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Ask MRSC - Governance

Below are selected “Ask MRSC” inquiries we have received from local governments throughout Washington State related to governance. Click on any question to see the answer.

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: September 2023

Regardless of the title given, if the gathering meets the definition of a “meeting” under the Open Public Meetings Act (whether a regular or special meeting), then minutes are required to be taken.

The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) at RCW 42.30.035(1) provides:

The minutes of all regular and special meetings except executive sessions of such boards, commissions, agencies or authorities shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection.

Minutes need not be more than action minutes, but even simple action minutes indicate when discussion is had on certain topics or which reports were received from staff. For more on action minutes, see our blog post, Less Is More: Action Minutes Save Time, Serve the Agency Best. The blog post provides a list of items that would typically be included in action minutes:

  • Name of governing body and meeting location
  • Times at which the meeting started and ended
  • Which members of the governing body were present, which were absent (and if a quorum of the body was present — suggested but not required)
  • Which members of the agency staff were present
  • Text of all main motions taken up by the body and their disposition (passed, failed, referred to committee, etc.)
  • If amendments were made, final version of motion as amended
  • Any Points of Order or Appeals & their resolution

For more on minutes, see MRSC’s Council/Commission Meeting page.

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Reviewed: September 2023

Whether there is a residency requirement for a particular city committee or commission will be a matter of local policy. RCW 35.21.200 (applicable to code cities) authorizes cities to establish residency requirements for appointed positions. It states:

Any city or town may by ordinance of its legislative authority determine whether there shall be any residential qualifications for any or all of its appointive officials or for preference in employment of its employees, but residence of an employee outside the limits of such city or town shall not be grounds for discharge of any regularly appointed civil service employee otherwise qualified: PROVIDED, That this section shall not authorize a city or town to change any residential qualifications prescribed in any city charter for any appointive official or employee: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That all employees appointed prior to the enactment of any ordinance establishing such residence qualifications as provided herein or who shall have been appointed or employed by such cities or towns having waived such residential requirements shall not be discharged by reason of such appointive officials or employees having established their residence outside the limits of such city or town: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That this section shall not authorize a city or town to change the residential requirements with respect to employees of private public utilities acquired by public utility districts or by the city or town.

We recommend looking at your city code or the ordinance or resolution establishing the committee to determine whether residency requirements have been established. MRSC also has a webpage you may find helpful on Advisory Boards and Commissions.

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Reviewed: August 2023

There is no requirement in the OPMA that you read public comments out loud or include them in your minutes. As we note in last year’s blog HB 1329: Answers to Your OPMA Questions, the OPMA only requires that you provide the opportunity for public comment. It does not require that you read public comments out loud.

Also, RCW 42.30.035 only requires the governing body to have minutes. It does not specify what those minutes must contain. MRSC (as well as the Washington Municipal Clerks Association) recommends “action minutes.” These reflect the agenda items, who moved (and seconded) any action, and what that action was. There is no state law requirement to include submitted comments in the minutes. Of course, the board/governing body can choose to require public comment be read into the record—this is a matter of local discretion. The agency does need to retain the comments in accordance with the state retention schedule. And as we note in a recent guest blog from parliamentarian Ann Mcfarlane:

Since meeting minutes are subject to disclosure under the PRA, if your agency chooses to include public comment in the minutes, we recommend a summary of the comment period that avoids providing personally identifiable information on individual commenters.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: August 2023

MRSC’s position is that elected officials may be appointed to serve on ballot committees. RCW 29A.32.280 does not place any restrictions or impose any requirements with respect to who serves on a “for” or “against” ballot measure committee. In response to previous inquiries, MRSC has taken the position that appointing individuals to such committees is part of the normal and regular conduct of government pursuant to RCW 42.17A.555(3). That would be the case even if the individual appointed is a member of the governing body.

Once appointed, under RCW 42.17A.555, the members must avoid using any facilities of a public office or agency in connection with their work on the committee. For further guidance, we recommend contacting the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC).

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Reviewed: July 2023

State law does not require that minutes or resolutions be signed. Title 57 RCW (pertaining to water-sewer districts) does not include a signature requirement for minutes or resolutions. The Open Public Meeting Act (OPMA) at RCW 42.30.035 only requires that minutes “shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection.”

Most agencies have a lot of discretion in this regard, including not signing the minutes or resolutions at all. Local rules of procedure will usually designate who, if anyone, should sign minutes or resolutions—it could be the chair, the entire membership of the governing body, or the secretary. The board should follow the local rules re signatures (or waive this requirement, if needed).

Note, there is an informal opinion from our State Attorney General’s Office, AGLO 1972 No. 19, indicating that only after proposed minutes of a meeting have been reviewed by a body and “signed by its officers” in the manner provided for in its procedures do they constitute the “official” record of the previous meeting described therein. Although the AGLO offers this advice, it doesn’t support the advice with any legal authority. Thus, our office has taken the position that the chair’s signature or the board’s signature isn’t statutorily required in minutes.

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Reviewed: June 2023

Yes. A councilmember does not cease being a councilmember by virtue of undertaking the additional duties of pro tempore (pro tem) to conduct a meeting in the absence of the mayor. The mayor pro tem continues to vote as a councilmember and is counted for the purpose of establishing a quorum of the governing body.

RCW 35.27.160 provides, in relevant part, that “[a] mayor pro tempore may be chosen by the council for a specified period of time, not to exceed six months, to act as the mayor in the absence of the mayor.”

RCW 35.27.280 provides that “[a] majority of the councilmembers shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business”. This statute also references the authority for the council to appoint a “president pro tempore” (mayor pro tem) to run a council meeting in the absence of the mayor.

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Reviewed: May 2023

Yes. Nothing in the Open Public Meetings Act prohibits having more than one public hearing during the same meeting. Make sure you’ve complied with the notice and publication requirements for both of the hearings based on the statute that requires those hearings. (A non-exhaustive list of statutory requirements for public hearings is in Appendix C of our Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties publication). Also consider a script for your presiding officer that clearly has them open and close (or continue/keep the record open for) each of the public hearings.

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Reviewed: May 2023

The statutes governing public hospital districts are silent as to frequency or number of meetings. Instead, the board of commissioners establishes its own schedule for meetings.

RCW 70.44.050 provides, in relevant part:

The commission shall organize by election of its own members of a president and secretary, shall by resolution adopt rules governing the transaction of its business and shall adopt an official seal. All proceedings of the commission shall be by motion or resolution recorded in a book or books kept for such purpose, which shall be public records.

And the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), applicable to all governing bodies of public agencies in the state, includes the following regarding regular meetings in RCW 42.30.070

The governing body of a public agency shall provide the time for holding regular meetings by ordinance, resolution, bylaws, or by whatever other rule is required for the conduct of business by that body.

Likewise, the AWPHD Legal Manual does not reference any requirements related to meeting frequency or timing. For a discussion on this, see Meetings and Agendas of PHD commissioners (p. 19/p. 30 of the PDF).

Therefore, one should look at adopted rules or bylaws for the particular public hospital district. Those rules will dictate the PHD Board of Commissioner’s meeting schedule.

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Reviewed: May 2023

The Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) specifically addresses notices of special meetings but makes no mention of agendas for special meetings. For special meetings, a notice must be posted at least 24 hours in advance of the meeting and must “specify the time and place of the special meeting and the business to be transacted.” Final action may only be taken on items listed in the notice. See RCW 42.30.080.

There is a relatively new requirement in the OPMA that agendas of regular meetings be available online 24 hours in advance, however there is not a similar requirement for special meetings. But even for regular meetings, the statute allows those posted agendas to be subsequently amended. See RCW 42.30.077.

While a governing body is limited to taking final action only on items listed in the special meeting notice, it can certainly take up other items for discussion as reflected in an amended agenda, since this is merely “action”. However, we recommend this be done infrequently in light of the intent of the OPMA.

Additionally, note that in a 2023 Washington Supreme Court decision, In the Matter of the Recall of Bird, the court found (in the context of sufficiency of a recall petition) that the notice for the special meeting did not adequately describe the action to be taken at the meeting and therefore, the vote on a motion at that meeting violated the OPMA.

For additional information on special meetings, see our 2013 blog post: What Can You Do at a Special Meeting?

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Reviewed: April 2023

RCW 42.30.110(1)(h) requires that interviews of candidates to fill vacant, elected positions be conducted in an open meeting. (Contrast this with interviews of candidates to fill non-elective office; these can be held in executive session under RCW 42.30.110(1)(g).) Therefore, it is not possible to legally prohibit other candidates for the vacant, elected position from attending the interviews. The OPMA does not have an exception which would allow other candidates to be excluded from the meeting room.

We have previously suggested that the council/commission could ask, but not require, that the other candidates leave the meeting room while the other candidates are being interviewed so as not to give an advantage to candidates interviewed later in the process. If some candidates still remain in the meeting room, that could be a factor considered when selecting who would make a good councilmember/commissioner.

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Reviewed: April 2023

I was unable to find trainings specific to park and recreation districts in Washington State; however, below are some resources that should be helpful:

There are also Public Records Act (PRA) and Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) training requirements applicable to certain officials in public agencies. See RCW 42.30.205 and RCW 42.56.150. For more information, see the below resources:

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Reviewed: March 2023

It depends. Generally, all elected officials and candidates for elected office are required to fill out a financial disclosure form (also known as the F1 form). However, RCW 42.17A.135 exempts “candidates, elected officials, and agencies in political subdivisions with fewer than two thousand registered voters as of the date of the most recent general election in the jurisdiction” unless the candidate receives or expects to receive $5,000 or more in contributions.

There is also an exception in RCW 42.17A.200 for “an office of a political subdivision of the state that does not encompass a whole county and that contains fewer than five thousand registered voters as of the date of the most recent general election in the subdivision, unless required by RCW 42.17A.135 (2) through (5) and (7).”

The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has a helpful webpage, Personal Financial Affairs Disclosure, that explains the filing requirements and another one about Enforcement, that talks about the process and possible penalties. Because the PDC is the enforcement agency for this, the district is not responsible for ensuring the commissioners comply with the reporting requirement.

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Reviewed: February 2023
RCW 42.17A.320 provides that all written political advertising, whether relating to candidates or ballot propositions, shall include the sponsor’s name and address. The definition of “political advertising” is set forth in RCW 42.17A.005(40). The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has information on Sponsor IDs on its website.  
Local government communications that meet the requirements of RCW 42.17A.555 would likely not meet the definition of “political advertising.” RCW 42.17A.555 (3) provides an exception for “activities which are a part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.” The PDC Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns further define and explain “normal and regular conduct.” In particular: 
7.a. Historically, the PDC has routinely advised and held that with respect to election-related publications, one jurisdiction-wide objective and fair presentation of the facts per ballot measure is appropriate.  
In addition, if an agency* has also customarily distributed this information through means other than a jurisdiction-wide mailing (e.g. regularly scheduled newsletter, website, bilingual documents, or other format), that conduct has also been permitted under RCW 42.17A.555 so long as the activity has been normal and regular for the government agency. For more discussion of fact sheets, see this staff analysis
b. The PDC will presume that every agency may distribute throughout its jurisdiction an objective and fair presentation of the facts for each ballot measure.  If the agency distributes more than this jurisdiction-wide single publication, the agency must be able to demonstrate to the PDC that this conduct is normal and regular for that agency.  In other words, the agency must be able to demonstrate that for other major policy issues facing the government jurisdiction, the agency has customarily communicated with its residents in a manner similar to that undertaken for the ballot measure.  
c. Agencies are urged to read the definitions of "normal and regular" at WAC 390-05-271 and WAC 390-05-273. Agencies need to be aware, however, that in no case will the PDC view a marketing or sales effort related to a campaign or election as normal and regular conduct. 
8.    The PDC attributes publications or other informational activity of a department or subdivision as the product of the local agency as a whole. 
9.    Providing an objective and fair presentation of facts to the public of ballot measures that directly impact a jurisdiction's maintenance and operation, even though the measure is not offered by the jurisdiction, may be considered part of the normal and regular conduct of the local agency.  The agency must be able to demonstrate that for other major policy issues facing the jurisdiction, the agency has customarily communicated with its residents in a manner similar to that undertaken for the ballot measure. 

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Reviewed: February 2023

No, under state law, all city and town elected offices (including council positions) are elected on a nonpartisan basis. See RCW 29A.52.231. Although a candidate may choose to disclose their party affiliations in the course of campaigning for office, this information would not be placed with candidate names on the ballots, nor should the city include a candidate’s preferred political party in city information. RCW 29A.04.110 defines “partisan office” and does not include elective offices in cities or towns:

"Partisan office" means a public office for which a candidate may indicate a political party preference on his or her declaration of candidacy and have that preference appear on the primary and general election ballot in conjunction with his or her name. The following are partisan offices:
(1) United States senator and United States representative;
(2) All state offices, including legislative, except (a) judicial offices and (b) the office of superintendent of public instruction;
(3) All county offices except (a) judicial offices and (b) those offices for which a county home rule charter provides otherwise.

In addition to judicial positions and the state superintendent of public instruction, city, town, and special purpose district elective offices are required to be nonpartisan. RCW 29A.52.231 provides:

The offices of superintendent of public instruction, justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of appeals, judge of the superior court, and judge of the district court shall be nonpartisan and the candidates therefor shall be nominated and elected as such. All city, town, and special purpose district elective offices shall be nonpartisan and the candidates therefor shall be nominated and elected as such. (Emphasis added).

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Reviewed: February 2023

Washington law requires local governments (including special districts) to prepare meeting minutes, but it does not address who signs them. RCW 42.30.035 simply provides:

The minutes of all regular and special meetings except executive sessions of such boards, commissions, agencies or authorities shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection.

Therefore, local governments may establish their own procedures for approval of the minutes. It is very common for minutes to be signed by the presiding officer. And technically, the minutes do not need to be signed at all if it can be shown that the minutes were approved by the Board in open session. So, there is a lot of flexibility for local governments with respect to who signs the minutes. Having the minutes signed by all members present at the time of approval is one of several options.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Reviewed: August 2022

Yes, a 3-2 vote would be sufficient for appointment. RCW 42.12.070(1) provides that:

Where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position.

The number of votes required for a measure to pass depends on the type of matter on which the council is voting. For example, RCW 35A.12.120 (which applies to mayor-council as well as council-manager code cities under RCW 35A.13.170) requires a vote of the majority of the entire council for the “passage of any ordinance, grant or revocation of franchise or license, and any resolution for the payment of money.” So for those matters you count all seats to determine a majority regardless of whether they are filled or not. MRSC has previously advised that unless it is an action under RCW 35A.12.120, only a majority of members present is required under state law.

We think the same is true with the filling of a vacancy. A majority of those present at the meeting would decide the next appointment, as long as there is a quorum for the meeting. So a 3-2 vote would be sufficient.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: June 2022

With respect to flag display, there are legal requirements and there is etiquette (which is also very important in this topic area). As we note on our Flag Display webpage, RCW 35A.21.180 requires code cities to display the US and Washington flags at city buildings. In addition, each public entity must display the US, Washington, and POW/MIA flag upon or near its principal building on certain enumerated days pursuant to RCW 1.20.017.

Those are the legal requirements. Regarding flag display etiquette, our webpage has the following:

  • According to the Washington Secretary of State, the Washington State flag should be displayed in the highest position of honor after the U.S. flag and the flags of any other nations. It should be displayed in a higher position of honor than the flags of other states, counties, cities, or any other entity.
  • When the U.S., Washington State, and POW/MIA flags are flown on a single pole, the U.S. flag should be on top, followed by POW/MIA flag and then the state flag. (The state Department of Veterans Affairs changed this protocol in 2017 - previously, the POW/MIA flag was flown under the state flag.) If there are two poles, the POW/MIA flag should be flown under the U.S. flag while the state flag is on the other pole. For more information, see the Department of Veterans Affairs' POW/MIA Flag Display webpage.

Based on that, if the City has more than one flagpole, then we agree that when the POW/MIA flag is flown, it should be flown directly under the U.S. flag in the highest position of honor as detailed in the U.S. Flag Code, 4 U.S.C. Section 7. (The Flag Code has been interpreted by courts as being advisory in nature, which is why it is referred to as etiquette instead of a legal requirement.) The Flag Code provides:

  • When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.

The State flag would therefore be flown on a different flagpole to the left of the U.S. Flag, with the City flag below the State flag.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: June 2022

There are no state laws that specifically allow or prohibit the city from adopting a city flag, so you have a lot of flexibility. Several cities have adopted a seal and a logo. 

Sometimes a local government or agency will create a contest to solicit community input into a new design or logo. See the following examples of logo contests and projects:

If you do hold a contest, be sure to include language that, by submitting a logo, the applicant (or their parent or guardian on their behalf) surrenders any trademark or copyright to the logo, and that the agency reserves the right to not use the winning logo. We highly recommend you have your attorney review the terms and conditions of the contest.

Once an agency decides upon a new flag or logo, it can register its logo as a trademark with our state’s Office of the Secretary of State (Corporations Division) if the trademark is to be used exclusively within the state or region. Chapter 19.77 RCW governs trademarks issued by the state. As noted on the Secretary of State’s Trademarks webpage, the broadest protection is available through registration with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office. The state Trademark Registration Form is available through the Secretary of State’s Registration Forms website. We recommend that you contact the Office of the Secretary of State, Corporations Division, for more information at (360) 725-0377.

Your agency may also want to review the North American Vexillological Association’s “Good Flag, Bad Flag” which “lays out five basic principles for good flag design, and then shows examples of flags that follow them and flags that disregard them, all illustrated in color.” There’s also an interesting and entertaining TED talk video on city flag designs.

(Link to this question)

Reviewed: April 2022

No. Municipalities do not automatically change their form of government based on population. RCW 35.01.040 defines a town as a municipality that “has a population of less than fifteen hundred at the time of its organization and does not operate under Title 35A RCW.” There are several towns that have a population over 1,500 (based on 2021 OFM numbers). These include Coupeville (1,950); Eatonville (2,875); Friday Harbor (2,630); Steilacoom (6,745), and Yacolt (1,670).

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Reviewed: March 2022
State law doesn’t require the city attorney to review or approve ordinances or resolutions. Local city policies often require their city attorney to approve ordinances and resolutions “as to form,” but, again, this is not a requirement under state law. In contrast, the city clerk is required to authenticate all ordinances and resolutions by their signature. See RCW 35A.12.150. We have a blog post that provides an overview of how to properly use ordinances, resolutions, motions and proclamations (although it doesn’t address the signature issue): Taking Action Using Ordinances, Resolutions, Motions, and Proclamations

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Reviewed: March 2022

If the office of mayor becomes vacant, the mayor pro-tem may fill in for a short period of time. See RCW 35A.12.065. However, because the mayor pro-tem (who is a councilmember) fills in as mayor on a temporary basis, there still is a vacancy that must be filled. See RCW 35A.12.050 and RCW 42.12.070. The council, as governing body, appoints the person to fill the vacancy.

The city council has 90 days from the date the vacancy occurred to fill the vacancy. If the council fails to do so, the county commissioners or council make the appointment or appointments. The county has 90 days (180 days from the date of the vacancy’s occurrence) to make an appointment; if it fails to do so, either the county or city or town may petition the governor to make the appointment. Again, see RCW 42.12.070.

Aside from the timing constraints, there is no particular process that must be followed to fill a vacancy. There is no requirement, for example, that the vacancy be advertised, or that resumes or applications be solicited, or that interviews be conducted. However, if interviews are conducted, they must be conducted in public at an open meeting. The governing body may review qualifications in a closed executive session, but the appointment itself must be made during an open meeting. Note that local procedures may establish a process for filling vacancies.

The person appointed to fill the vacancy continues to serve until a qualified person is elected at the next election at which councilmembers are elected.

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Reviewed: February 2022

Generally, creation of positions and deciding job responsibilities is a legislative function. Unless the duties are set out in state law, the local agency’s governing body should establish the positions and duties.

For counties, the officer in charge of any county office “may employ deputies and other necessary employees with the consent of the board of county commissioners” (the board sets compensation) RCW 36.16.070.

For cities, establishing the duties of personnel is the council’s job. See RCW 35.27.070, 35A.11.020, 35A.12.020. For most other special purpose districts, the board or commission establishes job descriptions. See RCW 53.08.170 (Ports); RCW 57.08.005(13) (Water-Sewer Districts); RCW 81.112.060 (Regional Transit Authorities).

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Reviewed: January 2022

While we do not have an official checklist, here are some practical ways that an outgoing mayor can help ensure a smooth transition:

  • Turn over any city-owned equipment and keys.
  • Turn over any public records, including ones that may be on personal devices or accounts (and subsequently deleting from personal device/account once transfer is confirmed) and sign an affidavit to that effect.
  • Be available to answer any questions the new mayor may have during their first days/months.
  • Draft a “hand-off” memo of current projects/discussions, especially interlocal or regional boards. Include current status, next steps for the group, and if there are any deadlines (or at least have a meeting to discuss their projects with staff – department heads, exec asst., etc.).
  • Review local policies for potential additional departure items to do.

Other MRSC resources that may be helpful include the following:

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Reviewed: December 2021

The first thing we would suggest is to look at your city code and council rules as they relate to social media usage. Second is to look at MRSC's Social Media Policies topic page and our blog post on Elected Officials Guide — What's Personal and What's Public?

There are three main concerns with maintaining your own website for city-related communications. First, depending on your city’s policies, anything you write could be considered a public record. This would require you to archive your website for the time required by state law and to produce responsive records if the city gets a public records request. Second, if a quorum of your fellow councilmembers comments on your website (assuming you intend to allow two-way communications) it raises the possibility of there being an illegal serial meeting. See our FAQ “What is a serial meeting?” for more details on serial meetings. Third, if this website is considered to be an officially city-sanctioned communication tool you may be limited in whether you can block subscribers or delete comments. As we note in the “Elected Officials Guide” blog linked above, if you blog about public business, make sure your blog is public, not private, or you could run afoul of the First Amendment.

Many of these issues are more easily managed if all communications are part of the official city communication plan. While a plan could allow an individual councilmember to control their own content, it could make it easier to comply with record retention and public records requirements.

Finally, you’ll want to talk to your city attorney about this (and we recommend new councilmembers sit down with their city attorney and get to know them). They can take this general guidance and help focus it to comply with your city’s code and council rules.

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Reviewed: December 2021
There are various options for when to take the oath (both before and after January 1), and the timing will also depend on whether the new councilmember is filling a vacancy or starting a new full term. The official oath need not occur at an open public meeting, however it is not uncommon for there to be a ceremonial oath (which is separate from the official oath) at the first meeting in January. Here is a link to our Oath of Office blog article that includes a section on when the oath can be taken.

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Reviewed: December 2021

There are mandatory trainings associated with both the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) and the Public Records Act (PRA) that apply to both state and local officials. These are at RCW 42.30.205, RCW 42.56.150, and RCW 42.56.152. The OPMA training is required for members of a governing body (e.g., city councilmembers or county commissioners), and the PRA training is required for all elected officials (and officials appointed to elected office), and public records officers.

PRA and OPMA training for all members of governing bodies must be completed within 90 days of taking the oath of office or assuming duties. A refresher PRA and OPMA training is also required every four years (RCW 42.56.150 and 42.56.152). For more information, see the Washington State Attorney General's webpage on Open Government Training. Here are the RCW citations for these requirements:

  1. 42.30.205 RCW Open Public Meetings for elected officials
  2. RCW 42.56.150 Public Records Act and records retention for elected officials

MRSC and AWC have an online e-training for both the OPMA and PRA that meets the above requirements. The trainings can be found at this link: ~/Training/PRA-OPMA-E-Learning - select “Open Public Meetings Act eLearning” and “Public Records Act eLearning.”

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Reviewed: December 2021

The city council is required to meet regularly, at least once a month, at a place and time as designated by council ordinance or resolution. See RCW 35A.12.110 for mayor-council code cities, which also applies to the council-manager form of code city by way of RCW 35A.13.170.

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Reviewed: November 2021

RCW 35A.12.130 says that when the mayor vetoes an ordinance “council shall cause his or her objections to be entered at large upon the journal and proceed to a reconsideration thereof.” But the statute does not specify when the council must take these actions.

We did not find any published Washington court decisions, attorney general opinions, or comments in Roberts Rules of Order on this issue. A respected legal source that our courts often refer to, McQuillin Municipal Corporations, says that if there is no controlling statute it depends on the local agency’s code or rules of procedure.

As for your second question, the council as a body continues even if the members change. There is no statutory language requiring that the same members act on a vetoed ordinance.

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Reviewed: November 2021

Local governments have no authority to override the state’s requirements for vaccinations for certain employees or for indoor mask requirements.

While there is language in the various state proclamations and orders that allows local officials to implement more stringent requirements than the state, there is no language or statutory authority allowing local officials to circumvent the state requirements or introduce less stringent requirements.

For vaccinations, there are medical and religious exemptions that can be secured, as described in our blog post Vaccine Mandates: Accommodating Disability and Religious Belief Exemptions.

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Reviewed: October 2021

RCW 35.21.200 authorizes cities to establish via ordinance residency requirements for appointed officials and employees, with some limitations:

  • Any city or town may by ordinance of its legislative authority determine whether there shall be any residential qualifications for any or all of its appointive officials or for preference in employment of its employees, but residence of an employee outside the limits of such city or town shall not be grounds for discharge of any regularly appointed civil service employee otherwise qualified: PROVIDED, That this section shall not authorize a city or town to change any residential qualifications prescribed in any city charter for any appointive official or employee: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That all employees appointed prior to the enactment of any ordinance establishing such residence qualifications as provided herein or who shall have been appointed or employed by such cities or towns having waived such residential requirements shall not be discharged by reason of such appointive officials or employees having established their residence outside the limits of such city or town: PROVIDED, FURTHER, That this section shall not authorize a city or town to change the residential requirements with respect to employees of private public utilities acquired by public utility districts or by the city or town.

In addition to the limitations in the statute, the city cannot set a durational residency requirement. In other words, the city can require that the city administrator live within the city (or within a certain area) but cannot require that they have been a resident for a certain amount of time before qualifying for employment. In Eggert v. Seattle, 81 Wn.2d 840 (1973), our state supreme court held that the residence preference there (a 1-year durational residence requirement) restricted applicants’ fundamental constitutional right to travel. Other states have justified a “point in time” residency requirement declaring that “[i]f it is important to develop relations between city employees and citizens, then the employee may be required to live within the geographical confines of the city while that employee holds municipal employment.” Carofano v. Bridgeport, 196 Conn. 623 (1985).

Here are examples of two city codes that include residency requirements adopted pursuant to RCW 35.21.200:

You’ll want to review any proposed ordinance with your city attorney.

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Reviewed: October 2021

None. Candidates make their declaration to the County Auditor.

There is not a statutory requirement that we are aware of for cities to verify the eligibility of candidates for city council. RCW 29A.24.075 provides that:

  • If a person elected to an office must be nominated from a district or similar division of the geographic area represented by the office, the name of a candidate for the office shall not appear on a primary ballot for that office unless the candidate is, at the time the candidate's declaration of candidacy is filed, properly registered to vote in that district or division. The officer with whom declarations of candidacy must be filed under this title shall review each such declaration filed regarding compliance with this subsection.

So in the case of city council positions, the county auditor will review the declaration of candidacy to determine if the candidate is registered to vote within the city at the time of filing.

Also note that the city could potentially violate PDC / use of public facilities prohibitions if the city attempts to challenge in court the qualifications of a candidate in advance. For more information, see our 2019 blog post Limits on Pre-Election Litigation Involving Local Ballot Initiatives.

See also the following blog: Disqualification: What if a Candidate Doesn’t Meet the Required Qualifications for Office?

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Reviewed: August 2021

No, a town council does not have legal authority to remove the mayor from office. There is a legal process called “recall” where a registered voter of a jurisdiction may seek a recall petition to be placed before the voters after court review and signature gathering (see Chapter 29A.56 RCW). There is also a legal process called a quo warranto lawsuit that could be used to seek court review if an elected official is claimed to not be qualified to hold office (see Chapter 7.56 RCW) .

The mayor and the councilmembers are all independently elected officials. Absent voluntary resignation, the recall process or a quo warranto lawsuit are the options to try to remove an elected official from office before the official’s term of office ends. If the official runs for reelection, then the eligible voters at the next election would make the decision.

A good resource for information about the roles of the mayor and councilmembers is MRSC’s Mayor and Councilmember Handbook. See, Chapter 9, beginning at page 31.

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Reviewed: July 2021

The mayor in a mayor-council code city is not required to sign a resolution. As we noted in our 2020 blog post Taking Action Using Ordinances, Resolutions, Motions, and Proclamations, resolutions are statements of council’s legislative intent, or directives from council to staff. The mayor cannot veto them, and they are effective on passage without signature.

What to do when the mayor declines to sign will depend on your council’s rules of procedure. Your options might include: noting on the resolution the council vote, and that the mayor declines to sign; having the mayor pro-tem sign on behalf of council; or having all councilmembers sign. As mentioned above, the resolution is effective when approved by council, with or without the mayor’s signature.

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Reviewed: June 2021

The candidate filing period for 2021 was May 17 through May 21. If no one filed for the elected office during that time, there is a void in candidacy pursuant to RCW 29A.24.141, and there would be a special filing period pursuant to RCW 29A.24.181, which provides in part:

If a void in candidacy occurs following the regular filing period and deadline to withdraw, but prior to the day of the primary, filings for that office shall be reopened for a period of three normal business days, such three-day period to be fixed by the filing officer. The filing officer shall provide notice of the special filing period to newspapers, radio, and television in the county, and online.

If no one files for election after the filing periods are over, there is a “lapse” in the election and no election is held. The officeholder whose term is ending remains in office (“holds over”) until the next election at which the position is voted on. See RCW 29A.24.201:

If after both the normal filing period and special three-day filing period as provided by RCW 29A.24.171 and 29A.24.181 have passed, no candidate has filed for any single city, town, or district position to be filled, the election for such position shall be deemed lapsed, the office deemed stricken from the ballot and no write-in votes counted. In such instance, the incumbent occupying such position shall remain in office and continue to serve until a successor is elected at the next election when such positions are voted upon.

If the incumbent who “holds over” no longer wants to serve, he or she can resign at which point the Council would make an appointment to fill the vacancy pursuant to RCW 42.12.070 (assuming it’s a nonpartisan position that is vacated).

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Reviewed: June 2021

We are not aware of a provision in chapter 35.27 RCW (which governs towns) that authorizes the town council to appoint a councilmember pro tempore to serve during an extended absence of a councilmember. There is a provision addressing vacancies, RCW 35.27.140, which provides that the council “may declare a council position vacant if that councilmember is absent from the town for three consecutive council meetings without the permission of the council.” We understand in many circumstances this is not a desirable option.

RCW 35.27.280 addresses the town council’s authority to make pro tempore appointments, but that provision doesn’t include reference to the council appointing a councilmember pro tempore. Given this, and the fact there are provisions for other city classifications that allow councils to appoint a councilmember pro tempore (see, e.g., RCW 35A.12.065 for code cities), we interpret the absence of such a provision in chapter 35.27 RCW to mean that a town council doesn’t have such authority.

Depending on circumstances, a councilmember who would otherwise be physically absent could participate in the council meetings remotely.

Of course, we defer to your town legal counsel if they have a contrary interpretation of the statutes.

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Reviewed: June 2021

For Interlocal Agreements (ILAs), as with other contracts, the contracting authority is with the governing body of the county, unless specific contracting authority has been delegated to the executive branch or another officer. It is therefore our opinion that the auditor’s office does not have independent authority to enter into interlocal agreements, absent authorization or approval from the board of county commissioners.

RCW 36.01.030 states that the county's "powers can only be exercised by the county commissioners, or by agents or officers acting under their authority or authority of law." Furthermore, RCW 39.34.030(2), part of the Interlocal Cooperation Act, states in relevant part:

Any two or more public agencies may enter into agreements with one another for joint or cooperative action pursuant to the provisions of this chapter . . . Appropriate action by ordinance, resolution or otherwise pursuant to law of the governing bodies of the participating public agencies shall be necessary before any such agreement may enter into force.

(Emphasis added.)

We have similarly advised that an independently-elected sheriff could not enter into an interlocal agreement on behalf of the county, unless that authority were delegated to the sheriff by the governing body.

Regarding whether two counties could agree to share elections services and facilities in an emergency, I think they probably could based on the provision in the Interlocal Cooperation Act at RCW 39.34.030(1) that states:

Any power or powers, privileges or authority exercised or capable of exercise by a public agency of this state may be exercised and enjoyed jointly with any other public agency of this state having the power or powers, privilege or authority, and jointly with any public agency of any other state or of the United States to the extent that laws of such other state or of the United States permit such joint exercise or enjoyment. Any agency of the state government when acting jointly with any public agency may exercise and enjoy all of the powers, privileges and authority conferred by this chapter upon a public agency.

We would recommend consulting with state elections officials and the prosecuting attorney’s office on this question, as well.

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Reviewed: May 2021

“Second readings” of ordinances are not required by state law. In fact, there is no state law requirement to have a first or second reading of an ordinance. However, such readings may be a matter of local council practice or procedure. We cover the second reading of ordinances in our Local Ordinances publication as follows:

State statutes are silent as to how ordinances are to be initiated. Thus, absent a charter provision detailing the process, each legislative body may determine the manner that must or should be used. Typically, when an ordinance has originated within the legislative body, the ordinance is presented to the clerk, who reads its title. The clerk’s reading is usually considered to be the “first reading.” The ordinance’s “second reading,” which also is often by title only, usually occurs when the ordinance is up for general discussion by the entire legislative body. There is no statutory requirement that an ordinance be “read.” Similarly, if an ordinance is read, there is no requirement (or limitation) that it be read by title only. Both considerations are frequently covered by local rules. If a local rule has been adopted, that rule should be followed. While there is no requirement that an ordinance be “read,” it nevertheless may be a good idea to do so. A reading provides both the legislative body and members of the public with notice of the topic under consideration. In addition, requiring that an ordinance be “read” helps avoid haste in the body’s deliberations.

As noted in this excerpt, state law doesn’t require a second reading of any ordinance and many city codes are silent on the matter. Your council rules may require a second reading for certain matters such as matters pertaining to taxes, fees, charges, penalties, assessments. So, review your council’s rules about the introduction and consideration of ordinances.

Even if there is a local council rule, a council could waive its rules and choose not to have a second reading on a particular ordinance. Council has the authority to waive its rules and the city’s rules of procedure likely address waiver. Another option would be to amend language in council rules of procedure to not require a second reading in some cases.

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Reviewed: May 2021

Yes, you are correct. There are not state law term limits for elected officials such as mayors or councilmembers in towns or cities. There are some code cities that have adopted ordinances providing term limits for these elected officials. However, towns do not have the authority to pass a local ordinance imposing term limits. A 1991 opinion of the Attorney General, AGO 1991 No. 22 addresses the issue of term limits for local government elected officials. This opinion has legal analysis about different types of local governments and their constitutional and statutory authority regarding term limits. The opinion concluded that towns, second class cities, and non-charter counties do not have authority to impose term limits on elected local officials, but that charter counties, charter cities and non-charter code cities may pass term limit ordinances.

Term limits imposed on state-wide elective offices by initiative were found unconstitutional in Gerberding v. Munro, 134 Wn. 2d 188 (1998).

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Reviewed: February 2021

MRSC has information on consent agendas at the bottom of our City Council Meeting Agendas webpage. The webpage states:

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.

The council/board generally has discretion to determine if it wants to have a consent agenda at its meetings, and if so what items to include on the consent agenda. Again, however, the consent agenda is typically reserved for non-controversial, routine items that the council/board may not need to discuss individually before approval.

Most local governments outline their procedures for agenda preparation in their council/board procedure manuals. You can see many examples on MRSC’s Council/Board of Commissioners Rules of Procedures page. You can open any of these sample documents and do a “Ctrl-F” search for “consent” to quickly locate the relevant sections.

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Reviewed: February 2021

With respect to municipal code searches, we see that you use Code Publishing for your municipal code. Take a look at their "Tour" page which has some information regarding the "main interface," "printing and saving," and the "advance search" features of their codes. They also offer some YouTube training videos on browsing and searching online codes.

For help with codes hosted by Municode, see their help page, which includes a video tutorial among other resources.

For RCW and WAC searches, take a look at the following pages:

  • RCW Search - allows for searching the RCW, and optionally, dispositions and supplements, as well as historical versions of the code
  • WAC Search - allows for searching the WAC

Each of these pages also include links to a Public LegSearch Help manual that contains guidance on searching both the RCW and WAC including creating basic search queries, viewing and navigating results, and advanced search techniques.

You might also be interested in reviewing MRSC’s tools that include a custom city and county website search and instructions on searching multiple city codes or county codes. The combined city/county code searches are helpful when you want to locate and view sample code provisions from multiple jurisdictions. The combined website searches are great tools for accessing all sorts of information on what other jurisdictions are doing.

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Reviewed: October 2020

Most local government advisory board members serve without compensation as you can see in this code search. However, a few cities do compensate members of their planning commissions. After city councilmembers, planning commission members probably devote more time than most other advisory board/commission members. See the following examples (including the amounts paid):

  • Bonney Lake Municipal Code - 2.26.060 Compensation - Each member of the planning commission shall be compensated in the amount of $50.00 per planning commission meeting attended, including joint meetings of the planning commission and the city council; provided, that no planning commission member shall be compensated for attendance at more than two planning commission meetings per calendar month, including attendance at any joint meetings of the planning commission and the city council; and provided further, that the chair or designee of the planning commission shall, in addition, be compensated $25.00 for attendance at a council meeting where such attendance is required by BLMC 2.26.030.
  • Monroe Municipal Code - 4.60.010(C) Planning Commission - Salaries of Commissioners. Each city planning commissioner may be paid for attending commission meetings and workshops an amount not exceeding fifty dollars per meeting for not more than one meeting each week.
  • Duvall Municipal Code - 2.15.040 - Payment to planning commissioners - Beginning on January 1, 1994, each member of the planning commission shall be paid twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for attendance at each regular meeting of the planning commission and twenty-five dollars ($25.00) for attendance at each special meeting of the planning commission but not to exceed three such special meetings for compensation in one calendar year.

Several cities only reimburse for expenses, such as in the following:

  • Goldendale Municipal Code - 2.48.030 - The members of the planning commission shall serve without compensation, but they shall be reimbursed for expenses necessarily incurred in performing their official duties. The city council shall from time to time, as may be necessary, provide by ordinance for funds for the necessary expenditures and costs of operation of such commission.
  • Maple Valley Municipal Code - 2.35.050 - Compensation - The members of the Planning Commission shall serve without compensation, but necessary expenses of the Commission actually incurred shall be paid from appropriate City funds.
  • Kent Municipal Code - 2.57.020(F) Compensation - The appointed members of the land use and planning board shall serve without compensation except that reimbursement for authorized travel and subsistence may be made to the extent such may be budgeted for by the city council. Reimbursement for such shall come from the city budget category designated land use and planning board, travel and mileage and subsistence.

As a personal aside, I served as a member of the city of Kirkland’s planning commission for 8 years and can attest to the large time commitment that is typical of most planning commissions, which are characterized by voluminous meeting packets, many long evenings spent in monthly and often more frequent meetings, and no small amount of stress when controversial land use issues draw large and sometimes angry crowds.

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Reviewed: September 2020

MRSC has consistently advised that absent a written city policy to the contrary, the administration can apply for a grant without council approval. However, under RCW 35A.11.040, acceptance of any grant requires council approval. In addition, a grant is a contract, and under RCW 35A.11.010, the city council is the contracting authority for the city.

Because the council is the contracting authority, there is no statutory reason why it could not adopt a policy regarding applying for grants. Some cities have tied grant application authority to purchasing or contracting authority; if the grant amount is within the mayor’s signature authority no prior council authorization is needed. Some cities have adopted policies saying that if the grant requires city matching funds, especially if those funds have not been allocated in the city’s budget, the administration needs council approval to apply.

Accepting a grant always comes with conditions; sometimes those are financial, and sometimes they are policy. For example, grants for historical renovations frequently ties the recipient’s hands in some management aspects for decades. Each city needs to find the balance between recognizing council’s policy and budget roles with the need for the administration to move quickly on some applications.

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Reviewed: September 2020

The mayor pro tem retains all the rights and responsibilities of a councilmember, including the right to vote on council business.

Here are the legal authorities for this issue:

  • RCW 35.27.160 provides, in relevant part: “A mayor pro tempore may be chosen by the council for a specified period of time, not to exceed six months, to act as the mayor in the absence of the mayor.”
  • RCW 35.27.280 provides, in part, that “a majority of the councilmembers shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business”. This statute also references the authority for the council to appoint a “president pro tempore” (mayor pro tem) to run a council meeting in the absence of the mayor.

A councilmember does not cease being a councilmember by virtue of undertaking the additional duties of pro tem to conduct a meeting in the absence of the mayor.

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Reviewed: August 2020

City councils are required to keep minutes pursuant to RCW 42.30.035:

The minutes of all regular and special meetings except executive sessions of such boards, commissions, agencies or authorities shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection.

State law does not impose any additional requirements, so individual cities typically adopt rules or procedures regarding meeting minutes. Meeting minutes are usually approved by the city council. If a councilmember wants to make a change to minutes that have been previously approved, he or she should bring a motion to amend the minutes at a council meeting. The council would decide whether or not to approve the motion.

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Reviewed: August 2020

Here is an excerpt on calling the question from our Parliamentary Procedures webpage, which summarizes Robert’s Rules of Order:

  • Previous question or close debate. Used to bring the body to an immediate vote. It closes debate and stops further amendment. Contrary to some misconceptions, the majority decides when enough discussion has occurred, not the moderator. The formal motion is to "call for the question" or "call for the previous question," or simply, "I move to close debate." The motion requires a second, is not debatable and requires a two-thirds majority.

In addition, Ann Macfarlane on her Jurassic Parliament webpage has a nice summary of how to call the question (as well as how not to). And finally, Robert’s Rules has an FAQ on “calling the question” (a.k.a. “previous question”)—see FAQ #11.

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Reviewed: July 2020

Vacancies are addressed in RCW 42.12.070. Subsection (6) addresses the timing of when the person elected in November 2019 takes office:

  • As provided in chapter 29A.24 RCW, each person who is appointed shall serve until a qualified person is elected at the next election at which a member of the governing body normally would be elected. The person elected shall take office immediately and serve the remainder of the unexpired term.

So yes, when an appointed position is up for election, the winner of the election serves two terms—a short term (from election certification to the end of the year) and then the unexpired two-year term (starting on January 1). Here is the language from RCW 29A.24.020:

  • If at the same election there are short terms or full terms and unexpired terms of office to be filled, the filing officer shall distinguish them and designate the short term, the full term, and the unexpired term, as such, or by use of the words "short term," "unexpired two year term," or "four year term," as the case may be.
  • When both a short term and a full term for the same position are scheduled to be voted upon, or when a short term is created after the close of the filing period, a single declaration of candidacy accompanied by a single filing fee shall be construed as a filing for both the short term and the full term and the name of such candidate shall appear upon the ballot for the position sought with the designation "short term and full term." The candidate elected to both such terms shall be sworn into and assume office for the short term as soon as the election returns have been certified and shall again be sworn into office for the full term. [emphasis added]

As this language indicates, the election winner should be sworn in twice, once for the short term and once for the unexpired two-year term.

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Reviewed: May 2020

The authority to contract for the town is given to the town council. See RCW 35.27.370(2). The authority applies to any contract, whether it is for software, machinery, supplies, professional services and public works. The mayor only has authority to contract on the town’s behalf if the council has delegated that authority. Sometimes councils will, for example, delegate authority for the mayor to contract up to a stated dollar amount, such as up to $10,000, if there is money available and the purchase is consistent with the budget. Unless there has been a delegation, the mayor has no authority to contract.

It does not matter how long the contract is for. If a contract is involved, the council must approve it, that is, unless the council has delegated contracting authority to the mayor. We recommend looking at your local code or ordinances to determine if contracting authority has been delegated, and under what circumstances.

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Reviewed: April 2020

There is not a specific process that must be used. Although there are two statutes that deal with the elected position of mayor---RCW 35A.12.010 and 35A.12.100---neither specify whether the position is a part-time or a full-time position. That issue may be more of a function of the salary the city provides for the office than anything else. Most cities in the state operate under the mayor-council plan of government and, by far, most of those have a part-time rather than a full-time mayor. While the mayor, if he or she is paid at all, will typically be paid more than a councilmember, most salaries are quite small and likely do not provide a “living wage.” Nevertheless, if a person holding the position wanted to act in a full-time capacity, he or she could do so, regardless of the salary for the position.

Some cities, however, have decided that they want to have a full-time mayor and have set the salary for the mayor at a level high enough to allow the office holder to work full-time in the position. When making the mayor’s salary high enough to permit full-time work by the office holder, the council will likely adopt a provision requiring the office holder to work full time: here is sample language from Lynnwood:

2.10.020 Full-time position. The position of mayor shall hereafter be a full-time position such that the mayor shall not accept or hold employment which will prevent the mayor from being available at the city offices during the hours that the city offices are open to the public or which would prevent the mayor from regularly attending council meetings and such additional evening meetings as may from time-to-time be required.

Making the office full-time does not require a vote by the public. The position could be made full-time at any time, although there might be reason to change the nature of the position when it is next up for election. We mention this because there may be a larger pool of interested persons in the office, if the position is full-time and more highly paid. Since the mayor does not vote on the salary for the mayor’s office, the salary for the position could be increased at any time.

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Reviewed: March 2020

The mayor is not counted as part of the quorum since the mayor in a mayor-council code city is not a member of the legislative body. See RCW 35A.12.100 (mayor is chief executive and administrative officer of the city). And RCW 35A.12.120 provides, in relevant part:

At all meetings of the council a majority of the councilmembers shall constitute a quorum for the transaction of business…

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Reviewed: March 2020

RCW 10.93.130 allows local law enforcement agencies to contract with any other law enforcement agency to provide mutual law enforcement assistance via an interlocal agreement as provided for by RCW 39.34. This would include contracting with another city’s police department (even if that city is located in another county) for the provision of law enforcement services. For example, see this agreement that the city of Carnation has with the larger city of Duvall for Duvall to provide law enforcement services to Carnation.

You can also look on our Interlocal Cooperation in Law Enforcement page for more information and examples of such agreements between jurisdictions.

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Reviewed: February 2020

For a mayor-council code city, state law gives the city council the authority “to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees.” Although the city council could delegate the authority to the mayor, state laws give the authority to approve job descriptions to the city council.

RCW 35A.11.020 provides in relevant part:

The legislative body of each code city shall have power to organize and regulate its internal affairs within the provisions of this title and its charter, if any; and to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees. [emphasis added]

RCW 35A.12.090 provides, in part:

All appointments of city officers and employees shall be made on the basis of ability and training or experience of the appointees in the duties they are to perform, from among persons having such qualifications as may be prescribed by ordinance or by charter. [emphasis added]

If the city wants to give the mayor more authority in modifying job descriptions, one option is for the council to set the job description “qualifications” in a manner that is rather broadly defined and then leave it to the mayor to develop position descriptions that are consistent with those qualifications.

Practically, both the council and the mayor have an important role in establishing position descriptions, but the council has the authority to define the job descriptions and the mayor has the ultimate authority over who will be hired or terminated.

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Reviewed: January 2020

Although the statutes are not entirely clear, MRSC’s legal consultants have taken the position that the mayor can vote to break a tie vote of the council to fill a vacant council position.

RCW 42.12.070 provides that it is the governing body that makes the appointment, not the mayor. RCW 42.12.070(1) states that:

Where one position is vacant, the remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to fill the vacant position.

We think that under RCW 42.12.070 (see above) the mayor may not vote initially on filling the vacancy since such votes are limited to members of the city council itself. However, if there is a tie in the votes of the councilmembers, the mayor may exercise their tie-breaking authority and break the tie vote.

The mayor’s authority to break a tie vote is set forth in RCW 35A.12.100, which provides in part:

The mayor shall preside over all meetings of the city council, when present, but shall have a vote only in the case of a tie in the votes of the councilmembers with respect to matters other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . . The mayor shall have the power to veto ordinances passed by the council and submitted to him or her as provided in RCW 35A.12.130 but such veto may be overridden by the vote of a majority of all councilmembers plus one more vote.

Filling a vacancy is a “matter other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of a franchise, or any resolution for the payment of money. . . .” So, we think that the mayor could break a tie vote to fill a vacant position on council.

There is a contrary position, based on the legislative history of RCW 42.12.070 and Chapter 35A.12 RCW, that the mayor plays no role in the process of filling a vacancy on a council and that the general grant of tie-breaking authority in RCW 35A.12.100 does not control in the specific process outlined in RCW 42.12.070. This argument is based on a 1994 statutory amendment (1994 c 223 § 1), which removed any reference to the mayor. Prior to the 1994 amendment, RCW 35A.12.050 specifically provided that:

If, after thirty days have passed since the occurrence of a vacancy, the council are unable to agree upon a person to be appointed to fill a vacancy in the council, the mayor may make the appointment from among the persons nominated by members of the council. [Repealed in 1994].

The 1994 amendment removed this language, and instead cross-referenced the procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW for filling a vacancy. The procedure in chapter 42.12 RCW does not specifically reference the mayor.

Because there has been no caselaw or attorney general opinions on this point, reasonable legal minds can disagree, and we defer to the legal advice of the agency attorney.

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Reviewed: December 2019

The short answer is no. RCW 42.30.060 states, in relevant part:

No governing body of a public agency shall adopt any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order, or directive, except in a meeting open to the public and then only at a meeting, the date of which is fixed by law or rule, or at a meeting of which notice has been given according to the provisions of this chapter. Any action taken at meetings failing to comply with the provisions of this subsection shall be null and void.

The Open Public Meetings Act allows for executive sessions only in certain circumstances as set forth at RCW 42.30.110. You’ll see that the governing body may do such things as “consider”, “discuss”, and “evaluate.” Final action, such as adopting a resolution, must be done in an open public meeting.

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Reviewed: December 2019

For many offices, Article 11, Section 8 of the Washington Constitution prohibits elected officials from raising their own salary after their election and during their term of office. This prohibition on salary increases, however, applies only to officials who set their own salary, such as city councilmembers. See Const. art XXX, § 1. See also AGO Opinion, 1999, No. 1. Consequently, a salary increase for an elected official who does not set his or her own compensation, such as the mayor, may occur at any time.

If there was a tie vote in the council, normally the mayor could break the tie. However, if it is a tie vote as to raising the mayor’s salary, while in that instance the mayor could break the tie, he or she would not be able to take the new, higher salary until the next term of office. But, generally, if the council increases the mayor’s salary, the new salary can go into effect immediately.

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Reviewed: October 2019

Yes. Councilmembers may waive or refuse a salary from the city. Such a waiver would be voluntary and should be made in accordance with an existing city policy and in writing. A waiver can be done but, as described below, the enforceability of such a waiver could be an issue. Article XI, Section 8 of the Washington Constitution prohibits a city or town council from increasing or diminishing the salary of a councilmember after her/his election or during her/his term of office. Article XI, Section 8 provides (emphasis added):

The salary of any county, city, town, or municipal officers shall not be increased except as provided in section 1 of Article XXX or diminished after his election, or during his term of office; nor shall the term of any such officer be extended beyond the period for which he is elected or appointed.

Section 1 of Article XXX referenced in Article 11, Section 8 provides that elected county, town, city, or municipal officers who do not fix their own compensation can have their salaries increased during their terms of office.

Consistent with these provisions, a councilmember can voluntarily choose to waive, refuse, or donate a portion (or all) of the salary that has been established for the position. For example, a councilmember could agree, in writing, to waive the official salary, or a portion of it, so that she/he would actually be paid a lesser amount than the official salary. This fact pattern would not violate Article XI, Section 8 because the official salary would not be decreased or diminished after the election or during the term of office. A related issue is whether waiving or refusing a salary would have federal payroll tax implications. A councilmember can likely decide whether to receive or forego his/her compensation. We think that if a councilmember receives her/his salary, in whole or in part, and then donates the funds back to the city then there would be payroll tax implications for the salary received. However, if the councilmember voluntarily chooses not to receive all or a portion of the salary, there would not be payroll tax implications for the salary not received by the councilmember.

We have previously provided guidance that it would be beneficial for a city or town council to enact an ordinance to make clear to current and future councilmembers that there is a local policy that allows them to waive all or a portion of their salary. Such an ordinance would also set forth the way a councilmember may do so. It’s unclear, however, how much protection this would provide if a councilmember who initially agreed to waive her/his compensation later changed her/his mind and demanded back payment for what was waived. If there is a written agreement between the municipality and a councilmember providing that the councilmember is voluntarily and irrevocably waiving all or a specified portion of her/his compensation, it reduces the risk that councilmembers will later change their minds.

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Reviewed: September 2019

The short answer is generally no—a resolution does not need to be published to become official and it becomes effective immediately. We have a helpful publication Local Ordinances for Washington Cities and Counties which explains the difference between resolutions and ordinances. See the introduction at pp. 1-2.

The general publication requirements for ordinances are summarized on p. 26. While all ordinances must be published in a town, the same is not true for resolutions (again, unless a specific statute includes publication requirements).

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Reviewed: October 2017

In general, use of city facilities in support of a political candidate is prohibited under RCW 42.17A.555. However, under RCW 42.17A.555(3), activities that are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency are permissible.

Accordingly, it is permissible for the city to host in a city facility a “neutral forum” for candidates for elective office to speak and answer questions from the public. The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has taken the position that a public agency may, under RCW 42.17A.555, allow its meeting facilities to be used for a neutral forum with respect to a ballot measure or a campaign for elected office, with equal opportunity for both sides of the measure to present their views or for candidates to present themselves to the public. See the PDC’s Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns (revised May 22, 2013). See also PDC Declaratory Order No. 13, “Use of City Facilities to Broadcast Candidate Forum”; and AGO 1979 No. 3 (“The facilities of a state college or university may be used for a candidates' forum to which candidates for elective office would be invited on a nondiscriminatory basis to appear on campus to present their views and respond to questions from the audience . . . .”).

According to the PDC’s Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns, the following are permitted uses of public agency facilities:

  • Agency meeting facilities, including audio visual equipment, may be used by campaign committees for activities on the same terms and conditions available to other community groups, subject to the provisions of the agency’s policy.

  • Use of agency meeting facilities is permitted when the facility is merely a “neutral forum” where the activity is taking place, and the public agency in charge of the facility is not actively endorsing or supporting the activity that is occurring.

According to the PDC, here are the factors it considers when determining if the use of agency meeting facilities are the “normal and regular conduct” of the agency and therefore permissible:

  • Can community groups typically use agency facilities?
  • Are facilities made available to all groups on the same terms?
  • Has the agency adopted a policy regarding the distribution of campaign materials on agency property?
  • Is the meeting facility customarily made available on an equal access, nondiscriminatory basis for a variety of uses?

With these considerations in mind, to comply with RCW 42.17A.555, it will be important to invite all declared candidates for the particular state offices to the event. It will also be important to make sure all candidates who attend have an equal opportunity to participate.

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