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Roles of the Mayor/Manager and the City or Town Council 101: Hiring

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, in reality, the answer is more complicated than that. 


Although the mayor or manager may make the ultimate hiring decision, the council nevertheless 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.  The council can create a new position when it prepares the annual budget or can do so later, if a need arises, by creating the position and amending the budget.  And the creation of a position requires a determination of the salary or wage and benefits (insurance, vacation and sick leave, retirement benefits, etc.) attached to the position.  Salary and benefit decisions likewise rest with the council, although the mayor or manager may offer recommendations for the council to consider.


The council’s role does not necessarily end with the creation of a position and the determination of that position’s salary.   The council can---but is not required to---establish a process the mayor or manager must use when filling a new or vacant position.  If the council does nothing, the mayor or manager need not advertise the position nor do anything else other than select someone to fill it.  But 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 assure 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 his or her selection.


As previously indicated, the decision to hire a person into an open position belongs to the mayor or manager, although sometimes the authority will be delegated to a department head or other management official.  Whether hiring authority has been delegated or not, ultimately the hiring decision belongs to the mayor or manager.


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 have the ability 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 at all (RCW 35.27.070; RCW 35A.13.080(2)).  Second class city councils may only confirm appointments of the city attorney, clerk, and 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.”  RCW 35A.12.090.  If a position is subject to council confirmation, the mayor’s appointment is not final unless and until the council confirms the appointee; if the council does not confirm, the mayor must make a new appointment.


(While the mayor or manager generally has authority to appoint officers and hire employees, that authority may be somewhat restricted or 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.)


Creating and filling employment positions is a fundamental task for city and town governments, essential to the provision of governmental services, and both the mayor or manager and the council have important roles in that process.


MRSC has a webpage/article devoted to the hiring process that provides information regarding: job descriptions; interviewing; what questions may or may not be asked; background, reference, medical and credit checks; as well other issues.  See Hiring Procedures.

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 Paul Sullivan

About Paul Sullivan

Paul worked with many local governments and authored numerous MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations in his many years at MRSC. He is now retired.