Hiring Staff: Roles of Mayor/Manager Versus the City/Town Council
A city or town government does not run on its own; it requires employees to perform the work the public expects and depends on. How and by whom are its employees hired? While the easy answer is that it’s the city or town’s chief executive officer — either the mayor or the city or town manager — who makes the hiring decision, the answer is more complicated than that.
Council Responsibility: Creating and Budgeting for Staff Positions
Although the mayor or manager may make the ultimate hiring decision, the council plays an important role in the process. The first issue to address is whether there even is a position into which a person can be hired, and the role of creating positions is given exclusively to the city or town council. For example, for code cities, RCW 35A.11.020 provides that the council has “the power to organize and regulate its internal affairs…and to define the functions, powers, and duties of its officers and employees.”
The council can create a new position when it prepares the agency’s annual budget or it can do so later, if a need arises, by creating the position and amending the budget. In creating the position, the council will also need to set the wage and benefits (insurance, vacation and sick leave, retirement benefits, etc.) attached to this position. While salary and benefit decisions rest with the council, the mayor or manager may offer recommendations for the council to consider.
Council Responsibility: Hiring Procedures
The council’s role does not necessarily end with the creation of a position and that position’s salary and benefits. The council can — but is not required to — establish a hiring process that a mayor or manager must use when filling a new or vacant position.
If the council does not set up a process, the mayor or manager need not advertise the position nor do anything else other than select someone to fill it. However, a council may wish to establish a hiring process, which might include mandatory advertising of job openings, the setting of minimum qualifications, and a requirement for job applications and interviews, to help ensure the position receives a larger pool of qualified applicants. If the council does create a hiring process, that process will need to be followed by the mayor or manager in making their selection.
Mayor or Manager Responsibility: Hiring Decisions and Appointments
As previously indicated, the decision to hire a person into an open position belongs to the mayor or manager, although sometimes this person will delegate that authority to a department head or other management official.
Whether hiring authority has been delegated or not, ultimately the hiring decision belongs to the chief executive. For example, for towns, RCW 35.27.070 provides:
[a]ll appointive officers and employees shall hold office at the pleasure of the mayor, subject to any applicable law, rule, or regulation relating to civil service, and shall not be subject to confirmation by the town council.
Council Responsibility: Confirmation Authority in Some Circumstances
While the mayor or manager selects a person to fill an open position, sometimes the council will have the ability to review the selection and decide whether to confirm the appointment or not. Not all city or town councils are authorized to confirm appointments, however, and not all positions are eligible for confirmation.
- Town and code city council-manager councils do not have the authority to confirm appointments, with limited exceptions in council-manager cities for municipal judges and advisory committees. See RCW 35.27.070 and RCW 35A.13.080(2).
- Second-class city councils may only confirm appointments of the city attorney, city clerk, or city treasurer (RCW 35.23.021).
- In a mayor-council code city, the council may confirm mayoral appointments if the council has provided by ordinance for confirmation and “qualifications for the office or position have not been established by ordinance or charter provision.” See RCW 35A.12.090.
If a position is subject to council confirmation, the mayor/manager’s appointment is not final unless and until the council confirms the appointee; if the council does not confirm, the mayor or manager must make a new appointment.
Be Aware of Civil Service Requirements and Collective Bargaining Agreements
While the mayor or manager generally has authority to appoint officers and hire employees, that authority may be restricted or made more complicated if a position is covered by civil service or by a collective bargaining agreement. Required civil service rules and collective bargaining agreement procedures must be followed under those circumstances.
Conclusion and Resources
Creating and filling employment positions is a fundamental task for city and town governments, essential to the provision of governmental services, and both the chief executive and the council have important roles in that process.
MRSC’s Hiring Procedures webpage offers an overview of local government hiring procedures and laws, including hiring authority, job descriptions, interview questions, criminal background checks, inclusive hiring practices, hiring records, and more. Below are additional resources.
MRSC Insight Blogs:
- Who's the Boss? Separation of Powers in Local Government
- Knowing Your Roles: City and Town Governments
- Roles and Responsibilities: Questions and Answers
Webpages and Publications:
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.