Section 5:
Interaction with City Staff/ Officials

5.1 Overview

City Council policies are implemented through a dedicated and professional staff. It is critical to understand the Council/staff relationship so that policies and programs may be successfully implemented.

5.2 Council-Manager Plan of Government

The introduction of this guidebook gives a brief overview of the Council-Manager form of government, which is outlined in 35A.13 RCW and 2.04 and 2.08 OMC. The responsibilities and duties of the City Manager include:

•    Generally supervise the administration of the City

•    Appoint and remove department directors and employees

•    Attend all meetings of the Council at which the manager’s attendance is required by Council

•    See that all laws and ordinances are faithfully executed, subject to the authority which the Council may grant the Mayor to maintain law and order in times of emergency

•    Make policy recommendations to the City Council

•    Prepare and submit reports to the Council

•    Keep the Council fully advised of the financial condition of the City and its future needs

•    Prepare and submit to the Council a proposed budget for the fiscal year, and a six year capital facilities plan

•    Perform such other duties as the Council may determine by ordinance or resolution.

5.3 Roles and Information Flow

5.3.a Council Roles

The City Council retains the authority to accept, reject, or amend the staff recommendation on policy matters.

Members of the City Council must not intrude into those areas that are the responsibility of staff. Individual Councilmembers may not intervene in staff decision-making, the development of staff recommendations, scheduling of work, and executing department priorities without the prior knowledge and approval of the City Council as a whole. Individual Councilmembers will refrain from asking City staff to work outside normal hours. This is necessary to keep staff focused on established Council priorities and avoid undue influence and pressure from individual Councilmembers. It also allows staff to execute priorities given by management and the Council as a whole using their best professional judgment without fear of reprisal. If a Councilmember wishes to influence the actions, decisions, recommendations, workload, work schedule, or priorities of staff, that member must prevail upon the Council to do so as a matter of Council policy.

5.3.b Significant Requests

Councilmembers are free to directly contact staff for general information. If the request is significant in nature or initiates any significant project or study the consent of a majority of the Council must be obtained before redirecting work to this new effort. Individual Councilmembers also should not request or direct the City Manager or Department Directors to initiate any significant action or prepare any report that is significant in nature, without majority Council approval. Councilmembers may discuss ideas with the City Manager, and s/he will determine whether or not the request is significant and needs Council direction.

5.3.c Access to Information

The City Manager is the liaison between Council and City staff other than for general information or routine service requests (e.g., potholes). Requests from Councilmembers are to be directed to the City Manager and will be responded to promptly. The information or response will generally be copied to all members of Council so that each member may be equally informed. The equal sharing of information with City Council is one of the City Manager’s highest priorities.

There are limited restrictions regarding when information can and cannot be provided. The City is legally bound not to release certain confidential personnel information. Likewise, certain aspects of police department affairs (i.e., access to restricted or confidential information related to crimes) may not be available to members of the City Council. The City Attorney can advise Councilmembers in these areas.

5.4 City Council/ City Manager Relationship

The employment relationship between the City Council and City Manager recognizes that the City Manager is the chief executive of the City. All dealings with the City Manager, whether in public or private, should acknowledge the authority of the City Manager in administrative matters.

The City Manager must respect and be sensitive to the policy responsibilities of the City Council and acknowledges that the final responsibility for establishing the policy direction of the City is held by the City Council.

5.4.a Administrative Issues

The City Council is to work through the City Manager when dealing with management of the City. In no manner, either directly or indirectly, shall a Councilmember become involved in, or attempt to influence, personnel matters that are under the direction of the City Manager. Nor shall the City Council be involved in, or influence, the purchase of any supplies beyond the requirements of the City procurement code/procedures.

5.4.b Performance Evaluation

The City Council evaluates the City Manager on a bi-annual basis to ensure that both the City Council and City Manager are in agreement about performance and goals based upon mutual trust and common objectives. The City Manager’s performance is evaluated in the areas as mutually agreed by the Council and Manager. (See Section 2.13.a)

5.4.c Code of Ethics

There is a code of ethics for municipal officers found in 42.23 RCW that outlines prohibited acts with respect to contract interests. The City Manager may also be a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and, as such, is subject to a professional code of ethics through that organization. These principles appear in Appendix B of this guidebook. The code binds the City Manager to certain practices that are designed to ensure actions are in support of the City’s best interests. Violations of such principles can result in censure by ICMA.

5.5 City Council/ City Staff Relationship

The primary functions of staff are to execute Council policy and actions and to keep the Council informed. Staff is to take guidance and direction only from the City Manager or Department Director. This direction shall follow the policy guidance of the City Council as a whole.

City Councilmember contact with City staff members, exclusive of the City Manager, will be during regular business hours as much as possible, except in the case of unforeseeable circumstances.

5.5.a Political Involvement

Olympia is a nonpartisan local government. Professional staff formulates recommendations in compliance with Council policy and are not to be influenced by political factors. For this reason, it is very important to understand the restrictions of political involvement of staff.

By working for the City, staff members do not surrender rights to be involved in political activities during their non-working hours. They may register to vote, sign nominating or recall petitions, and they may vote in any election.

There are restrictions against the use of public funds, public property or public facilities to support or oppose ballot propositions or individual candidates. The basic concepts to keep in mind are that public facilities should not be used for campaign purposes, and employees should not promote or oppose a ballot measure or a candidate during work hours.

5.6 City Council/ City Attorney Relationship

The City Attorney is an employee appointed by the City Manager. The City Attorney is the legal advisor for the Council, its committees, commissions and boards, the City Manager, and all City officers and employees with respect to any legal question involving an official duty or any legal matter pertaining to the affairs of the City. The City Attorney supervises other attorneys in the city Attorney’s Office to ensure coverage of the City’s civil and criminal matters and may hire special counsel as necessary. The general legal responsibilities of the City Attorney’s Office are to:

1. Provide legal assistance necessary for formulation and implementation of legislative policies and projects;

2. Represent the City’s interest in criminal prosecution, civil litigation, administrative hearings, negotiations, and similar proceedings;

3. Prepare or approve as to form ordinances, resolutions, contracts, and other legal documents to best reflect and implement the purposes and intentions of the City Council; and

4. Keep City Council and staff apprised of court rulings and legislation affecting the legal interest of the city.

It is important to note that the City Attorney does not represent individual members of Council, but rather the City Council as a whole.