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What Can You Do at a Special Meeting?

Special meetings of local governing bodies are called for a specific reason - to do what is stated in the notice of the special meeting.  But can a governing body, say a city council or board of county commissioners, do anything else at a special meeting?

RCW 42.30.080, part of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), states that the notice of a special meeting must specify “the business to be transacted” and that “Final disposition shall not be taken on any other matter at such meetings by the governing body.” This language certainly suggests that the governing body may address other matters  - ones not identified in the special meeting notice - at a special meeting, as long as “final disposition” regarding such matters is not taken.  While I think it’s difficult to argue against such a conclusion, prudence suggests that addressing matters not described in the special meeting notice be done infrequently.  The purpose here is not to be secretive.

Note, however, that some local governments have statutory restrictions regarding what may be done at a special meeting. For example: second class city councils may not pass an ordinance, approve a contract, or provide for the payment of money at a special meeting (RCW 35.23.101); a town council may not pass a resolution or order for the payment of money at a special meeting (RCW 35.27.270); the councils of second class cities, towns, and code cities may not pass a franchise ordinance at a special meeting (RCW 35.23.251; RCW 35.27.330; and RCW 35A.47.040); and a board of county commissions may not pass an admissions tax ordinance at a special meeting (RCW 36.38.030).

If a governing body is holding a special meeting and one of its members requests discussion of a matter not addressed in the meeting notice, it may be advisable for the body to first consider why that matter needs to be addressed at the special meeting.  There may be good reasons to address some matter at a special meeting that was not identified in the meeting notice.  For instance, something in the discussion of “the business to be transacted” may trigger a related matter that may need to be discussed first, or something may have come up since the notice of the special meeting was provided that calls for immediate attention, even if the body cannot take a final vote on that matter.

So, in summary, a governing body may at a special meeting discuss and even take preliminary votes regarding a matter that was not on the notice of the special meeting, but that body may not take final action regarding that matter. I would suggest, however, that a governing body do so infrequently and only after due consideration, given the OPMA’s intent that the public remain informed (see RCW 42.30.010).

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of Bob Meinig

About Bob Meinig

Bob wrote extensively on the state Open Public Meetings Act, municipal incorporation and annexation, and a wide variety of other legal topics. He is now retired.