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 can help the local government achieve its goals.
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
- RCW 9.41.305 – 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.
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). Special meeting notice (to include the date, time, place of the meeting and the business to be transacted) must be provided at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting as follows: (1) delivered personally at least 24 hours before the meeting to members of the governing body (unless they submit written waiver of notice or are present at the meeting) and to members of the news media who have a request on file; (2) posted on the agency website (if the agency has a website or shares one with another agency and has staff whose duty it is to maintain or update the website); and (3) displayed at the main entrance of the agency’s principal location/meeting site (RCW 42.30.080).
State law does not prevent subsequent modifications to a regular meeting agenda, nor does the failure to properly post the regular meeting 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. While the special meeting agenda (i.e., special meeting notice) can be modified, the governing body cannot take final action on an item added to the special meeting notice unless it complies with the notice requirements for special meetings.
MRSC has a practice tip sheet on Developing and Modifying Agendas to guide agencies in developing their meeting agendas. MRSC also 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
- Puyallup City Council Rules of Procedure (2022) – Section 2.2 addresses minutes
- Spokane Valley City Council Governance Manual (2022) – Chapter 3, 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 (2019) – Section .9 addresses minutes
- King County City Council and Elections – Section 1.24.235 addresses minutes
- Pierce County Rules of Procedure – Section 1.28.140 addresses minutes
Examples of City Meeting Minutes
- Monroe Council Minutes
- Shoreline Council Meeting Agendas, Minutes and Videos
- Tumwater City Council, Commission and Committee Meeting Agendas & Minutes
Examples of County Meeting Minutes
- King County Clerk of the Council Meeting Calendar
- Mason County Commissioner Minutes
- Pierce County Council Minutes
The following resources may help local governments in planning for and conducting more efficient and productive public meetings.
- AWC and MRSC: The Mayor and Councilmember Handbook (2023) – This handbook addresses, among other things, council meetings.
- 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 (ILG):
- Public Meetings Resource Center – Offers a variety of tools addressing how to chair a meeting, parliamentary procedure, public participation, and technology in public meetings
- Get Your Public Meetings Back on Track (2013) – What options do local officials have for reducing disruptions and disruptiveness?
- Understanding the Role of Chair (2011) – 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 – This article distills lessons learned from mayors and council members who attended an ILG-led workshop on how to help local government leadership collaborate more effectively.
- Public Administration Review: The Rituals of Public Meetings (2010) – This essay explores how public meeting rituals may impact participants and pragmatic outcomes.
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 provides the process for proposing, amending, approving, and defeating legislative motions.
- MRSC: Parliamentary Procedure: A Brief Guide to Robert's Rules of Order
- Jurassic Parliament – Offers resources on using Robert's Rules of Order, meeting management, leadership, and more