City Council Meeting Agendas
This page provides an overview of general requirements and procedures related to city council agendas in Washington State.
The basic authority for establishing an agenda for city council meetings rests with the city council under its authority to adopt rules of procedure (see RCW 35A.12.120 for noncharter code cities, RCW 35.23.270 for second class cities, and RCW 35.27.280 for towns).
The form an agenda takes may be prescribed by ordinance or resolution, by city council rules, or simply by informal custom and practice. In many cities, preparation of the agenda is delegated to the mayor, city clerk, and/or city administrator, and this system seems to work satisfactorily in most cases. However, it would be possible for the council to establish formal rules and regulations for the preparation of the agenda and to indicate in those rules who may place items on the agenda and how they are to be placed on the agenda.
Perhaps one of the most crucial items in providing for orderly meetings is a well-organized, well-prepared agenda. A systematic order of business may be the difference between haphazard wrangling and a well-run, well-timed meeting. The agenda must be handled so that councilmembers are given adequate information on items to be considered. They should get that information far enough in advance to give it appropriate study.
Public agencies with governing bodies must make the agenda of each regular meeting available online at least 24 hours before the published start time of the meeting. This applies to all but the smallest local government agencies (RCW 42.30.077).
However, the statute says that nothing prevents subsequent modifications to the agenda, nor does the failure to properly post the agenda invalidate any otherwise legal action taken at the meeting or provide a basis for awarding attorney fees under RCW 42.30.120 or commencing an action of mandamus or injunction under RCW 42.30.130.
(Also see RCW 35.22.288 for first class cities, RCW 35.23.221 for second class cities, RCW 35.27.300 for towns, and RCW 35A.12.160 for code cities).
Items on the agenda should be prioritized and organized as efficiently as possible, allocating adequate time to considering major issues while minimizing time spent on routine, trivial, or noncontroversial issues.
An important consideration in creating a manageable agenda is to include only agenda items that belong there. The formal council agenda is the place in which formal actions will be taken on the part of the governing body. In general, each agenda item should include time to discuss the topic followed by an instrument for council action. Items that are solely for the purpose of informing or advising should be provided to the council outside the formal agenda process. When the agenda is well-managed, it allows for a smooth flow of information to the governing body and creates an efficient process through which this group can consider and craft policy decisions. This makes the entire operation of government run more smoothly and saves a great deal of valuable time.
The consent agenda is a tool used to streamline council meeting procedures by collecting and grouping routine, noncontroversial topics into a single agenda item that can be discussed and passed with a single motion and vote. In some cities, items to be placed on each consent agenda are selected at a meeting of the city’s department heads. In other cities, a special agenda committee chooses the consent items. Commonly, no debate is allowed on items included in the consent agenda.
Consent items may be read by title only in the body of a single consent agenda resolution. However, any councilmember can have an item removed from the consent agenda for separate consideration. In addition, cities may allow any person attending the regular council meeting to request that an item be removed from the consent agenda, read completely, and voted on independently.
In such a situation, the remainder of the consent agenda can be voted on, omitting the challenged items. Setting up a consent agenda system usually requires preliminary action by the council in the form of adopting an ordinance or resolution.
Examples of Agenda Order and Rules of Procedure
There is no required format or particular order for the council meeting agenda. Most cities outline their procedures for agenda preparation and the order of business in their council procedure manuals. You can see many examples on our Council/Board of Commissioners Rules of Procedures page.