Section 8:
Communications

8.1 Overview

Perhaps the most fundamental role of a Councilmember is communication:

•    Communication with the public to assess community opinions and needs, and to share the vision and goals of the City with constituents; and

•    Communication with staff to provide policy direction and to gain an understanding of the implications of various policy alternatives.

Because the City Council performs as a body (that is, acting based on the will of the majority as opposed to individuals), it is important that general guidelines be understood when speaking for the Council. Equally important, when members are expressing personal views and not those of the Council, the public should be so advised.

8.2 Local Ballot Measures

At times, initiatives may be placed on the ballots that affect City Council policy. There are restrictions regarding what actions the City may take on ballot measures. Specifically, state statutes prohibit the City from using its personnel, equipment, materials, buildings, or other resources to influence the outcome of elections. What the City can do is distribute informational reports or pamphlets for the purpose of informing the public of the facts of an issue. Please see the Attorney General: Ballot Measures & Campaigns memo in Appendix B for more information.

8.3 Proclamations

The City prepares two types of proclamations, regular and Mayoral. A regular proclamation goes to the full Council and is read aloud. The Council then hands it to a representative from the audience. A Mayoral proclamation is given to the Mayor in his mail box for signature and then it is usually mailed to the organization.

The Mayor is authorized to sign, on behalf of the Council, proclamations which, in the opinion of the Mayor, are non-controversial in nature and which cannot be timely acted upon by the full Council because of its meeting schedule. The Mayor shall sign proclamations only if requested to do so by a member of the Council, including the Mayor, and shall provide the Council with a copy of same at the next scheduled Council meeting.

8.4 Washington Public Disclosure Act

The following is a summary. Please refer to the Public Records Act and Electronic Records Guide and the Public Disclosure Law Interpretation in Appendix B for more information.

To ensure that business communications submitted to and by elected and appointed officials comply with the State Public Record Act, RCW 42.56, and the State Open Public Meetings Act, RCW 42.30, the following is set forth:

Public Records Act

Almost everything we handle is a public record. According to RCW 42.56.010(2), a “public record” is defined to include “Ö any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.”

“Writing” is also defined in the disclosure statues: “Writing means handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostatting, photographing, and every other means of recording any form of communication or representation, including, but not limited to, letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combination thereof, and all papers, maps, magnetic or paper tapes, photographic films and prints, motion picture, film and video recordings, magnetic or punched cards, discs, drums, diskettes, sound records, and other documents including existing data compilations from which information may be obtained or translated (RCW 42.56.010(3)).

8.4.a Electronic Communications

•    As soon as an email hits the server it may be subject to public disclosure.

•    Email is automatically saved in an archive and retained in accordance with State law.

E-mail communications that are intended to be shared among four or more Councilmembers, whether concurrently or serially must be considered in light of the Open Public Meetings Act. Such emails should be restricted to the providing of information such as materials for later review or notice of a potential new agenda item. Responses to such emails should be limited to ensure that Council business is conducted only at its scheduled meetings. Discussion of City business by a majority of the Council should be done at an open meeting.

Councilmembers agree that emails will not be exchanged by Councilmembers during public Council meetings.

E-mail should be used cautiously when seeking legal advice or to discuss matters of pending litigation or other “confidential” City business. In general, e-mail is discoverable in litigation, and even deleted e-mail is not removed from the archive system. Confidential e-mail communications should not be shared with individuals other than the intended recipients, or the attorney-client privilege protecting the document from disclosure may be waived.

Email between Councilmembers and between staff and Councilmembers may be disclosed to the public or news media if a public disclosure request is filed with the City Clerk.

Email on a Councilmember’s private computer pertaining to city business may be considered open to public disclosure.

The City accepts public records requests via email if the request is addressed to cityclerk@ci.olympia.wa.us.

An online form to register and submit a public record request can be found on the City’s website at this link: www.olympiawa.gov/online-services

8.5 Correspondence from Councilmembers

Members of the City Council will often be called upon to write letters to citizens, businesses, or other public agencies. Typically, the Mayor will be charged with transmitting the City’s position on policy matters to outside agencies on behalf of the City Council. Individual members of Council will often prepare letters for constituents in response to inquiries, or to provide requested information. City letterhead is available for this purpose, and staff can assist in the preparation of such correspondence.

8.5.a Response to Emails

If any Councilmember receives an email sent directly to his/her address, s/he is not required to share his/her response with the full Council. However, if s/he would like the full Council to be aware of the response, it is up to him/her to copy to the “citycouncil” email address on that response. However, keep in mind the discussion above on limiting such emails to a one-way exchange of information in light of requirements under the Open Public Meetings Act.

When correspondence is sent to the citycouncil@ci.olympia.wa.us address, the Executive Secretary will generally send the writer an initial reply stating “Thank you for your letter. It has been forwarded to the City Council (and appropriate staff)”. S/he will copy the full Council on that response.

If the Executive Secretary recognizes such letter needs a response (i.e., it asks a specific question) s/he will identify a staff member who will respond. Accordingly, she will name the staff member in the initial response as well as copy that staff member. S/he will then notify the Executive Office Program Specialist, who will record the response task in a database. The Program Specialist will then follow-up two weeks later to make sure staff has responded to the letter. The staff responder should always copy to the “citycouncil” address on the response to close the loop.

If the nature of the letter is only one of opinion, the Executive Secretary will not identify a staff person to respond. If a Councilmember wishes to respond to any letter, it is up to him/her to copy the full Council on the response.

8.5.b Response to Paper Letters

All paper letters (whether addressed to all or one) will be scanned and emailed to the full Council. If the Executive Secretary deems the letter needs a response (i.e., it asks a specific question) s/he will identify a staff member to respond, and follow the same procedure listed above (except s/he will not send an initial response to the sender, and the staff responder should forward a paper copy of his/her response to the Executive Secretary so s/he can forward it to the full Council).

On occasion, members may wish to correspond on an issue on which the Council has yet to take a position, or about an issue for which the Council has no position. In these circumstances, members should clearly indicate that they are not speaking for the City Council as a whole, but for themselves as one member of Council. City letterhead and office support may be utilized in these circumstances.

City letterhead and staff support cannot be utilized for personal or political purposes.

8.6 Posting of Councilmember Information on the City’s Website

Each Councilmember has the opportunity to post a biographical page on the City’s website. Councilmembers will work with the City’s Communications Manager to draft biographical information and a list of Councilmember assignments and areas of focus. The City’s Communications Manager or designee will post, publish, and update each biographical information page once it has been reviewed and approved by the respective Councilmember.

Individual Councilmembers may initiate a request to the full Council to post information on the City’s website. The initiating Councilmember must draft the copy to be posted and present it at the public meeting of the full Council for approval. The City’s Communications Manager or designee will publish the copy after approval by a majority of Councilmembers. The information will be posted on or linked from the individual Councilmember’s biographical page unless otherwise agreed to by the Council. Only information about activities approved by the Council will be considered for posting (e.g., report of attendance by a Councilmember at a City funded or endorsed conference; participation by a Councilmember in a Sister City exchange, etc.). Activities that have been approved by the Council are those activities for which consensus has been reached or a formal motion has been made and passed.

Any posting shall state that “the views and comments expressed in this document represent those of the individual authoring the report and do not represent the views of the City or other City Councilmembers unless otherwise noted.”

The City website will not be used in support of or opposition to a ballot measure or campaign for election of an individual to public office.