Section 5: Duties and Legal Aspects of the County Extension Council

What are the purposes of the University of Missouri Extension council?

The council is the legally responsible group that oversees all activities of University of Missouri Extension at the county level. The council is responsible for carrying out four main duties:

1. Working with extension specialists to provide the county educational program

Council members help determine the educational needs in the county and assist in the planning and delivery of programs. They are responsible for assuring equal opportunity to participate in extension programs at the local level. County extension councils are authorized to cooperate with other counties in extension activities.

Characteristics of an effective council member

If you could describe an extension council member who creates impact in their community, you might list the following characteristics as being among the most important. Not everyone, of course, has all of them to the same degree, but they are all important to the job councils are asked to do.

Vision — ability to envision the future, to understand the long-term effects of decisions, and to subordinate individual interests for the good of the community.

Knowledge — thorough knowledge of the county.

Open Mind — ability to carefully weigh the pros and cons of an idea or decision before reaching a conclusion.

Self-Assurance — deliberateness in decision-making not influenced by strong or vocal factions within the organization.

Enthusiasm — genuine interest in and enthusiasm about the goals of the organization and ability to communicate that interest and enthusiasm to others.

Willingness — Perhaps the most important qualification for being a council member is the willingness to involve oneself in activities that will benefit others.

When individual characteristics are contributed in the group, the council becomes effective and impacts the local community, improving both local and state value.

Characteristics of an effective council
  • Has clearly written statement(s) of purpose and understands these as a result of discussion.
  • Has a responsible leader who guides the council in its deliberations.
  • Believes in, respects and practices democratic values.
  • Works in partnership with local faculty and engagement specialists as sources of information.
  • Has elected members who are qualified and genuinely interested in serving.
  • Carefully plans the work to be accomplished working through tasks as needed.
  • Has a sense of priorities and timing.
  • Works as a team rather than as individuals.
  • Has members who participate actively in deliberations and discussions.
  • Keeps a written agenda, minutes of meetings and other necessary records.
  • Evaluates itself regularly.
  • Provides an enjoyable and productive experience for its members.
  • Is open to new ideas and opportunities.
  • Reflects the diversity of the citizens of the county.

2. Managing the finances of local extension operations

The council is responsible for working with the county commission to prepare the local budget and obtain county funds adequate to finance the county educational program. The council is responsible for paying salaries of non-professional staff and expenses related to the operation of the county extension center. It also is responsible for collecting fees for specific programs and activities, conducting private fund raising and for requisitioning the monthly appropriation from the county commission. The council reports to the commission on expenditures for extension operations each year through the annual report.

Preparing the council annual report

At the close of each calendar year, the council, through its secretary, shall make an annual detailed report to the county court (commission), covering all receipts and expenditures, together with a summary of work undertaken and results accomplished. The report shall be filed with the county court (commission) not later than February 1, following the close of the year or portion of year covered by the report.

This instruction from the Missouri statutes requires every county extension council to produce a county annual report.

Additionally, the county annual report — if prepared with the thought of distribution to a wider audience than only the county commission — can be a good marketing and public relations tool. The annual report should be a document that any council or staff member could hand proudly to a county commissioner or other community leader and say, “This represents our best efforts.”

Above all else, the report should demonstrate how extension programs have affected clients' lives positively. The primary focus is on what has happened as a result of the faculty, staff and council’s activities. This can be done by including client testimonials, evaluation results, newspaper clippings and statistical data supporting the programs' objectives and accomplishments. Whenever possible, use photos of local people, identifying them by name. Commissioners are interested in their constituents.

Another important area to report on is civil rights compliance and inclusive excellence. What progress is being made in providing educational opportunities for those with accessibility needs, older and low-income citizens, non-English speakers, Black, Hispanic and other minority audiences?

The council annual report template provides space for each requirement needed. The report must include such financial data for the year, including all revenue and expenditures by type. There is also space for local impact. Again, easy-to-read and attractive presentation of the data adds to the report’s readability.

Ideally, compiling information for the annual report is a year-long process. As soon as one year's report is completed, the faculty, staff and council should plan and begin adding to the report for the next year. Photos, clippings and summary reports should be gathered throughout the year to avoid last-minute panic.

3. Providing personnel to carry out University of Missouri Extension activities

The council approves the assignment of MU Extension specialists headquartered in the county. It has responsibility for making recommendations related to the removal of personnel and is to be consulted prior to the discharge of personnel. The council hires non-professional staff in the county extension center. In addition, each council member’s involvement contributes to the success of the local extension office within the community.

Being a representative

The residents of your county look to you to represent their ideas and to make your own contribution. The success of MU Extension will depend upon your ability and enthusiasm as a council member. The following suggestions may help you undertake this role:

  • Know how MU Extension operates.
    The MU Extension council is governed by the statutes of the state of Missouri, and in some counties, a set of bylaws stating its purpose, goals and methods of operation. Acquaint yourself with the statutes so you will be able to participate fully in MU Extension activities. If your council has bylaws, be sure to read them so you will understand how your council carries out its duties.
  • Be a source of information about MU Extension.
    To be effective, people of the county must know about MU Extension's educational opportunities. You have the responsibility to know about these opportunities, to tell your fellow citizens about their availability, and to inform officials who support MU Extension of their results.
  • Talk to people in your county.
    Find out what other residents of the county consider to be important educational needs and issues and be prepared to introduce their ideas at the proper time with suggestions for an appropriate course of action.
  • Get to know the staff.
    The extension specialists assigned to your county are responsible for carrying out the day-to-day activities of MU Extension. They will welcome the opportunity to discuss current programs with you. They work closely with other faculty and staff in the extension network and can offer valuable information to make your job easier and more enjoyable.
  • Do your homework.
    A council member is effective only when well prepared and informed. It is important that you study the details of issues you will make decisions about at council meetings.
  • Attend council and committee meetings.
    You have been accorded a position of trust by the people of your county. You can demonstrate that you are worthy by conscientiously participating in the activities of the MU Extension council.  Everyone has unexpected schedule interruptions, but members should make an extra effort to attend all council and committee meetings. If you cannot attend a meeting, call the council chair or staff secretary so your absence can be noted appropriately.
  • Be a decision maker.
    The authority of the council comes from its group actions. Only the total council has ultimate authority. Individual council members do not have independent decision-making powers.
Working with officers

The officers of the council hold positions that carry great responsibility. You can help the officers fulfill their roles by offering authentic information and by keeping them informed of the current needs and wishes of the residents in your county. Your greatest contribution will be your intelligent and active participation in council meetings. To make every meeting productive, be prepared and participate. Here are a few suggestions:

  • When you get your meeting agenda, study it and see how you can contribute. If there is any item on it you do not understand completely, contact the chair or extension engagement specialist and ask to be briefed.
  • During the meeting, stick to the agenda. If you have other items to discuss, ask to have them included under “new business.”
  • The chair will ensure that the meeting is conducted so all sides of an issue are discussed before action is taken. Ensure that your ideas on an issue are heard by keeping your comments concise and to the point.
  • Don't hesitate to comment on suggestions or ideas raised by others, but be sure that you do so in a constructive manner.
  • Everyone is new to an organization at some time, so don't be afraid to join in the discussion. You have been elected to serve because you have a contribution to make, and it will be welcomed.

4. Electing and organizing the local extension council

The council establishes districts and determines the number of elected positions within the county. It is responsible for setting the time, date and place of elections. Through a nominating committee, the council proposes at least two people for each open elective position on the council, solicits appointments of members by farm organizations and eligible municipalities, and may accept nominations by petition. The council publishes a notice of election and certifies the election to the county clerk. To manage extension council activities, the council elects a chair, vice chair, secretary and treasurer. The council is responsible for holding an annual meeting and at least bimonthly meetings. Officers must meet monthly.

Extension council actions to meet requirements of the open meetings and open records laws (sunshine laws)

Missouri has a commitment to openness in government, clearly stated in Section 610.010 to 610.030 and 610.100 to 610.115 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri.

Except as provided by applicable laws, statutes require public bodies, such as county extension councils, to conduct their activities — meetings, discussions, votes, actions — in a manner open to the public. Council records also must be available to the public.

Of particular importance to county extension councils are sections of the law dealing with meeting notices, open and closed meetings, and open records.

If a member of the council is found guilty of violating the open meetings and open records laws, a circuit court can fine the member up to $500 and may order payment by the member of all costs and reasonable attorney's fees to any party successfully establishing a violation by the council or council member.

Meeting notices

At least 24 hours (exclusive of weekends and holidays when the county extension center is closed) before a meeting, a notice of the meeting must be posted prominently in the county extension center. The notice also may be posted at the site of the meeting if that is not the extension center.

The meeting notice must include:

  • Time of the meeting;
  • Date of the meeting;
  • Place of the meeting;
  • A tentative agenda; and
  • Whether the meeting is open or closed.

If exceptional circumstances prevent 24-hour prior notice or prevent the meeting from being held at a convenient time or in a place reasonably accessible to the public, the reasons must be stated in the minutes.

In addition to the posted notice, copies must be made available to any representative of the news media who has asked for notice of extension council meetings.

Public records

Records of extension councils are to be open and available to the public for copying, unless otherwise provided by law. A reasonable fee, not to exceed the actual cost, may be charged for providing copies.

Each council must appoint a custodian for the records. Each request for access to records must be acted upon no later than the end of the third business day following when the request was received by the custodian. If access is not provided, a written statement explaining why not is to be provided.

Closed meetings
The council can vote to have closed meetings, votes and records if they are within the exceptions stated in Section 610.021.RSMo. Exceptions most likely to apply to extension councils include:

  • litigation;
  • leasing, purchasing or selling real estate if public knowledge might adversely affect the transaction;
  • hiring, firing, disciplining or promoting employees; and
  • individual identifiable personnel records.

To close a meeting, vote or record, a majority of the council members attending must vote in favor of closure in a public vote.

When voting to close a meeting, the council must tell the specific exception to the law justifying closure. No other topic may be discussed in the closed meeting.

Getting help

A council unsure of the legality of its actions may seek an opinion from an attorney representing the council.

Copies of the statutes are available at the county extension center.


Dates-Meetings — Annual Record of Council Attendance (DOC)