Candidate Information Resources for Local Government Elective Offices
This page provides information and resources for individuals who are thinking of running for local elected office or applying to fill a vacancy in local elected office in Washington State.
It is part of MRSC's series on Local Elections.
The resources gathered in this page are useful for persons who are considering filing for office, those who are candidates and have filed, and those who may be considering applying for a vacancy in an elective office.
There are a host of issues that will require your attention in the upcoming months as you begin your campaign and, if you are elected, as you prepare to assume the duties of your office. We hope you will find these resources to be helpful. Good luck in your campaign!
Election Campaign Guidelines and Requirements
The Secretary of State (SOS) and the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) websites offer information on elections and voting, and various forms, compliance manuals and other resources for office candidates. See links below.
- Secretary of State
- County Elections Departments in Washington State — Links to county auditor election division websites. Most of these sites will list "Offices Open for Election" under the heading "Information for Candidates."
- Elections and Voting — Provides election issues, including the election calendar, election laws, filing fees and procedures
- Elections Calendar — Month-by-month look at election-related deadlines
- Public Disclosure Commission
- Start off on the right foot - New Candidates — Answers to frequently asked questions by new candidates
- Getting into Office: Being Elected or Appointed into Office in Washington Counties, Cities, Towns, and Special Districts
- Local Elections Administration — Offers an overview of local government elections administration and the elections process for Washington State.
Association of Washington Cities (AWC)
- So You Want to Be an Elected Official - Practical information for people running for office in Washington's cities and towns (2017) — Short pamphlet providing general information about what cities do, roles and responsibilities, how to work as part of a team, and where to go for more information. You may request additional copies from AWC to distribute, link to it on your website, or email the resource to candidates.
- Cities 101 Videos — A series of online videos providing brief overviews of selected local government topics, including sewers, revenues and expenses, population growth, transportation and property taxes.
Some basic tools have been assembled to familiarize candidates with the resources available on the functioning of local government. First in this section is the legal framework of local government - a list of statutes and where to find local government laws. A list of guides follows which covers some of the basic concepts, such as appearance of fairness, open government, social media issues and MRSC's basic legal guide, Knowing the Territory. A number of handbooks have also been listed that are used for reference by elected officials.
Legal Framework Statutes
The links listed below are to the basic laws that govern the various forms of government. There is no single statute covering special purpose districts. A link has been provided to a list of special purpose districts and the statutory provisions that govern the districts operation.
- Title 35A RCW — Basic laws applicable to optional municipal code cities
- Ch. 35.27 RCW — Basic laws applicable to towns
- Ch. 35.23 RCW — Basic laws applicable to second class cities
- Ch. 35.22 RCW — Basic laws applicable to first class cities
- Title 36 RCW — Basic laws applicable to counties
For links to statutes related to special purpose districts, see our page on Types of Special Purpose Districts in Washington State.
Where to Find Local Government Regulations
Washington local government legislation is generally in the form of ordinances and resolutions. State law may specify whether an ordinance or resolution is to be used on certain local laws. Some special purpose districts only use resolutions. Many jurisdictions post ordinances and resolutions on their websites. A number of local governments have codified their local laws into code books. MRSC provides a link to those codes.
- Washington City Codes — Codified ordinances adopted by Washington cities and town legislative bodies; not all jurisdictions have code books
- Washington County Codes — Codified ordinances and resolutions adopted by Washington county legislative bodies
Quick Reference - Need to Know Guides
- Appearance of Fairness Doctrine in Washington State — The doctrine applies to all local decision-making bodies including: members of governing board or council, hearing examiners, planning commissions, boards of adjustment, civil service boards, and any other body that determines the legal rights, duties or privileges of specific parties in a hearing or other contested case proceeding.
- Knowing the Territory - Basic Legal Guidelines for Washington City, County, and Special District Officials — Describes the nature, powers and duties of local government officials for "keeping out of trouble," discusses limitations, regulations, and admonitions regarding the exercise of governmental powers, including conflicts of interest law, the open public meetings act, appearance of fairness doctrine and similar laws. It also points out immunities and protections.
- Open Public Meetings Act: How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts — Covers who is subject to Act, procedural requirements, executive sessions, exemptions, and penalties, and identifies relevant case law and attorney general opinions.
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts — Provides a basic outline of the Public Records Act (PRA) and the procedures to follow when responding to PRA requests for documents.
Handbooks for Elected Officials
- Commissioner Resources — Produced by the Association of Washington Public Hospital Districts (AWPHD), this guide is designed to assist commissioners in determining the scope of their duties responsibilities under the law, provide a general overview of public hospital district law, and help answer other frequently asked questions regarding overall district operations.
- Code City Handbook — Provides essential information for code city officials and incites their powers, duties, and alternatives that are available under the applicable forms of municipal government.
- County Commissioner Guide — This MRSC guidebook provides a brief introduction and overview of county government in Washington State and specifically the role of the county commissioners and county councilmembers within county government. It also covers the key legal doctrines, such as the Public Records Act and the Open Public Meetings Act, that county officials should be familiar with.
- Local Government Policy-Making Process — The purposes of this publication are to describe the local government policy-making process, outline effective roles for local officials, and to provide practical tips to make the local policy-making process for satisfying and productive
- Mayor and Councilmember Handbook — MRSC and the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) combined the previous Mayors Handbook and Councilmembers Handbook into one handy reference guide for all elected officials. Covers everything from presiding over meetings, resolving/preventing conflict, budget basics, statutes, parliamentary procedures, roles and responsibilities, open public meetings act, appearance of fairness and citizen participation. That’s just the start of the resources and advice you’ll find in the handbook. It’s an essential foundation for a successful council meeting.
- Small City Resource Manual — This resource manual from the Association of Washington Cities is meant to make life a little easier around city hall. It can be used to help orient new elected officials or city staff or as a reference when questions arise. It provides a brief overview of key topics, outlining the most important considerations. It also provides a list of resources to help you locate additional information. At the end of each chapter, you will find a list of pertinent resources and a more comprehensive listing of resources, state agencies and other partners can be found in the appendix.
Candidate Orientation Workshop Presentations
Local governments also produce materials and training to help orient prospective candidates for office. Below is an example of an orientation presentation:
Roles of Elected Officials
It is essential for effective local government that municipal officials understand the roles of their respective offices and their interrelationships with others. We offer several publications and articles that discuss this important issue:
- Mayor and Councilmember Handbook — See sections on mayor's leadership role, job of the councilmember, and resolving and preventing mayor-council conflict
- Your Responsibilities as a County Commissioner
- The Ten Commandments of Community Leadership (2007), AWC
One of your primary responsibilities as an elected official will be to discuss, develop and adopt local laws and policies. Information on the drafting and adoption of ordinances and resolutions is available in our handbooks on "Local Government Policy-Making" and "Local Ordinances." Some local ordinances, however, are adopted or reviewed directly by the public. Information regarding the local initiative and referendum process is available in our handbook on "Initiatives and Referendums." All resources listed are produced by MRSC.
- Local Government Policy-Making Process — The purposes of this publication are to describe the local government policy-making process, outline effective roles for local officials, and to provide practical tips to make the local policy-making process for satisfying and productive.
- Local Government Citizen Advisory Boards — Provides examples, options, and model practices for the effective and efficient use of advisory boards by local governments
- Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties — To assist Washington county, city, and town officials in the drafting and adoption of ordinances, resolutions, motions, and related devices.
- Initiative and Referendum Powers of Cities and Towns in the State of Washington — Reviews the powers of initiative and referendum as they are exercised in cities in the state of Washington. It includes information on how to adopt these powers and which types of municipal activities are subject to these powers.
Openness and accountability are critical to the health of our democratic system of government. MRSC offers several resources dealing with the state open public meetings act, public records disclosure laws and strategies for connecting citizens and government:
- Open Public Meetings Act: How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts — Covers who is subject to Act, procedural requirements, executive sessions, exemptions, and penalties, and identifies relevant case law and attorney general opinions
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities and Counties — Discusses the statutory disclosure exemptions relevant to cities and counties in Washington, as well as the mandatory procedures for responding to public disclosure requests
- Community Engagement Resources — Highlights a variety of approaches for obtaining public feedback and for involving resident in local government plans and programs
Local Government Finance/Budgeting
Paying for government is always a challenging issue. See MRSC's city and county revenue guide and budget suggestions publications for more information on city finance issues:
- Mayor and Councilmember's Handbook — See Budget Basics section
- Budgeting for cities and towns in Washington state: a handbook for policy makers, chief appointed officials and others involved in the budget making process — Developed by Michael Bailey, and Gayla Gjertsen for the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) and the Washington Finance Officers Association (WFOA)
- Budgeting in Washington State — Overview of all MRSC's resources related to budgeting, including our popular annual Budget Suggestions publication
- Finance — Overview of all MRSC's webpages related to municipal finance with links to individual pages
- Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns — Contains up-to-date information on revenue sources available to cities and towns for general government purposes, including the relevant statutory references and important court decisions
- Revenue Guide for Washington Counties — Intended primarily to assist county policymakers and administrators in understanding the array of revenue sources available for the various programs and services they provide. It is not a comprehensive listing of all the revenues available, but is rather an attempt to describe and explain the more important sources.
Training for Newly Elected Officials
- MRSC: Training — MRSC provides relevant and timely training on issues of interest to local governments, such as ethics, public records, open government, governance, purchasing and contracting, customer service and public finance. This training is provided through webinars that we produce. MRSC staff are also frequent speakers at local government conferences.
- Association of Washington Cities (AWC): Elected Officials Essentials Workshop — See the calendar for up-to-date information on AWC's schedule for training workshops.
- WSAC/WACO: Newly-Elected Officials Conference — See the calendar for up-to-date information on training targeting county leaders.