Section 1:
Introduction and Overview

As an Olympia City Councilmember, you establish important and often critical policies for the community. You are also a board member of a public corporation with an annual budget in the millions of dollars. State laws and local ordinances grant the powers and responsibilities of the Council. New Councilmembers learn early on that the scope of services and issues addressed by the city organization go well beyond those frequently reported in the newspaper or discussed at City Council meetings. In addition, the City Council is subject to certain City of Olympia Administrative Guidelines, of which the applicable guidelines are included in Appendix A of this document.

1.1 History of Olympia City Government

Olympia was named the capital city of Washington Territory on November 28, 1853. In 1859, Olympia incorporated as a Town, and the city celebrated its 150th birthday in 2009.

The governing body elected in 1859 was a five-member Board of Trustees; the Office of Mayor was not created until November 11, 1873. At that time, the mayor and six Councilmembers (from three wards) were elected for one-year terms.

On November 16, 1925 the City government was changed to a three-member elected commission composed of the Mayor, Commissioner of Finance, and Commissioner of Public Works. The Commission began with three 3-year terms that were increased to four year terms in 1950.

On May 18, 1982, the voters of Olympia approved the Council-Manager form of government. A new seven member City Council held their first meeting on November 23, 1982. The Mayor was selected by the Councilmembers for a two-year term in January of each even numbered year.

In 1991 the voters approved the selection of the Mayor through election by the citizens, rather than through appointment by the Council. The Mayor is elected to serve a 4-year term.

1.2 Council-Manager Form of Government

Olympia is a non-Charter Code City that has operated under the Council-Manager form of government since 1982. As described in the Olympia Municipal Code (OMC 2.04 and 2.08) and Revised Code of Washington (RCW 35A.13), certain responsibilities are vested in the City Council and the City Manager.

According to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), “under the council-manager form, power is concentrated in the elected council, which hires a professional administrator to implement its policies. This appointee Ö has responsibility for preparing the budget, directing day-to-day operations, hiring and firing personnel, and serving as the council’s chief policy advisor.” The City Council’s role is that of a legislative policy-making body which determines not only the local laws that regulate community life, but also determines what public policy is and gives direction to the City Manager to administer the affairs of the city government in a businesslike and prudent manner.

See Appendix B for more detailed information, including the Washington State Laws defining the council-manager form of government and the ICMA Code of Ethics for City Managers.

1.3 Orientation of New Members

It is important for the members of the City Council to gain an understanding of the full range of services and programs provided by the City. As new members join the City Council, the City Manager and Department heads will host an orientation program that provides an opportunity for members to tour municipal facilities and meet with key staff.

At any time, if there are facilities or programs about which you would like more information, please make arrangements through the City Manager and Department heads to increase your awareness of these operations.

In addition, the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) and the Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC) offer much advice for Councilmembers beyond what is contained in this guidebook (See Appendix B for a list of local government support organizations). AWC hosts a newly elected officials’ orientation training opportunity for new members. In addition, see the MRSC Code City Handbook in Appendix B.

1.4 Overview of Basic City Documents

(Links to each of these documents and others can be found on the City’s website at

1.4.1 Revised Code of Washington (RCW)

Cities in Washington derive their powers from the State, and State laws contain many requirements for the operation of city government and the conduct of City Council business. Olympia is an “optional code city” which means it operates under the general laws of the state. As an optional code city of the State of Washington, Olympia is vested with all the powers of incorporated cities as set forth in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), Constitution of the State of Washington, and Olympia Municipal Code.

1.4.2 Olympia Municipal Code (OMC)

The Olympia Municipal Code (OMC) contains local laws and regulations adopted by City Council ordinance. Title 2 of the OMC addresses the role of the City Council, describes the organization of City Council meetings, responsibilities and appointment of certain city staff positions, advisory boards and commissions.

In addition to these administrative matters, the OMC contains a variety of laws including, but not limited to, zoning standards, health and safety issues, traffic regulations, building standards, and revenue and finance issues.

1.4.3 City Policies

The City Policies are personnel policies approved by the City Manager for City of Olympia employee status, conduct, benefits, personnel actions and remedies. The City Council at prior annual retreats has indicated that the City Policies apply to the City Council, too, as appropriate. Accordingly, City Policies applicable to the City Council are included in Appendix A of this document.

1.4.4 Comprehensive Plan

A comprehensive plan is required by the State of Washington Growth Management Act (GMA), which was adopted in 1994. The Comprehensive Plan is a blueprint for how the City intends to accommodate its share of growth and still be a great place to live. It is reviewed on an ongoing basis, but may only be revised once a year, except as provided by State law. The plan includes goals, policies, maps and other information to guide the City’s vision. The plan is based on four major concepts:

1. Sustainability

2. Accommodating regional growth

3. Good Urban Design

4. Contributing to the goals of the Regional Transportation Plan

Comprehensive Plan amendments may be made to comply with changes in the GMA, better achieve city goals based on new information or circumstances, or consider land use and zoning map amendments. It is the City Council’s decision whether or not to amend the Olympia Comprehensive Plan and the nature of the amendment.

Olympia’s Comprehensive Plan Review Process is coordinated by the City’s Community Planning and Development Department (CP&D). The department, on behalf of the City Council, solicits amendment proposals in the fall of each year for consideration the following year.

In January, the City Council reviews all of the proposals for amendment and identifies the amendments it is willing to consider that year (this is called the Comprehensive Plan Amendment docket). Once established by the City Council, the docket is referred by the Council to the Olympia Planning Commission. The Planning Commission studies and discusses each proposal on the docket and conducts a hearing to receive public comment. Also, City staff conducts and publishes environmental impact reviews, as appropriate, and develops a staff recommendation on each proposal.

The comprehensive plan amendments are considered by the City Council annually in the fall, after Planning Commission and staff review. The City Council considers the proposed amendment, Planning Commission and staff recommendations, the public record and other public testimony. The City Council may schedule a public hearing on the proposed amendments in addition to the Planning Commission hearing.

1.4.5 Shoreline Master Plan/Program (SMP)

The Shoreline Master Program for the Thurston Region is maintained on the website of the Thurston Regional Planning Council ( The document includes Thurston County local jurisdictions’ adopted common goals, policies and development regulations and an inventory of all marine, lake, and river shorelines for the area.

1.4.6 Six-Year Capital Facilities Plan (CFP)

The Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) is a multi-year plan of capital projects, with projected beginning and completion dates, estimated costs, and proposed methods of financing. The Plan is reviewed and updated annually according to the availability of resources, changes in City policy and community needs, unexpected emergencies and events, and changes in cost and financial strategies.

It is important to understand that a multi-year Capital Facilities Plan does not represent a financial commitment. City Council approval DOES NOT automatically authorize funding. It does approve the program in concept and provides validity to the planning process. Appropriations are made in the Capital Budget, which is the first year of the capital program. Projects beyond the current year capital budget should not be viewed as a commitment to fund the project, but instead as an indication that given the information available at the time, the City PLANS to move forward with the project in the future.

1.4.7 Annual Budget

The annual operating budget is the primary tool and road map for accomplishing the goals of the City. The budget document is the result of one of the most important processes the City undertakes. By adopting the annual budget each December, the City Council makes policy decisions, sets priorities, allocates resources, and provides the framework for government operations.

For more information, see the Financing Section.