This page provides a basic overview of public meetings held by local government governing bodies (councils or commissions) in Washington State.
Also see our pages on the Open Public Meetings Act and Public Hearings.
A city council or board of commissioners meeting (whether county or special purpose district) is the place to get the critical job of policy-making done. A smoothly managed and productive council or commission meeting in the right setting does not necessarily guarantee good results, but it certainly helps.
State law spells out some of the requirements for public meetings, primarily through the Open Public Meetings Act. In addition, many cities, counties, and special purpose districts have adopted their own formal rules of procedure to govern the conduct of their meetings.
- RCW 35.23.270 - City council - Quorum - Rules - Journal, etc. (Second Class Cities)
- RCW 35.27.280 - Town council - Quorum - Rules - Journal (Towns)
- RCW 35A.12.110 - Council Meetings (Mayor-Council Plan)
- RCW 35A.12.120 - Council - Quorum - Rules - Voting (Mayor-Council Plan)
- RCW 35A.12.160 - Public Notice of Hearings and Meeting Agendas (Mayor-Council Plan)
- RCW 35A.13.170 - Council - Quorum - Rules - Voting (Council-Manager Plan)
- RCW 36.32.080 - Regular Meetings (Counties)
- RCW 36.32.090 - Special Meetings (Counties)
- RCW 36.32.140 - Record of Proceedings (Counties)
- Ch. 42.30 RCW - Open Public Meetings Act
- RCW 42.30.080 - Special Meetings
- RCW 42.30.110 - Executive Sessions
- RCW 42.32.035 - Minutes
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.
MRSC maintains a separate page on City Council Meeting Agendas. This webpage offers an overview of the agenda preparation process, including sample council rules of procedure relating to agenda preparation and links to sample agendas.
Minutes are the instant written record of a meeting or hearing. RCW 42.30.035 requires the minutes of all regular and special meetings (except executive sessions) to be promptly recorded and open to public inspection.
Minutes are not required to be taken at an executive session, although the announced purpose of the executive session must be entered into the meeting minutes (RCW 42.30.110(2)). If minutes or notes are taken during an executive session, they may be subject to the disclosure requirements of the Public Records Act.
While most local governments are required to post meeting agendas online, there is no similar requirement for meeting minutes. However, many governing bodies post both meeting agendas and minutes online in an effort to be more transparent to the public.
Examples of City Rules of Procedure Relating to Meeting Minutes
- Olympia City Council Guidebook — Section 3.19 addresses minutes
- Port Townsend City Council Rules of Procedure — Section 4.2.10 addresses council procedures, records and minutes
- Puyallup City Council Rules of Procedure — Section 2.2 addresses minutes
- Vancouver Policy and Procedure Manual — Section 5.5 on Recording Proceedings addresses minutes for city council meetings
- Spokane Valley City Council Governance Manual — Section B.3 addresses minutes as part of the city clerk’s duties
- Tumwater City Council Rules and Procedures — Section 2.6 addresses minutes
Examples of County Rules of Procedure Relating to Meeting Minutes
- Clallam County Board of Commissioners Operating Guidelines — Section .9 addresses minutes
- King County Council Rules and Order of Business — Section 1.24.235 addresses minutes
- Pierce County Rules of Procedures for Councils — Section 1.28.140 addresses minutes
Examples of City Meeting Minutes
- Monroe Council Minutes
- Richland City Council Minutes — Available to download in the city’s archives
- SeaTac Council Meeting Minutes Archive
- Tumwater City Council Minutes
Examples of County Meeting Minutes
- Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners Minutes
- King County Council Agendas, Minutes & Video
- Mason County Board of Commissioners Minutes
- Pierce County Council Minutes — Available to download in the county’s archives
Public Meetings - Recommended Resources
The following resources may help a local government in planning for and conducting more efficient and productive public meetings.
- AWC and MRSC: The Mayor and Councilmember's Handbook – This handbook addresses, among other things, council meetings
- A Visual Guide to Bad Community Meetings (2012) — Public meetings can improve and this article has some ideas for making them better
- Making a Game Out of Town Hall Meetings (2012) — This article looks at virtual incentives and how these can be used during town halls
- Institute for Local Government
- Get Your Public Meetings Back on Track (2013) — What options do local officials have for reducing disruptions and disruptiveness? The ideas and resources in this article may be helpful in efforts to address these problems.
- Understanding the Role of Chair (2013) — A key element of the success of any meeting is the approach and skills of the meeting chair. This tip sheet offers ideas on how to perform this task with skill and grace.
- Tips for Promoting Civility at Public Meetings (2011) — This tip sheet offers strategies for promoting civility in public meetings and includes a sample code of civility
- Planning Public Forums: Questions to Guide Local Officials (2007) — This guide was designed to help officials construct and plan public meetings
- Strategies for Creating a More Collaborative, Effective Council (2011) — This article distills lessons learned from mayors and councilmembers who attended an ILG-led workshop on how to help local government leadership collaborate better
- Public Administration Review: The Rituals of Public Meetings (2010) — This essay explores how public meeting rituals may produce very real impacts on participants and pragmatic outcomes
Public Hearings - Recommended Resources
Local governments are sometimes required by state law to hold public hearings. The resources below may help in understanding and following proper hearing procedure.
- MRSC: Public Hearings — Discusses what is legally required for public hearings, including quasi-judicial hearings, and summarizes the basic procedures that should be followed.
- Institute for Local Government: Getting the Most out of Public Hearings (2005) — Offers practical ideas to maximize the effectiveness of public hearings.
Parliamentary Procedure - Recommended Resources
Parliamentary procedure provides the process for proposing, amending, approving, and defeating legislative motions.
- MRSC: Parliamentary Procedure — Offers a brief overview of Robert's Rules of Order as applied to parliamentary procedure
- Jurassic Parliament — Offers resources on using Robert's Rules of Order, meeting management, leadership, and more.
Notice of Firearm Prohibition at Meetings
Local governments must post signs providing notice that it is unlawful to open carry a firearm or other weapon while attending a public meeting of the governing body (RCW 9.41.305).
- Ask MRSC - Governance — Contains archived questions MRSC staff have received with regard to governance, the legislative body, council/commission roles and responsibilities, and related issues
- Institute for Local Government: Public Meetings Resource Center — Offers a variety of tools addressing how to chair a meeting, parliamentary procedure, public participation, and how to incorporate technology into public meetings.