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Confirmation of Mayoral Appointments (and Terminations) by City or Town Council – Is that OK?


March 25, 2015 by Pat Mason
Category: Classification , Recruitment and Hiring

Confirmation of Mayoral Appointments (and Terminations) by City or Town Council – Is that OK?

Hiring and firing decisions in mayor-council cities and towns may raise separation of powers issues between the mayor/executive branch and the council/legislative branch. Generally, the mayor is in charge of the hiring and firing of all appointed officers and employees of a city or town. However, we are frequently asked whether the city or town council can require that the council confirm mayoral appointments before they become effective.

This is one of those questions where the answer is not the same for all cities and towns – it depends on the classification of the municipality. “Classification,” as used in this blog, means status as either a code city, first class city, second class city, or a town. I will discuss for each class when council confirmation can be required for mayoral appointments, if that authority exists at all.

Code Cities

The starting point in a code city is that the mayor has the power of appointment of all appointive officers and employees, subject to the laws regarding civil service appointments. RCW 35A.12.090. However, this statute also authorizes the city council to require confirmation of mayoral appointments if the city council so provides by ordinance and if the council has not, by ordinance, established the specific qualifications for the position. So the default rule, in the absence of an ordinance providing for council confirmation (and not establishing position qualifications), is that appointments are made solely by the mayor, or by a department head if the mayor has delegated some of his or her appointive authority to a department head. (Delegation by the mayor is also possible with regard to the other city classes discussed here.)

Second-Class Cities

The mayor of a second-class city generally has, with three possible exceptions, complete authority to appoint city officers or employees, subject to laws regarding civil service. The statutes governing second class cities are unusual in that they provide that the offices of city clerk, city treasurer, and city attorney are to be elected positions, although the council may by ordinance make them appointive offices. If the council makes those three offices appointive positions, confirmation of mayoral appointments to those position is required. RCW 35.23.021. (All nine second class cities in the state have made these positions appointive.) No other confirmation authority is given by the statutes to councils of second class cities.

Towns

This issue is easy to analyze for towns. State law, at RCW 35.27.070, specifies that a town mayor possesses the authority to hire officers and employees, subject to laws regarding civil service appointments, and that the town council may not require confirmation of those appointments. There are no exceptions to this rule. 

First-Class Cities

Under chapter 35.22 RCW, first-class cities adopt and govern themselves under a charter. So, the extent to which the council of a first-class city may require confirmation of the hiring of a city official or employee depends on what, if anything, is stated about council confirmation in the city charter.

What about requiring confirmation of mayoral firings?

Occasionally we also get this question. No statutes authorize council confirmation of the firing by the mayor of a city officer or employee. It is the opinion of the MRSC legal staff that, in the absence of such statutory authority, a city or town council – other than a first class city as may be provided by its charter – may not require its confirmation of mayoral firings. To do so would improperly intrude upon the authority of the mayor to terminate appointive officers or employees at his or her pleasure.

Image courtesy of c_nilsen.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Pat Mason

Pat is recognized throughout Washington State as a highly trusted resource on municipal law. He regularly counsels local governments on public records, open public meetings, and just about any other municipal issue that comes up.

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