You’ve Been Elected: Now What?
Congratulations! You’ve been elected. The public wants to hear more about your proposals and how you will handle some of the problems that need attention. But where do you start? This blog reviews a few steps that will need to be taken before a newly-elected candidate can officially take office and offers some links to resources that may be helpful in getting ready for the challenges you may face.
Certifying the Vote and Posting the Bond
Once ballots have been cast and counted, the county canvassing board must certify the vote and send the results to the Secretary of State. Certification occurs on the fourth Tuesday following the November general election. (In 2021 the election results will be certified November 23.) Once this is done, a certificate of election will be given to each winning candidate, stating that they are — or soon will be — an elected official.
Is there anything else that must be done? Armed with a certificate of election, the officer-elect must become “qualified” to assume office. Qualification requires that the votes have been certified, an election certificate issued, any required bond posted, and the oath of office given. Obtaining a bond should be easy. Contact your jurisdiction’s clerk to verify your bond has been posted. The cost of the bond is paid for by the jurisdiction (RCW 42.28.040).
Taking the Oath of Office
There is a timetable for taking the oath of office. It can be taken on the first day of the new term, January 1, though that date may not always be convenient for either the jurisdiction or the winning candidate. Recognizing that, state law also allows the oath to be given at other times: at the last meeting of the board or council before the winner is to take office or up to 10 days prior to the date scheduled for taking office (RCW 29A.60.280).
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spin on what is otherwise a routine, post-election matter. Some jurisdictions may be planning to administer the oath in person while others may choose a different route. Taking the Oath of Office During a Pandemic offers some options as well as questions for local governments to consider.
For most candidates successfully elected to serve in a position, their new term as an elected official begins January 1. However, if the position has been vacant and the candidate who won the election was appointed to fill the position, then that person can be sworn in for a “short term” immediately after the votes have been certified. (The short term begins when the votes are certified and ends when the new, full term begins on January 1.) Thereafter the person who won the election will be sworn in again for a new full term.
What happens if, for some reason, a winning candidate cannot or does not take the oath of office until a later date? In that situation, the predecessor outgoing elected official continues in office (i.e., holds over) until the newly elected person becomes qualified to take office. Until the new officer is qualified, the person holding over continues to have authority to carry out the duties of the office.
Training for Elected Officials
Since 2014, elected and appointed officials in Washington State have been required to obtain training on open government. This training on the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) is required by RCW 42.30.205 and the training on the Public Records Act (PRA) is required by RCW 42.56.150.
PRA and OPMA training must be completed within 90 days following the date an individual takes the oath of office or, if no oath is required, within 90 days of assuming the duties of the office. Thereafter, training is required every four years.
While open government training is required, even if it wasn’t, knowledge of these laws is important. The public expects that their elected officials will follow the law, and violations of these laws can result in large legal bills, penalties, and the delay of important actions. There often are courses provided on open government throughout the year and e-learning courses are available online, free of charge. See, for example, PRA and OPMA E-Learning Courses sponsored by MRSC and the Association of Washington Cities (AWC), or the open government training offered by the state Attorney General’s Office.
Additionally, AWC, the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), and the Washington Association of County Officials (WACO) also offer resources specifically for newly elected city and county officials. For example, AWC will offer Elected Officials Essentials training for city officials on December 4, 2021, and WACO’s website has a large cache of open public meeting and public disclosure resources.
While it is one thing to satisfy the requirements listed above, there may still be much the newly elected official will want to know to be effective in their position. Luckily, there are resources available to review for a better understanding of the various elected offices and the jurisdictions these serve. If you want to get a better understanding of your own jurisdiction, here are a few suggested steps:
- Review and become familiar with your jurisdiction’s municipal code, how it is constructed, and what information is included.
- Review any organizational chart that may exist and the job descriptions of the jurisdiction’s workers. If your jurisdiction has unionized workers, review the contracts it has with each union.
- Review personnel policies.
- Review the jurisdiction’s comprehensive plan.
- Review the budget for the current year.
MRSC has publications on a variety of topics but here are a few that can help to orient newly elected (and returning) officials:
- Knowing the Territory - Basic Legal Guidelines for Washington City, County, and Special District Officials
- Open Public Meetings Act: How it Applies to Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts
- Public Records Act for Washington Cities, Counties, and Special Purpose Districts
- Initiative and Referendum Guide for Washington Cities and Charter Counties
Additionally, here are some agency-specific MRSC guides that may help:
- County Commissioner Guide
- Mayor and Councilmember Handbook
- Revenue Guide for Washington Cities and Towns
- Revenue Guide for Washington Counties
Finally, MRSC Insight offers quick, easy-to-read blogs on a variety of topics that speak directly to Administrative and Elected Officials.
Of course, MRSC has consultants available to help answer the questions you may have on finance, legal issues, planning, public works, and public policy. Contact us anytime.
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.