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Do we have to list whether or not action may be taken on the agenda advertising an executive session?
Reviewed: 04/19

A council generally may not take final action at an executive session. It may convene an executive session to discuss/consider/evaluate certain specified issues, however it should not be making any final decisions on behalf of the city in the executive session. See discussion starting on p. 16 of MRSC’s Open Public Meetings Act publication.

In terms of what should be listed on the agenda, if you know that an executive session is scheduled to discuss potential litigation or to consider the acquisition of real estate, you could include that on the agenda with reference to the specific statutory provision allowing an executive session for that purpose. Many public agencies do state the purpose of an executive session in their meeting agendas, but this is not a legal requirement. Here is a link to a 2012 blog article describing the proper procedures for calling an executive session.

Even if the purpose of the executive session is not included on the agenda, RCW 42.30.110(2) requires that the presiding officer of the governing body state the purpose of the meeting prior to convening the executive session:

Before convening in executive session, the presiding officer of a governing body shall publicly announce the purpose for excluding the public from the meeting place, and the time when the executive session will be concluded. The executive session may be extended to a stated later time by announcement of the presiding officer.

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What are the requirements for filling a council vacancy that has been vacant for less than 90 days?
Reviewed: 04/19

The city council has 90 days to fill the vacancy before the authority to fill the vacancy transfers to the county. By law, RCW 42.12.070(4), after 90 days if the position has not been filled, then “the authority of the governing body [the city] to fill the vacancy shall cease and the county legislative authority . . . shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacancy.”

Filling non-partisan positions is governed by RCW 42.12.070, which provides that vacancies are filled through appointment by the “governing body,” (the city council). Subsection (6) provides:

  • As provided in chapter 29A.24 RCW, each person who is appointed shall serve until a qualified person is elected at the next election at which a member of the governing body normally would be elected. The person elected shall take office immediately and serve the remainder of the unexpired term. [Emphasis added]

Regarding posting the vacancy, there is no specific requirement for number of days to post the opening to the public or to seek public interest. Posting is not required but may be a good idea.

There is no process required by state law for filling a vacancy. The city council decides what process to use and how to find a qualified person. Many councils advertise that there is a vacancy and then ask interested persons to write letters of interest or to complete an application form. Typically a council will interview candidates in open session (as required by the Open Public Meetings Act) before making an appointment. The vote to make the appointment must also be in open session. If there is a tie then the mayor breaks the tie.

For more information on the process that a city must follow to fill a vacancy on a city council please see our MRSC blog post Filling a Vacancy in a City or Town Council.

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What is the process for elected officials to be covered under a city's health insurance plan?
Reviewed: 04/19

RCW 41.04.180 authorizes cities to provide health insurance to its employees. RCW 41.04.190 gives cities the option to provide health coverage to its elected officials. One important feature of that statute is that the cost of providing the coverage to a city’s elected officials is not “additional compensation.” This language means that the coverage may be provided to elected officials during an existing term of office instead of waiting until the commencement of a new term, because providing the coverage is not a salary increase.

Although RCW 41.04.180 states that the coverage may be authorized by a city’s “principal supervising official or governing body,” MRSC recommends that the coverage be authorized by the city council instead of the mayor, especially in cases where the action will result in the mayor receiving coverage.

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Are office hours for a code city required to be codified by ordinance?
Reviewed: 04/19

Yes, for code cities, the applicable state law requires the office hours be codified by ordinance. The key provision of state law is RCW 35A.21.070, which states:

All code city offices shall be kept open for the transaction of business during such days and hours as the legislative body of such city shall by ordinance prescribe.

You also mention surrounding cities you have checked with that do not seem to have a similar ordinance for business hours. However, for non-code cities and towns, RCW 35.21.175 is almost identical to the code city provision:

All city and town offices shall be kept open for the transaction of business of during such days and hours as the municipal legislative authority shall by ordinance prescribe.

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Must a city hold a public hearing prior to adopting the original ordinance stating their intent to budget on a biennial basis?
Reviewed: 03/19

The change from an annual budget process to a biennial budget process does NOT require a public hearing. Chapter 35A.34 RCW is the statutory reference and RCW 35A.34.040 only requires that the city adopt an ordinance to establish a biennial process. The statute reads in part:

All code cities are authorized to establish by ordinance a two-year fiscal biennium budget. The ordinance shall be enacted at least six months prior to commencement of the fiscal biennium and this chapter applies to all code cities which utilize a fiscal biennium budget.

Which simply means that the city must adopt an ordinance to establish a biennial budget process and that the ordinance must be adopted at least 6 months prior to first biennial budget period.

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With voter approval, can a city raise the utility tax rate on outside utilities (natural gas, electricity, telephone and cable) above 6%?
Reviewed: 03/19

Yes. Voter approval is required if a city raises electricity, natural gas, steam energy or telephone tax rates above 6%. See RCW 35.21.870(1):

(1) No city or town may impose a tax on the privilege of conducting an electrical energy, natural gas, steam energy, or telephone business at a rate which exceeds six percent unless the rate is first approved by a majority of the voters of the city or town voting on such a proposition.

There is not an explicit limitation on cable utility taxes, but the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984 requires that the rate not be "unduly discriminatory against cable operators and subscribers,” so the rate should not be higher than what the city charges other utilities.

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What is the legal authority for awarding comp time?
Reviewed: 03/19

Local governments may adopt policies to provide compensatory or “comp” time to employees. Public employers are allowed to provide compensatory time off in lieu of paid overtime. Employers are not required to provide a comp time option for employees, but it is an available alternative. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides a cap on comp time which may be accumulated by employees. The cap for employees in public safety activities is 480 hours of comp time, and for all other employees, the cap is limited to 240 hours. Local governments may place a lower cap on accrued comp time if desired.

Exempt employees are not eligible for overtime pay but may be provided a comp time option. The Washington State Public Employer Overtime Guide has the following to say on the subject:

Comp time for exempt personnel: Many Washington employers have formal or informal policies of paying comp time to exempt personnel. As a basic matter, an employer is free to set any terms concerning accrual and use of comp time for employees not covered by the FLSA . . . . The Ninth Circuit, the Department of Labor and the Washington Supreme Court (interpreting the Washington Minimum Wage Act) have all concluded that comp time on top of salary is legal.

Public employers' authority to set their own terms governing the payment of comp time to exempt employees, as stated above, appears to stem from 29 C.F.R. §§ 553.28(c), (d), and (e). Generally, the FLSA, at 29 U.S.C. § 207(o), limits the amount of comp time that non-exempt employees can be given. However, FLSA exempt employees are not subject to these limitations because the FLSA does not provide for exempt employee comp time. Instead, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 553.28(c), exempt employee comp time would likely be considered to be "other" compensatory time, because it is accrued pursuant to a policy adopted by the employer, rather than from a provision of the FLSA. Specifically, C.F.R. § 553.2829(e) states that:

The requirements of section 7(o) [i.e., 29 U.S.C. § 207(o)] of the FLSA, including the limitations on accrued compensatory time, do not apply to "other" compensatory time as described above.

So a public employer is free to set its own procedure governing comp time given to exempt employees. Once adopted, any such procedure should be clearly outlined in the employer's personnel policy. It also appears that comp time for exempt employees can be posted on an hour-for-hour basis. 29 C.F.R. § 553.28(d) states as follows:

The FLSA does not require that the rate at which "other" compensatory time is earned has to be at a rate of one and one-half hours for each hour of employment. The rate at which "other" compensatory time is earned may be some lesser or greater multiple of the rate or the straight-time rate itself.

Public employers may provide compensatory time off in lieu of paid overtime. Employers are not required to provide a comp time option for employees, but it is an available alternative. Under both federal and state law, an employee cannot be required to accept comp time rather than overtime pay but may choose to do so. An employee may choose, with the employer’s agreement, to take comp time rather than overtime pay, but the employer may not require it.

Limits may be placed on the number of hours of comp time accumulated and the time by which it must be used. A sampling of comp time restrictions from other cities shows that 40 hours is a common limit on accumulated time. The range is from 24 to 160 hours. Limits on the time period for the use of comp time (or overtime is paid instead) include 30 days, 60 days, 12 months, and within the same pay period.

For more information including a section explaining comp time, here is a link to MRSC’s webpage Fair Labor Standards Act. Here is a link to Washington State Labor & Industries webpage Understanding Overtime where there is a section about “comp time” also called “exchange time”. According to this page:

Comp or exchange time must be at the employee’s request and must be agreed to by the employee. Compensatory time is considered a benefit to the employee and the employer may not impose the requirement on any employee who has not made such a request.

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Can we reimburse expenses incurred by volunteers?
Reviewed: 03/19

There are no differences between reimbursing expenses incurred by employees, 'volunteers', 'non-employees' or vendors. The issue is whether the expense is a true and just claim against the city. Did the city receive the good or service that it is reimbursing? What are the internal controls in place to assure that the good or service received was in fact received? In this particular case, what is the good that was purchased by the volunteer? Was this a purchase that was needed by the city and was it authorized by the appropriate department head prior to making the purchase?

Does the city have an adopted policy for purchases and reimbursements to employees? If the city has appropriate internal controls and procedures in place to assure that the purchases made by volunteers and other non-employees are pre-authorized by city personnel and that the purchase meets the requirements of the city's purchasing policies, there should not be a problem.

While there are no WACs or RCWs that speak specifically to reimbursements to volunteers, there are requirements by statute that all claims against the city must be audited and authenticated by the auditing officer (RCW 42.24.080). The city will need to look to its own policies for guidance and if this is an area that has not previously been addressed by local policy, consideration should be given to adopting a protocol that will assure the appropriate use of public funds.

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Does RCW 39.92 authorize a code city which is not required or choosing to plan under RCW 36.70A.040 to develop a transportation program involving the collection of transportation impact fees?
Reviewed: 02/19

RCW 39.92 could be used by your city to impose transportation impact fees, even though your city does not plan under the Growth Management Act. As you point out, reference is made in RCW 82.02.020 to impact fees under RCW 39.92. The second reference is the operative one for your purposes. RCW 82.02.020 prevents a city from imposing certain fees, charges and taxes, but it also sets out certain exceptions, including:

Nothing in this section prohibits counties, cities, or towns from imposing transportation impact fees authorized pursuant to chapter 39.92 RCW.

RCW 39.92.040 provides for transportation impact fees, provided the requirements of the chapter are met. RCW 39.92.040 predates the Growth Management Act. It was not repealed by the Growth Management Act and, moreover, it is stated that nothing prohibits its use.

Here is an excerpt from our Impact Fees webpage:

Separate legislation (the Local Transportation Act, chapter 39.92 RCW, whose initial passage predated GMA by two years) authorizes all counties, cities, towns, and transportation benefit districts across the state - including those not planning under GMA - to impose transportation impact fees, but MRSC is not aware of any jurisdictions that currently do so under that authority.

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What are the statutory guidelines for adopting an ordinance? Is reading it twice or three times a requirement?
Reviewed: 02/19

There are no statutory requirements to have multiple readings of an ordinance prior to adoption, however some cities have adopted such procedures. You will need to refer to your city’s municipal code to determine whether there are any local procedural requirements. For a good overview of the ordinance initiation and adoption process, see our Local Ordinances publication starting at p. 20. For mayor-council code cities, see RCW 35A.12.130 and RCW 35A.12.150 regarding state law requirements for enacting ordinances.

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Are we required to have 2 readings on a budget amendment ordinance? Also, are we required to hold a public hearing when amending the budget?
Reviewed: 02/19

The issue of whether to have 2 readings on a budget amendment or any ordinance of the city is a matter of local policy. State law does not require multiple readings of the ordinance for budget amendments. Additionally, there is no requirement to hold a public hearing on a budget amendment. State law sets forth the minimum process requirements but nothing prevents a government entity from providing for multiple readings or a public hearing.

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Can the city pay for a meal for councilmembers if they will be in back-to-back meetings all evening (i.e., through the dinner hour)?
Reviewed: 02/19

The Office of the Attorney General issued a memorandum in 1987 on Eating and Drinking at Public Expense. This memorandum, while over thirty years old now, is still what MRSC cites as the leading authority on questions related to municipalities paying for food and drink. It goes into considerable depth on the issue and includes various scenarios for eating and drinking at public expense, with explanations of when and why it may or may not be justified. With regard to your specific question, the analysis on pp. 5-6 may be helpful. The fundamental question is whether providing meals is reasonable and necessary. When the council meets for an extended period of time through the normal dinner hour, it seems reasonable for a city to provide dinner to the councilmembers.

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Can a councilmember be removed from office other than through a recall?
Reviewed: 01/19

Recall is the primary method by which councilmembers can be removed from office against their will. The process for recall is set forth in RCW 29A.56.110.270. Elected officials in Washington are subject to recall by voters for malfeasance, misfeasance, or violation of the oath of office.

However, the occurrence of certain events may create a vacancy without a recall. RCW 42.12.010 provides that every elective office shall become vacant on the happening of any of the following events:

(1) The death of the incumbent;

(2) His or her resignation. A vacancy caused by resignation shall be deemed to occur upon the effective date of the resignation;

(3) His or her removal;

(4) Except as provided in RCW * 3.46.067 and 3.50.057, his or her ceasing to be a legally registered voter of the district, county, city, town, or other municipal or quasi municipal corporation from which he or she shall have been elected or appointed, including where applicable the council district, commissioner district, or ward from which he or she shall have been elected or appointed;

(5) His or her conviction of a felony, or of any offense involving a violation of his or her official oath;

(6) His or her refusal or neglect to take his or her oath of office, or to give or renew his or her official bond, or to deposit such oath or bond within the time prescribed by law;

(7) The decision of a competent tribunal declaring void his or her election or appointment; or

(8) Whenever a judgment shall be obtained against that incumbent for breach of the condition of his or her official bond.

Subsection (3) refers to the recall process. The remaining subsections do not require a recall process to create a vacancy—the statute declares the office “shall become vacant” when those events occur. Of course, if there is disagreement over whether the criteria for a vacancy has been met, then the issue may need to be addressed through court action.

In addition, a council position may become vacant if that councilmember is absent for three consecutive regular council meetings without the permission of the council. See RCW 35.27.140(1) (Town Councilmembers); RCW 35.23.101 (Second Class City Councilmembers); RCW 35A.12.060 (Code City Councilmembers).

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Is a councilmember eligible to receive the per diem stipend if they call into the meeting rather than being there in person?
Reviewed: 01/19

The Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion last year that concluded a governing body can legally conduct a public meeting be telephone or video conference call so long as the participants can hear, be heard, and participate effectively in the meeting. See AGO 2017 No. 4. MRSC has taken the position that a member of the governing body can participate remotely in a meeting of the governing body if that body has so approved—ideally pursuant to a written policy that sets forth the circumstances under which remote participation will be allowed. So, if the governing body allows it, a member can attend a commission meeting via phone or video. That member would then be entitled to per diem under RCW 57.12.010, which requires compensation for “actual attendance” at official meetings. RCW 57.12.010.

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Is there a process the city should have for an employee to access their personnel file?
Reviewed: 01/19

Yes. Regarding employee review of a personnel file, that RCW 49.12.240 provides:

Every employer shall, at least annually, upon the request of an employee, permit that employee to inspect any or all of his or her own personnel file(s).

Regarding correction of erroneous or disputed information in the file, RCW 49.12.250 states:

(1) Each employer shall make such file(s) available locally within a reasonable period of time after the employee requests the file(s).

(2) An employee annually may petition that the employer review all information in the employee’s personnel file(s) that are regularly maintained by the employer as a part of his business records or are subject to reference for information given to persons outside of the company. The employer shall determine if there is any irrelevant or erroneous information in the file(s), and shall remove all such information from the file(s). If an employee does not agree with the employer’s determination, the employee may at his or her request have placed in the employee’s personnel file a statement containing the employee’s rebuttal or correction. Nothing in this subsection prevents the employer from removing information more frequently.

(3) A former employee shall retain the right of rebuttal or correction for a period not to exceed two years.

Regarding limitations on an employee’s inspection of his/her personnel file, RCW 49.12.260 provides:

RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to the records of an employee relating to the investigation of a possible criminal offense. RCW 49.12.240 and 49.12.250 do not apply to information or records compiled in preparation for an impending lawsuit which would not be available to another party under the rules of pretrial discovery for causes pending in the superior courts.

If the exemptions in RCW 49.12.260 may apply, we recommend you review the file with your city attorney.

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What is the maximum B&O excise tax rate a city can charge on revenue to a business inside the City?
Reviewed: 01/19

The maximum rate is 0.2%, but a higher rate can be implemented if it is approved by a majority of the voters. RCW 35.21.710 addresses the maximum rate. There is no statutory maximum for a B&O approved by voters

B & O Taxes are levied at a percentage rate on gross receipts and may be imposed upon different sectors such as manufacturing, wholesaling, retailing and services. The tax can be levied at the same rate for all sectors, or the legislative body may opt for different rates for some sectors. For example, the city of Kent charges a higher rate for wholesaling and a lower rate for retail. Within each sector, the rate must be uniform. Here is the link to our web page on City Business & Occupation Tax, which includes the model ordinance and administrative ordinance that cities must use for B&O adoption. We have further explanation of General B & O taxes and licenses in our publication “Revenue Guide for WA Cities and Towns”. As of December 2018, 44 cities had adopted a B&O tax. Here is the list of those cities as of 2018.

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The city adopts a budget at the fund level. Does that mean that I can change the allocation of resources within a fund without going to council for an amendment?
Reviewed: 01/19

Adopting a 'fund level' budget provides the city with the ability to "adjust" its line item appropriations within a fund without having to adopt a budget amendment. RCW 35.33.121 (RCW 35.33.120 for code cities) provides the authority for the “city’s or town's chief administrative officer” (mayor in a mayor-council form of government) to make such adjustments unless the city has adopted financial policies that would limit this authority.

Keep in mind that it’s not a requirement to adjust the individual line items throughout the year. Many cities find it helpful to leave the original appropriations for operating expenses such as the street supplies and small tools so that they can compare the actual line item appropriation vs. expenditures from a historical perspective which will assist with setting future budget appropriations.

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Does a board of county commissioners have authority to eliminate positions under another elected official in the county?
Reviewed: 01/19

A board of county commissioners (BOCC) has the authority to establish positions (RCW 36.16.070) and, as such, also has the authority to abolish positions. In Smith v. Board of Walla Walla County Comm’rs, 48 Wn. App. 303, 307 (1987), the court, in relevant part, held:

It is undisputed that the Board of County Commissioners have the authority to eliminate and establish employee positions in a county department, to reduce department budgets, and to create new departments. See RCW 36.32.120(6); RCW 36.16.070; see also Miller v. Pacific Cy., 9 Wn. App. 177, 179, 509 P.2d 377 (1973). There is also no dispute the County was facing a serious budget shortfall. The Board’s acts in balancing the budget were clearly discretionary. Therefore, mandamus would be appropriate only if the Board’s actions were properly found to be arbitrary and capricious.

In general, it is within the discretion of a BOCC to allocate, as it sees fit, the financial resources of the county as provided in the budget it approves. This principle is well-illustrated in State ex rel. Farmer v. Austin, 186 Wash. 577, 588 (1936)

In the light of the known financial difficulty of the counties and considering the circumstances of the times, the court cannot say that an order reducing the force of deputies in the sheriff’s office from six to four was so capricious and arbitrary as to be void. It may be that the action of the majority of the board of county commissioners was improvident and ill-considered, but, if so, the remedy lies with the electors rather than in the courts. If it be assumed that the business of the sheriff’s office will be hampered by the reduction in force, the harm will not be nearly as great as would be the consequences of the interference by the courts with the executive duties of the board of county commissioners, in whom is reposed the financial management of the county’s affairs.

As such, the courts will interfere with this exercise of discretion only upon the theory that the action is so capricious and arbitrary as to evidence a total failure to exercise discretion and is, therefore, not a valid act. Arbitrary and capricious action has been defined by the courts as “willful and unreasoning action, without consideration and in disregard of facts or circumstances.” See, e.g., Schrempp v. Munro, 116 Wn.2d 929, 938 (1991). See also, Miller v. Pacific County, 9 Wn. App. 177, review denied, 82 Wn.2d 1012 (1973) (“When the [board of county] commissioners, by resolution, show a clear purpose to effect a reduction of a department’s budget, they act within the ambit of the discretionary power granted to them.”)

Of course, the other elected county officials have statutory responsibilities they must carry out, and they need staff and facilities to carry them out, but there will most always be disagreement as to how much money they actually need in their budgets to do so. The statutes vest the BOCC with the authority to make that determination in the county budget. And, absent arbitrary and capricious action by the board in setting the budget, its budgetary decision-making will be upheld by the courts.

Note, however, that once a position has been funded, the authority to hire (or terminate) a particular individual rests with the elected official (not the BOCC). See Osborn v. Grant County, 130 Wn. 2d 615, 621 (1996), quoting Thomas v. Whatcom County, 82 Wash. 113 (1914). Thomas held that, once the board has authorized the hiring of deputies in a county office, "the officer in whose office the deputies are to serve, being responsible on his bond for their conduct, has the absolute right to determine the personnel of such deputies . . . ."

Of particular interest to you may be a recent Attorney General’s Opinion that analyzes the BOCC’s authority relative to the Sheriff’s Office under RCW 36.16.070 and chapter 41.14 RCW. See AGO 2017 No. 3. The opinion addresses several questions, but upholds the principle that the County Commissioners have the authority to ultimately create positions authorized by chapter 41.14 RCW.

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If a committee is purely advisory, must its meeting be advertised and open?
Reviewed: 12/18

No. Under RCW 42.30.020(2), if the committee does not have a majority of the council included in its membership, and it merely provides advice, and the council can take action without the advice, it is not covered by the OPMA. Of course, nothing prohibits the city from treating the committee as if it is covered by the OPMA.

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Can a city increase its sales tax to raise revenue for law enforcement services?
Reviewed: 12/18

It is possible for a city to place an issue on the ballot to raise revenue for “public safety” purposes, which would include monies for law enforcement. Here is an excerpt from our Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns regarding the tax:

Any city or town, with voter approval and subject to the restrictions below, may impose a sales tax of up to 0.1% for public safety as authorized by RCW 82.14.450. The ballot measure must clearly state the purposes for which the tax is to be used and requires approval by a simple majority of voters. The statute requires that at least one-third of the revenue be used solely for criminal justice purposes, fire protection purposes, or both as defined in RCW 82.14.340(4)-(5).

Similar to the shared revenue requirements under RCW 82.14.340 (criminal justice), the city must share the tax with the county. 85% of this sales tax revenue is distributed to the city and 15% to the county. This local sales tax option also features a differential in the tax base from the state sales tax base, with sales of motor vehicles and the lease of motor vehicles for up to the first 36 months of the lease exempted.

Counties may also place a ballot measure before the voters for a public safety sales tax under the same statute. The county’s sales tax option may range from 0.1% to 0.3%. If the tax is approved, the county must share the revenue with the cities, with 60% distributed to the county and the remaining 40% distributed on a per capita basis to the cities within the county.

The combined city/county rate may not exceed 0.3 percent:

  • If the county is already levying the full 0.3%, no city within the county may impose a new public safety sales tax.
  • If the city enacted a 0.1% public safety sales tax before the county, and the county imposes a 0.3% sales tax countywide, the county must credit back 0.1% to the city.
  • If the county has imposed a public safety sales tax less than 0.3%, the city may still impose its own public safety sales tax up to 0.1%, as long as the combined city/county rate does not exceed 0.3%.

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Can the Town accept donations for the Police Department, and must the donations be earmarked for a specific use?
Reviewed: 12/18

It depends on whether the donor attaches “strings.”

A code city (along with any other class of city) has the express authority to accept donations (RCW 35.21.100; RCW 35A.11.040). RCW 35.21.100 provides:

Every city and town by ordinance may accept any money or property donated, devised, or bequeathed to it and carry out the terms of the donation, devise, or bequest, if within the powers granted by law. If no terms or conditions are attached to the donation, devise, or bequest, the city or town may expend or use it for any municipal purpose.

RCW 35A.11.040 states:

The legislative body of a code city may exercise any of its powers or perform any of its functions including purchasing, and participate in the financing thereof, jointly or in cooperation, as provided for in chapter 39.34 RCW. The legislative body of a code city shall have power to accept any gift or grant for any public purpose and may carry out any conditions of such gift or grant when not in conflict with state or federal law.

So, code cities may accept donations, and the donations can be earmarked to be used in a particular way (e.g., the Police Department). However, the expenditures must be for a legitimate public purpose, and not in conflict with state or federal law. The fact the money is donated does not relieve the city of ensuring that the funds are spent for a valid municipal purpose. Once the funds are donated, they become public funds, subject to all limitations for public expenditures.

We have indicated in the past that although RCW 35.21.100 could be interpreted to mean that a city must pass an ordinance to accept each and every donation it receives, a more reasonable interpretation is that the city must establish by ordinance a procedure for accepting donations. Many cities have such a procedure. Some cities authorize a particular city official, such as a clerk-treasurer or city manager/administrator, to accept donations on behalf of the city. Others provide that the council will do so by motion or resolution.

Some jurisdictions have council-adopted policies that govern the circumstances under which donations will be accepted (here is a link to a page with examples).

There is no requirement that the city accept the donation. That is a policy decision for the city council. If the donor merely makes a donation, without adding “strings” to it (e.g., must be used to purchase police uniforms), the donation, if the council accepts it, would go into the city’s general fund and could be used for any municipal purpose.

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What are the minimum requirements for a newspaper that has been designated the official city newspaper? Is it legally acceptable for mandatory notices to minimally address the notifications and direct the public to the city website or city hall to view the entire notification or is it necessary to post the entire notification?
Reviewed: 12/18

Minimum Requirements

RCW 35A.65.020 and RCW 65.16.020 set forth the process and qualifications for designation of a newspaper as “the official City Newspaper.” Although these are not called “minimum requirements” the qualifications are essentially requirements and include, for example, that the newspaper be legal, of general circulation, published at least weekly, in English, etc.

RCW 35A.21.230 states:

Each code city shall designate an official newspaper by resolution. The newspaper shall be of general circulation in the city and have the qualifications prescribed by chapter 65.16 RCW.

RCW 65.16.020 Qualifications of legal newspaper provides:

The qualifications of a legal newspaper are that such newspaper shall have been published regularly, at least once a week, in the English language, as a newspaper of general circulation, in the city or town where the same is published at the time of application for approval, for at least six months prior to the date of such application; shall be compiled either in whole or in part in an office maintained at the place of publication; shall contain news of general interest as contrasted with news of interest primarily to an organization, group or class; shall have a policy to print all statutorily required legal notices; and shall hold a periodical class mailing permit: PROVIDED, That in case of the consolidation of two or more newspapers, such consolidated newspaper shall be considered as qualified if either or any of the papers so consolidated would be a qualified newspaper at the date of such legal publication, had not such consolidation taken place: PROVIDED, That this section shall not disqualify as a legal newspaper any publication which, prior to June 8, 1961, was adjudged a legal newspaper, so long as it continues to meet the requirements under which it qualified.

Publishing Ordinance or a Summary

Ordinances may be posted on the city website at any time, but in order for the ordinance to be effective, the city needs to publish it in the official city newspaper. The city is permitted to publish a summary of a new ordinance in lieu of publishing the entire ordinance. For code cities, by law, the summary must provide “a brief description which describes the main points of the ordinance” and include a full statement that the full text of the ordinance will be mailed upon request. RCW 35A.12.160. So long as a summary and the offer to provide the full text of the ordinance by mail upon request is published in the newspaper, in my opinion it is legally acceptable to direct readers to the city website and/or city hall.

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Can vacation time be given as an incentive/bonus if incorporated into an annual review? Or is that considered a gift of public funds?
Reviewed: 12/18

The city could adopt a policy to add bonus time off as an incentive in connection with the annual review process. You will want to have objective criteria for when the additional time off is awarded so it is not left to the subjective judgment of a supervisor.

Such a new policy should be prospective only rather than retroactive in order to avoid a potential issue with the Washington Constitution’s prohibition on gifts of public funds and changes to public employee compensation previously established. If extra time off is granted for past-performance, then there is a problem with gifting of public resources. Once the policy is in place, then for city employees who continue their employment, the incentive for bonus time would be part of the compensation package.

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If a public records requester is seeking metadata, does he/she/they have to specifically request metadata?
Reviewed: 12/18

If a requester making a request under the Public Records Act (PRA) is seeking metadata, the requester needs to specifically state that he/she is requesting metadata. Our state supreme court has indicated that a request under the PRA for metadata is not made unless and until a requester specifically asks for metadata. See, e.g., O'Neill v. City of Shoreline, 170 Wn.2d 138, 151-52 (2010). In O'Neill, the court explains and concludes:

While we agree that metadata is included within the PRA's definition of a "public record," this does not necessarily mean that a government agency must provide metadata every time a request for a public record is made. At the council meeting, O'Neill made an oral request to see the e-mail. The City responded at first by providing a paper copy of the e-mail, without metadata attached. The Court of Appeals ruled that "[t]he PRA requires providing a public record only when it is identifiable," and that the oral request at the Council meeting made no mention of the electronic version of the e-mail or of the associated metadata. O'Neill v. City of Shoreline, 145 Wn. App. 913, 935 (2008)], 145 Wn. App. at 932-33. We affirm the Court of Appeals and hold that the wording of the oral request did not clearly include metadata. Metadata is a new topic that has never before been dealt with in PRA litigation, and we conclude that a request for the metadata was not made until Ms. O'Neill specifically asked for it.

Id. at 151-52.

This issue was addressed more recently in a November 2012 court decision. Although the decision is unpublished, meaning that it cannot be relied upon as precedential authority, we think the court's analysis is nonetheless helpful and provides an example of how courts analyze such situations. The court concluded that the PRA request at issue was not a request for metadata, and in reaching its conclusion the court relied upon other court decisions that can be relied upon as precedential authority, including the above referenced decision in O'Neill v. City of Shoreline, 170 Wn.2d 138 (2010).

In Nervik v. Dept of Licensing, 2012 Wash. App. LEXIS 2642 (No. 41834-7-II) (November 13, 2012)(unpublished), the court explains and concludes:

Nervik argues that the Department's record production was incomplete because he requested e-mails in electronic format, which by his definition contains metadata. But this argument overlooks that government agencies have discretion regarding record formatting and are not required to provide records in electronic format. Mitchell v. Dep't of Corr., 164 Wn. App. 597, 606-07, 277 P.3d 670 (2011). Nervik's argument also overlooks his own experience demonstrating that electronic format does not necessarily convey metadata (for example, the Department provided Nervik with over 31,000 electronic records, which did not convey metadata). Our Supreme Court held that metadata must be specifically requested and that a request for e-mail is not sufficiently specific to automatically include metadata. O'Neill, 170 Wn.2d at 151-52. Because an agency may deny a request for electronic formatting but it may not deny a specific request for metadata, we decline to view a request for electronic formatting as inherently requesting metadata. Mitchell, 164 Wn. App. at 606-07. Instead, we conclude that a request for electronic format, like a request for e-mail, is not equivalent to a specific request for metadata.

Here, the Department never refused to produce records; it produced all the requested records in installments. Both Nervik's November 2008 requests asked for a "full and complete copy of each and every e[-]mail" and requested, "E[-]mails should be in Outlook .pst format only together with all attachments same as previously provided." CP at 660, 661. This is a mere format request, not a specific metadata request. The Department has discretion over the format of its responses, so the Department did not violate the PRA by producing records that did not convey metadata information. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court properly granted summary judgment dismissal of Nervik's claim that the Department failed to disclose public records by not providing metadata.

Id. at *10-12.

More generally, keep in mind that the PRA requires agencies to provide the fullest assistance in responding to requesters who make PRA requests. See RCW 42.56.100. However, an agency "is not required to be a mind reader when responding to public records requests." Bonamy v. City of Seattle, 92 Wn. App. 403, 409 (1998). Consistent with these principles, and based upon O'Neill v. City of Shoreline, 170 Wn.2d 138 (2010), a request under the PRA for metadata is not made unless and until a requester specifically asks for metadata.

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Are informal notes prepared and kept by the mayor or councilmembers public records that are exempt from disclosure?
Reviewed: 12/18

Informal notes prepared by a public official for his or her own convenience, maintained in a way that indicates a private purpose, and not intended for circulation or distribution within the agency, would most likely be considered personal and not public records. As such, they would not be subject to disclosure upon request by a member of the public.  See Yacobellis v. Bellingham, 55 Wn. App. 712 (1989).

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