Meeting Notices

Public notice of meetings is provided by posting a notice at City Hall, on the City's website, and by mail to interested parties who have requested notice be sent to them directly.

There are two types of meetings: regular meetings and special meetings. Boards and commissions schedule regular meetings at the start of each year. Special meetings are called when necessary to supplement the regular meeting schedule. Special meetings often focus on specific, urgent matters. The bylaws will contain instructions and timing for scheduling meetings. 

Key Points for Scheduling Meetings:

  • Each year, there are over 500 meetings of City boards and commissions. Preferred meeting times and venues—especially for televised meetings— may limited, so it is important to begin planning early. 

  • Be aware that the City does not schedule meetings for dates identified as City holidays and/or other recommended holiday observances. 

  • Public notice is required for all public meetings. Work with your staff liaison to make sure they have time to prepare and distribute notices in a timely fashion.

Remote Meetings

Most boards and commissions meet remotely or in hybrid formats. Your staff liaison will provide assistance with setting up technology to participate remotely.

Agendas & Agenda Packets

Agendas are critical for keeping meetings on topic and progressing in an efficient manner. Agendas are typically developed by the staff liaison in consultation with the Chair and are posted online prior to each meeting. The bylaws typically prescribe a standard agenda format

Agenda packets are the materials and information that accompany agenda items for each meeting. These are usually posted online with the agenda and emailed to members. 

Meeting Minutes

Staff liaisons prepare minutes and the proposed minutes will be available for public inspection and for review by members of boards and commissions as well as the general public within 8 business days after the meeting to which the minutes refer. Boards, commissions, and committees review, correct, and approve proposed minutes at the next regular meeting.

Minutes conform to Open Meetings Act requirements and provide a record of the date, time, place and attendance of members at a meeting along with a record of any decisions made or roll call votes conducted at a meeting. Minutes are not a transcription or a set of notes recording the body's discussions. 

Once the board, commission or committee approves a set of minutes, staff liaisons will make approved minutes available for public inspection within five business days after the meeting at which the minutes are approved. Staff liaisons will forward the approved minutes to the next available City Council agenda for filing. For convenience, minutes are typically available on the City Website.

​Role of​ City Staff

Staff Liaiso​​ns

Each board and commission has a staff liaison who provides professional and administrative support. Staff liaisons are the primary conduit for members of boards and commissions to communicate with the City. Your staff liaison should be your first contact if you have any questions related to your board or commission. Staff liaisons perform a variety of roles, including:

  • Serving as a channel of communication between the board/commission and other City staff

  • Creating meeting notices, preparing minutes, and creating agendas

  • Scheduling meetings and booking meeting locations

  • Maintaining board/commission records

  • Coordinating the collection and distribution of information requested by the board/commission

City Clerk's Offic​e

The City Clerk's Office provides a wide range of support and oversight to ensure meetings and records relating to boards and commissions are accurate and meet applicable requirements, including:

  • Maintaining rosters by updating as needed with appointments and resignations. 

  • Reviewing, posting, and mailing out meeting notices prepared by staff liaisons. 

  • Arranging accessibility accommodations requested for accessibility at public meetings. 

  • Notifying the Mayor and City Council of terms set to expire. 

  • Supporting the application, appointment, and reappointment process. 

  • Preparing and sending oath of office cards to incoming appointees. Each new member must complete the oath of office card prior to participating in any meetings and return the card to the Clerk's Office for permanent filing. 

  • Managing compliance with internal and external laws, polices, and procedures. 

  • Providing annual training for appointees. 

  • Emailing all new appointees a letter, including information on the swearing-in process; the staff liaison contact information; the expiration date of the appointee's term; and other information the City Clerk deems appropriate. 

  • Being the point of contact for commissioners who are resigning from a board or commission. 

City Attorney's Office

The City Attorney's Office also provides support for City boards and commissions, including:

  • Reviewing and advising on bylaws

  • Providing guidance on applicable procedural and legal requirements

Mayor's Off​​ice

The Executive Assistant to the Mayor supports the application and appointment process and assists the Mayor and City Council in the administrative work surrounding appointments.


Hopefully, the information on this page will assist you in preparing to serve on a City board or commission. If you have additional questions, there are many people who can help, including your staff liaison, the City Clerk's Office, and the chair and other members of your board or commission.

Ann Arbor Online Resources

The City uses software called Legistar to manage and publish the agendas, minutes, and materials for meetings of board and commissions, these materials are publically available on the Legislative Information Center.

Videos of many board and commission meetings are streamed live and available on demand by visiting CTN Live Stream Page

Additional information is available on the Boards and Commissions Page. ​