Who's in Charge?

LET’S TALK ABOUT leadership in Marin. Where does it come from? Who leads the county? Is any one group — or any one person — in charge? Ask your neighbor and you’ll probably hear, “Are you kidding me? The Marin County Board of Supervisors governs Marin County.”

Not so. Decisions made by Marin’s Board of Supervisors — who last month welcomed a new member (San Rafael’s Damon Connolly) and elected a new president (Ross Valley’s Katie Rice) — primarily impact the county’s unincorporated communities and areas where only a fifth of Marin’s 253,000 residents live. The five countywide elected supervisors have only tangential influence over Marin’s 11 incorporated cities and towns, which each elect their own leadership and have their own budgets supporting police, fire, recreation, public works and building departments.

So then, who collectively represents Marin’s 11 municipalities, namely Sausalito, Belvedere, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Corte Madera, Larkspur, Ross, San Anselmo, Fairfax, San Rafael and Novato? The answer: no one does. Oh, there’s a Marin County Council of Mayors and Councilpersons that meets regularly, but it has no formal power. It’s basically a networking group.

If you’re looking for a legally constituted agency that represents all of Marin, it’s the Transportation Authority of Marin, or TAM. Its board consists of representatives from each of Marin’s 11 municipalities, along with all five county supervisors. However, it deals only with transportation issues.

Another agency offering leadership is the Marin Municipal Water District (MMWD), with five elected directors who deal with water issues and oversee the district’s 22,000 acres of watershed on Mount Tamalpais. In recent years, onetime MMWD directors Joe Nation, Jared Huffman and the late Charles McGlashan all moved on to higher elected offices. Note, however, that MMWD doesn’t include Novato, Marin’s second largest city, or portions of West Marin. Then there’s the Marin Healthcare District — whose primary involvement is with Marin General Hospital — also with five elected directors and also excluding Novato and parts of West Marin. Bottom line: no one entity offers leadership to all of Marin County.

Yet numerous civic organizations offer significant leadership. Foremost is the Marin Community Foundation and its president, Tom Peters, who is often quoted regarding Marin’s needs and trends. Its nine-member appointed board, whose members must live in Marin, is, according to Peters, “one that is geographically, socially and culturally diverse.” Primary among its tasks is the distribution of $40 million annually to worthy Marin causes and institutions.

Other civic groups with countywide influence include the League of Women Voters (LWV) of Marin County, Marin Conservation League and the Marin County Bicycle Coalition.

Finally, there are individuals who’ve consistently worked to make the county an even better place to live: David Schonbrunn of Transdef, who advocates on transportation issues; LWV’s Susan Beittel and Judy Binsacca; and Safe Routes to School’s Wendi Kallins. Also, efforts addressing recent hot-button issues have been led by Jody Morales, founder of Citizens for Sustainable Pension Plans; Susan Kirsch, who co-founded Citizen Marin to oppose high-density development in Marin; and David Kunhardt, co-founder of Citizens for a Livable Marin, who supports affordable and transit-oriented housing. Did I leave out anyone, or any group? Let me know.

Meanwhile, while there is no one group — or one individual — in a dominant position of leadership in Marin County, the cooperation and collaboration between agencies does get the job done, and in an impressive manner. Plus, there is ample room for others to become civically involved. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Marin Magazine and its staff.