Citizen boards and commissions serve many important roles for the public and local government. From the public’s perspective, boards are viewed as part of the front line of City government. They provide an opportunity for public concerns to be transmitted to agency line managers and elected officials. They also provide representation and a place for interest groups and residents to have their concerns heard and acknowledged. From the local government side, citizen boards serve as a source of advice and a place to gauge public reaction to policies. Boards can assist local government by building community support for new or emerging policies as well as relieving some pressure between interest groups and policy makers. A well-functioning board features a diverse membership where alternatives and frequently competing perspectives are discussed and applied to public policy development work. By doing so, boards often act as a venue where agreements are negotiated and compromises on contentious issues are produced.
Although there is no commonly agreed upon definition, government boards and commissions often fall into three categories: advisory, quasi-judicial, and supervisory (Henry and Harms 1987).
Advisory boards advise, coordinate, represent, and/or advocate a position within an administration. These boards are often issue or interest group specific, but they do not have any formal or official policy making or governing power.
Quasi-judicial (regulatory) boards are granted some level of regulatory, judicial, or appellate power by ordinance or statute. These boards have the ability to make a ruling that can be enforceable by law. Appeals from these bodies are either handled by the City Appeals Hearing Officer or the Utah State Third District Court.
Supervisory boards have the power to manage and oversee an agency or various tasks of government. These boards often have a wide range of responsibilities, including budget approval, appointing/employing personnel, adopting operational plans, defining and creating policy, etc. In some cases, decisions of these boards are considered “advisory to the Mayor.” However, in general, the bulk of decision making occurs at the board level and decisions are only overturned by elected officials with cause.