Special districts are separate and apart from any counties, cities, or other government agencies that may serve the area. However, an important governance distinction exists between what are known as independent special districts versus dependent special districts.
Independent special districts obtain their authority directly from the community they serve through a governing body that serves independent from other government agencies, providing the board members with a high degree of autonomy to fulfill the mission of the district. They are directly accountable to the community they serve. The vast majority of independent special districts are governed by a constituent-elected board of directors. In some cases, the district board may be appointed by one or more other local elected officials, so long as the board members serve fixed-terms and none of the board members serve in an ex-officio capacity.
On the other hand, dependent special districts are closely tied to another unit of local government. Typically, city councilmembers, a county’s elected executive board members, or their appointees, serve as the board of directors for a dependent special district and control their budget, management, and operation. Unlike independent special districts, appointees to the board of a dependent special district may serve in an ex-officio capacity and serve at the pleasure of the appointing body. In this respect, dependent special district governance is subject to the interests, influence, and authority of other governmental bodies.