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Ask MRSC Archives

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State in recent months and years. Click on any question to see the answer; use the drop-down menu to browse inquiries by topic.

These questions are for educational purposes only. All questions and answers have been edited and adapted for posting to the MRSC website, and all identifying information, including the inquirer’s name and agency name, has been removed.


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Reviewed: February 2023

MRSC published a blog article last year on Salaries for Elected Officials that includes a detailed section on “May an Elected Official Refuse a Salary?”

As the linked article notes, there are specific provisions in state law for some positions, such as fire and port commissioners, but there is not a comparable provision for cities. Nevertheless, many cities do have local policies on the topic. Here is a city example from Stanwood, and a county example from Chelan County:

  • Stanwood Ordinance No. 1342 – Waiver of Mayor/Councilmember Salaries (2013) – Allows mayor or councilmembers to voluntarily decline all or a portion of their salaries, with the waived money to be used for general government purposes, unless the individual mayor/councilmember directs that it should be used for a different purpose.
  • Chelan County Municipal Code Sec. 1.164.030 – Allows an elected official to voluntarily receive a salary less than that established for their position.

We recommend reviewing the article and any local procedure for waiving or donating one’s salary with the city’s legal counsel.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: January 2023

Regardless of any markings or how the letter got in the hands of the elected official, if the content of the letter pertains to the conduct of government, it is a public record. Whether an exemption applies is a separate question, but someone placing the words “confidential” on an envelope does not relieve an agency of the obligation to make public records available for inspection or copying. You could consider giving third party notice to sender who could then try to seek an injunction to prevent the letter’s release.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: January 2023

The preliminary draft exemption only applies to pre-decisional policy recommendations and opinions. It does not apply to raw factual data or the implementation of the policy. For a more thorough discussion, please see our 2016 blog post Explaining the PRA's Deliberative Process Exemption. Based on the information provided, it is unlikely the deliberative process exemption could be applied to all or even part of the draft investigation report.

However, depending on the nature of the violations, consider looking at RCW 42.56.250(6):

Investigative records compiled by an employing agency in connection with an investigation of a possible unfair practice under Chapter 49.60 RCW or of a possible violation of other federal, state, or local laws or an employing agency's internal policies prohibiting discrimination or harassment in employment. Records are exempt in their entirety while the investigation is active and ongoing. After the agency has notified the complaining employee of the outcome of the investigation, the records may be disclosed only if the names of complainants, other accusers, and witnesses are redacted, unless a complainant, other accuser, or witness has consented to the disclosure of his or her name. The employing agency must inform a complainant, other accuser, or witness that his or her name will be redacted from the investigation records unless he or she consents to disclosure;

Until you have informed the employee of the final decision, the records are exempt in their entirety. And even after the investigation is final, certain names must be redacted. I suspect this exemption is more likely to apply to your documents at issue.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: January 2023

There are a few records that local governments are required or highly encouraged to post online if they are able. Here are the ones that MRSC has previously identified, but there may be others:

  • Agendas for meetings must be posted online 24 hours in advance unless the jurisdiction is so small it does not meet the statutory thresholds in RCW 42.30.077 and RCW 42.30.080. Public agencies are encouraged to record and/or stream online meetings and make those recordings available online (RCW 42.30.220).
  • Interlocal agreements must be filed with the county auditor or, alternatively, listed by subject on a public agency’s website (RCW 39.34.040). This includes “piggy-backing” on procurement contracts of another agency.
  • Many jurisdictions meet their obligation to post a list of contracts awarded under the small works roster process as required by RCW 39.04.200 by posting online.
  • Many jurisdictions meet some of their public participation obligations under the Growth Management Act, RCW 36.70A.035, by posting notices online.
  • We were unable to locate a specific state or federal requirement, but it appears there is a requirement or highly encouraged practice to post collective bargaining agreements online as well.

And more generally, see the legislative intent note to RCW 42.56.520:

The internet provides for instant access to public records at a significantly reduced cost to the agency and the public. Agencies are encouraged to make commonly requested records available on agency websites. When an agency has made records available on its website, members of the public with computer access should be encouraged to preserve taxpayer resources by accessing those records online.

We encourage jurisdictions to look over their public records requests for the last several years and see if there is a pattern of requests. If they see such a pattern, they should consider prioritizing placing those records online. It is common to receive a records request for previously received records requests and therefore some jurisdictions automatically post online what records requests they have received.

Additionally, as the world moves more and more online, when setting up a website we highly encourage agencies to choose a system that allows easy and efficient document uploading capacity.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: January 2023

Below are some examples and resources that should be helpful. Additionally, some programs may be located in personnel manuals (see our Personnel Policy Manuals page for examples).

Local examples:

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries resources:

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: January 2023

While there is no applicable state law on this, the widespread practice is to have your governing body adopt a new resolution rescinding the previous one. This will provide a clear audit/timing trail for the board’s actions. Here is a link to Ellensburg Resolution No. 2021-20 – Terminating COVID-19 State of Emergency (2021) that you could use as an example. And as always, check with your agency attorney for specific drafting advice.

If the original resolution was worded in a way that the local declaration terminates when the state terminates its declaration of emergency, then there is no need to adopt a rescinding resolution. But if that is not the case, the best practice is to adopt a resolution rescinding the emergency. Otherwise, the manager/mayor/executive arguably continues to have the extra powers granted to them in the original resolution.

We are looking to update/revise our Accident Prevention Program. Do you have examples to share?
Below are some examples and resources that should be helpful. Additionally, some programs may be located in personnel manuals (see our Personnel Policy Manuals page for examples).

Local examples:

Washington State Department of Labor & Industries resources:

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: December 2022

To our knowledge there is no state legislation related to gas-powered leaf blowers, however a jurisdiction can choose to regulate them locally.

For example, the city of Seattle is phasing out gas blowers – here is a Kiro7 article about it: Seattle City Council approves ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. And here is a link to Seattle’s Resolution No. 32064 (2022), as well as their Supporting Documents. According to this Seattle City Council press release, Washington D.C., the entire state of California, Burlington, Vermont, and 100 other jurisdictions have banned gas leaf blowers.

Another angle is to approach this through the city noise ordinance; Clyde Hill has a specific code provision (see Sec. 8.10.030(G)) that applies to leaf blowers (prohibiting usage of blowers that exceed a 45dBA sound level prior to 7:00 am and after 6:00 pm on weekdays and prior to 10:00 am and 4:00 pm on the weekend and holidays).

And below are some additional examples from both Washington State and elsewhere.

Examples from Washington State:

Examples from other states (includes outright bans as well as noise restrictions):

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: December 2022

MRSC’s position is that state law does not require written submittals to be included in the meeting minutes. RCW 42.30.035 requires minutes to be kept and made available to the public. RCW 35A.12.110 (for code cities) also requires that a “journal of all proceedings shall be kept, which shall be a public record.” Neither of these statutes require minutes to be kept in any specific form.

MRSC shares the general opinion of the Washington Municipal Clerk’s Association and noted parliamentarian Ann McFarlane that “action minutes” is the better practice. For a more detailed explanation, see her blog post Less Is More: Action Minutes Serve the City Best.

This does not mean the city just throws away the documents. Items submitted as written testimony (such as what you describe) are required to be kept for six years after the end of the calendar year in which they were submitted, then transferred to the Washington State archives for permanent retention. See the Local Government Retention Schedule (p. 40).

We defer to your city attorney to advise you on the city’s specific practices.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: December 2022

MRSC has consistently taken the position that “actual attendance” under the district commissioner compensation statutes (RCW 70.44.050) includes remote attendance, whether via video conferencing or via speaker phone, unless your district has adopted a policy that requires attendance in-person.

The Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion a few years ago that concluded a governing body can legally conduct a public meeting via telephone or video conference call so long as the participants can hear, be heard, and participate effectively in the meeting. See AGO 2017 No. 4.

Additionally, the Open Public Meetings Act was amended this year to explicitly allow board member remote attendance so long as it allows real-time verbal communication (RCW 42.30.230). This may still require some action by the district board to consider remote attendance—ideally pursuant to a written policy that sets forth the circumstances under which remote participation will be allowed. But, unless local policy prohibits it, a member should be able to attend a commission meeting via phone or video without it impacting their compensation.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: November 2022

MRSC is aware of no federal or state statute that requires the town to display the U.S. and State flag when the town offices are closed unless it is one of the days where those flags are required to be displayed along with the POW/MIA flag.

Courts have interpreted the U.S. Flag Code to be advisory only and there are no penalties for violating it. RCW 1.20.017 requires public entities (including towns) to display the POW/MIA flag along with the U.S. and state flag only on specific days. RCW 1.20.017 does not contain any exception that would allow the town to not display the flags on those days if the town hall were not open for business. MRSC has an extensive summary page on this issue: Flag Display. But you should also consult your town attorney to see if there are any town codes or policies related to display of flags that you need to consider.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: November 2022

Here are some resources that should be helpful:

  • U.S. Census Bureau:
    • Home-based Workers - Notes that the American Community Survey (ACS) includes a question for those 16 and over who were employed and at work in the previous week, on the method of transportation usually used to get to work. Home-based workers are those who reported “work from home” on this question.
    • This recent Census article highlights that the number of people primarily working from home tripled between 2019 and 2021 (with Washington State having one of the highest percentages of home-based workers) and indicates that the Census will release additional ACS statistics over the next few months.
  • Washington State Office of Financial Management (OFM):
  • Washington State Employment Security Department: Employment Estimates - Provides monthly estimates of nonfarm employment, by industry, in Washington state.

Additionally, some cities do their own employment studies (either in-house or through consultants) that would analyze various local employment data to inform their comprehensive plans.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: November 2022

In general, the answer is “no.” The only exemption applicable to dates of birth (DOBs) is RCW 42.56.250(8) for employee month and year of birth if found in personnel records.

Note, there are a few exemptions that protect a person’s identity – for example RCW 42.56.240(2) protects witnesses and victims of crimes when their life/safety/property is in danger or they request nondisclosure. But, on its own, the DOB would not personally identify an individual (if their name and other identifying information was redacted out). So, we don’t recommend relying on this exemption to redact a DOB.

We have a page on Disclosure of Personal Identifying Information in Law Enforcement Records. As you will see, it doesn’t mention DOBs. We also have a sample arrest report which shows what to redact and what not to redact.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2022

Generally, the city may allow use of its facilities on a non-discriminatory basis. It may also produce fact-based information regarding a bond measure.

As we note on our Use of Public Facilities in Election Campaigns page, "normal and regular conduct" is allowed. Under this exception, a local government could prepare an objective and neutral presentation of facts concerning a ballot measure. For example, details could be provided to citizens concerning the financial impact of an initiative on the local government, such as how revenues would be affected by its passage. Care must be taken that this information be presented in a fair, objective manner.

Many local governments also allow use of their meeting room facilities on a nondiscriminatory, equal access basis to the public, usually for a rental fee. If this is the case, then it would be allowable to hold a public forum for citizens with pro and con representatives discussing an initiative in a public meeting hall.

You can get more specific guidance as well as some examples from the Public Disclosure Commission’s website. Their PDC: Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns provides an overview of Washington state law in an easy-to-read format indicating what activities are permitted or not permitted, as well as general questions to consider.

The city should consult its city attorney on the specific language the city intends to share, as well as the use of the city facilities.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2022

Seattle and King County’s comprehensive plans specifically identify gun safety, while other jurisdictions’ comprehensive plans more broadly address violence, crime, and/or public safety (see examples below). Additionally, community health needs assessments and community health improvement plans are often either referenced or adopted by reference in comprehensive plans. For example, the King County Comprehensive Plan references the community health indicators (see violence & injury prevention) that are part of the King County Community Health Needs Assessment, 2021-2022 (see discussion of firearm-related deaths).

Here are some examples of goals and policies from Washington comprehensive plans:

  • King County Comprehensive Plan – In Chapter 4 of the “Regional Health and Human Services” section, see H-102.e and H-209, which include references to firearms.
  • Kirkland Human Services Goals and Policies – See Policy HS-5.3 in the Human Services chapter. It includes as a goal area “A safe haven from all forms of violence and abuse.”
  • Redmond Comprehensive Plan – In the Chapter “Shoreline Master Program,” see SL-46 “Incorporate crime prevention principles in the design of public access to make facilities safe and easy to patrol and supervise.”
  • Seattle Comprehensive Plan (2020) – In the Chapter “Community Well-Being,” see public safety policy CW 5.7 “Work in partnership with state, county, and community agencies to prevent violence, including that associated with substance abuse, and firearms injuries.” Other examples include GS 3.27, CW G5, BL-G15, and NN-P18.
  • Spokane Social Health Chapter – See SH 6 on Safety, and related policies (CPTED, natural access control, natural surveillance, community oriented policing services, etc.).
  • Vancouver Comprehensive Plan – See the Police section in the Public Facilities and Services Chapter, which includes data and strategies around crime and violence.
  • Yakima Comprehensive Plan – See policy 7.4.7 “Encourage community policing, CPTED principles, and community watch programs to improve public safety for both businesses and residences.

Here are a few examples from other states:

  • Oakland Safety Element - Public Safety – Includes policies and actions related to violent crime.
  • Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan – See Goal 5 and related action steps, which include “Follow a public health approach to ending violence by reducing the factors that put people at risk for being involved with violence” and “Expand the use of non-enforcement, community-driven public safety strategies and responses such as restorative practices that can address and repair the harm caused by a crime.”
  • Stockton General Plan – See Goal SAF-1, Safe Community (public safety is a top community priority). Policies SAF-1.1 and SAF-1.2 address violence and crime.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2022

We are aware of a handful of Washington cities that allow more than one ADU per lot.

And here’s an Oregon example:

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2022

The city can apply its sign regulations provided it is a uniform application of the code (in other words, all applicants are treated similarly) and it does not impose an unjustified substantial burden on religious exercise. However, you should check with your attorney on this issue.

The law involved is a federal law called the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) (42 U.S.C. § 2000cc) which impacts land use decisions involving religious organizations. In order to show that a land use regulation – such as a sign code regulation - violates RLUIPA, the church must establish that the government imposed a substantial burden on the plaintiff’s religious exercise. The government is then required to show that the regulation is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest.

Here are two good resources to review:

Below is one of the Q&As relevant to your question from the Dept. of Justice guidance linked above:

Does RLUIPA exempt religious assemblies and institutions from local zoning laws? No. RLUIPA is not a blanket exemption from zoning laws. As a general matter, religious institutions must apply for the same permits, follow the same requirements, and go through the same land-use processes as other land users. RLUIPA does not pre-empt or replace the normal zoning code. Rather, it imposes a number of safeguards and requirements on local governments regarding zoning that impact religious uses by requiring that:
  • the zoning law or its application not substantially burden religious exercise without compelling justification pursued through the least restrictive means,
  • the zoning law not treat religious uses less favorably than nonreligious assemblies and institutions,
  • the law not discriminate based on religion or religious denomination, and
  • the jurisdiction not totally or unreasonably restrict religious uses.
When there is a conflict between RLUIPA and the zoning code or how it is applied, RLUIPA, as a federal civil rights law, takes precedence and the zoning law must give way. So long as a municipality applies its codes uniformly and does not impose an unjustified substantial burden on religious exercise, it may apply traditional zoning concerns – such as regulations addressing traffic, hours of use, parking, maximum capacity, intensity of use, setbacks, frontage – to religious uses just as they are applied to any other land uses.

Again, we recommend discussing the question with your city attorney. Our guidance at MRSC is general and not intended to substitute for the advice of your legal counsel.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: October 2022
As we note in MRSC’s Revenue Guide for Washington Counties (see footnote 56 in p.173), counties do not have the same authority as cities to require general business licenses, and there is no single county statute addressing business licensing. However, counties do have authority to require licenses and charge fees for certain specific businesses or activities within unincorporated areas – for example, gambling (RCW 9.46.295) (RCW 9.46.110), massage therapists (RCW 36.32.122), retail liquor (RCW 67.14.040), public dances and other public recreational or entertainment activities (RCW 67.12.021), and pool halls, billiard halls, and bowling alleys (RCW 67.12.110).

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: September 2022

Here are a few examples that might be useful:

  • Bellevue Mobility Implementation Plan Report (2022) – See page 70, which discusses Seattle’s use of mode share to determine transportation concurrency. “Under this system, the city requires a transportation impact analysis of a proposed development to determine whether the mode share of the occupied building would meet SOV mode share standards established for different areas…”
  • Issaquah Transportation Impact Analysis Guidelines (2015) – See page 2, which states, “Consistent with the Transportation Concurrency and multi-modal transportation impact fees in the City, these guidelines pertain to all modes of transportation, both motorized and non-motorized. The purpose of these Guidelines is to establish requirements and procedures to ensure timely and consistent analysis.”
  • Walla Walla Transportation Impact Analysis Guidelines (2018) – See page 11, which states that an analysis of multi-modal access and circulation is required.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: September 2022

There is no requirement that a public meeting be either audio or video recorded, however the legislature recently amended the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) to, among other things, encourage agencies to record their meetings. RCW 42.30.220 provides:

(1) Public agencies are encouraged to make an audio or video recording of, or to provide an online streaming option for, all regular meetings of its governing body, and to make recordings of these meetings available online for a minimum of six months.
(2) This section does not alter a local government's recordkeeping requirements under chapter 42.56 RCW.

If the city does opt to record its meetings, those recordings are a public record and subject to disclosure upon request. The recordings must also be maintained according to the appropriate retention schedules. For meeting recordings, that would be a 6-year retention period. See the Local Government Common Records Retention Schedule (“CORE”), Disposal Authority Number (“DAN”) GS2012-027—Advisory Meetings and DAN GS50-05A-13—Governing/Executive Meetings.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: September 2022

It does not surprise me that you are seeing different approaches in different towns’ ordinances. This is because town councils have broad authority to dispose of real estate in any commercially reasonably way (RCW 35.27.010 and RCW 35.27.370(2)). This includes listing for sale, putting it out to auction, direct or private negotiation with an interested buyer, etc. We have some best practices tips available on our page Surplus City or Town Property. An important tip is to get an appraisal of the property so you know what a fair market value is and the value you should receive in exchange for the property. An auditor will be looking for whether the town has adopted policies or procedures, and whether those policies or procedures were followed. We encourage cities and towns to adopt surplus property disposal policies and then follow them, but in their absence, you can always get authorization from your town council for this specific sale and your council can direct you how to go about selling this particular parcel.

(Link to this question)