Section 2:
Olympia City Council - General Powers and Responsibilities

2.1 Overview

Fundamentally, the powers of the City Council are to be utilized for the good of the community and its residents; to provide for the health, safety and general welfare of the citizenry. Accordingly, the City of Olympia values personal honesty and integrity, open and accessible government, fiscal responsibility, fair treatment of individuals and a customer service emphasis in our organization.

It is important to note that the Council acts as a body. No member has any extraordinary powers beyond those of other members. While the Mayor has some additional ceremonial and presiding officer responsibilities as described below, when it comes to establishing policies, voting, and in other significant areas, all members are equal.

Policy is established by at least a majority vote of the Council. While individual members may disagree with decisions of the majority, a decision of the majority does bind the Council to a course of action. Councilmembers should respect adopted Council policy.

It is the City Manager’s responsibility to ensure the policy of the Council is enacted. Actions of staff to pursue the policy direction established by a majority of Council do not reflect any bias against Councilmembers who held a minority opinion on an issue.

2.1.a Affirmation of Council Expectations

Adopted: May 21, 2013

The City Council will adjust and modify operating procedures and guidelines to respond to evolving needs. The Council seeks to establish commonly held expectations and to clarify roles and procedures to further Council and staff effectiveness. Council retreats generally include efforts to affirm and establish practices and rules of engagement. The City’s Administrative Guidelines work in concert with the Council Guidebook and a lengthy set of regulations to guide appropriate actions. These various initiatives must not suppress the dynamic engagement which is so valuable to policy development.

Central to an understanding of the role of Councilmembers is a confirmation of an appropriate relationship with staff. Members of the City Council must not intrude into those areas that are exclusively 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.

In addition, the City Council is committed to a set of internal behaviors, intended to create a high level of trust, creativity, and productivity. These include:

1. Staying focused on top priority goals.

2. Engaging in proactive, on-going communication and working to ensure all members are fully informed about planned actions or items.

3. Seeking common ground and coming together.

4. Focusing on others’ actions and assuming their good intentions.

5. Building trust by being transparent, ethical, and acting with integrity.

6. Engaging in and encouraging direct communication.

7. Taking initiative to maintain good working relationships.

8. Respecting all citizens and all members.

9. Remaining realistic.

This set of behavioral expectations is extended to include the actions of its members when they are representing the City in other venues, such as interjurisdictional assignments and coordinating bodies.

For all Councilmembers, when participating in Council meetings, including Council Committee meetings:

1. All views are welcomed, helping the group consider options outside its ordinary range of thought.

2. Each Councilmember has equal responsibility and ownership in the operation and outcomes of Council meetings.

3. Everyone speaks with courtesy and respect, even when laboring under heartfelt emotion.

4. Members may argue their views strongly during discussion, but once a decision is made, the minority accepts the majority decision as the decision of the body.

5. Members are curious and transparent - they ask rather than assume.

6. Decisions to shift the group’s purposes are explicit and consensual.

7. Members will make overt agreements about how they want to communicate or deliberate. If such agreements are not supporting the Council’s purpose, members will work together to revise them.

For the Mayor, Mayor Pro Tem, or other facilitator of a City Council or a Council Committee meeting:

The individual -

1. Will collaborate with participants in order to foster shared responsibility for the conversation and to build understanding and trust between all participants.

2. Will foster clarity about each agenda item’s purpose.

3. Functions as the servant of the group, takes cues from the group, and turns to the group when tough decisions need to be made.

4. Will segregate meeting facilitation from advocacy - explicitly acknowledging when changing between these important roles.

5. When intervening within Council deliberations, the purpose is to:

a. Be legitimate. The Mayor’s or facilitator’s authority is rooted in the group’s acceptance of their role.

b. Be positive and compassionate. Avoid judgment or shaming; assume good intentions; suggest alternative approaches.

c. When there is an infraction, be helpful. Lead the group to understanding and offer appropriate means of resolution.

d. Always attend to the wellbeing of the group and its members, and support progress toward achieving its purposes.

e. The full Council is the best resource for addressing group process dilemmas. The Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem can serve the Council by asking for input from the group.

2.2 Council Non-Participation in Administration

The City Council is the legislative branch of Olympia City Government, and the City Manager and his/her staff is the executive/administrative branch. In order to uphold the integrity of the council-manager form of government, and to provide proper checks and balances, members of the City Council refrain from becoming directly involved in the administrative activities of the City. RCW 35A.13.120 specifically prohibits interference by Councilmembers in the city’s administrative service, including the hiring, firing, and work of city staff, with the exception of the City Manager.

Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council should deal with City staff solely through the City Manager, and neither the Council nor any committee member shall give orders to any staff member without the City Manager’s authorization. The City Manager may choose to establish formal or informal norms for routine Council-staff interaction and staff support of Council committees. In addition, Council can fully and freely discuss with the City Manager in open session anything pertaining to appointments and removals of City officers and employees and City affairs.

2.3 Council Non-Participation in Judicial Matters

The City has a separately elected Judge. The City Manager, staff and Council may not interfere with judicial processes or decisions. Furthermore, the City Council has no policy direction over judicial matters.

2.4 Role of Councilmembers

Members of the Olympia City Council are collectively responsible for establishing policy, adopting an annual budget, providing vision and goals, and hiring and supervising the City Manager. The following outline is a brief description of the various duties of Councilmembers. The description is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather it is an effort to summarize the primary responsibilities of the Council.


Summary of Council duties and responsibilities as provided in, but not limited to, the Washington Administrative Code (WAC), the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) and the Olympia Municipal code (OMC).

1. Establish Policy

a. Adopt goals and objectives

b. Establish priorities for public services

c. Approve and/or amend the operating and capital budgets

d. Approve intergovernmental agreements and certain contracts

e. Adopt resolutions

2. Enact Local Laws

a. Adopt ordinances

3. Supervise Appointed Officials

a. Appoint City Manager, Police Auditor and Hearings Examiner

b. Evaluate performance of City Manager

c. Establish advisory boards and commissions

d. Make appointments to advisory bodies

e. Provide direction to advisory bodies

4. Decide annually which Councilmembers will serve on outside boards, councils, commissions or committees.

5. Call Special Elections when necessary


Summary of implied or traditional Council duties and responsibilities

6. Provide Public Leadership

a. Relate wishes of constituents to promote representative governance

b. Mediate conflicting interests while building a consensus

c. Communicate the City’s vision and goals to constituents

d. Represent the City’s interest at regional, county, state, and federal levels

7. Decision-Making

a. Study problems

b. Review alternatives

c. Determine best course of public policy

2.5 Council Committees

The Olympia City Council has established three (3) standing committees by City ordinance (OMC 02.06.010):

•    Finance Committee

•    General Government Committee

•    Land Use and Environment Committee

Each Council committee has three members.

Committee members are selected by the City Council at its annual goal-setting retreat and the appointments are ratified by Council at a regular business meeting. Also at its annual retreat, the Council selects a Chair for each committee.

Council Ad Hoc Committees will be created by vote of the City Council and consistent with Robert’s Rules of Order.

2.6 Committee Meetings and Agendas

Each committee shall set a regular meeting date at its first meeting of the year following the confirmation of member appointments for that year. The committee chair or a majority of the committee may cancel a regular meeting or schedule a special meeting of the committee.

A draft work plan, including tentative schedule, is developed by the Committee at its first meeting of the year. The work plan is based on referred items carried over from the prior year, plus committee member and staff knowledge of emerging issues/policies. The draft work plan is forwarded to the full Council for review and approval as a Consent Calendar item.

During the year, items are added to the work plan as a result of referrals from the Council’s retreat or by concurrence with a referral request by a majority of Councilmembers at a Council meeting. Written requests for a referral to a committee may be made by the Mayor, individual Councilmembers, or the City Manager.

Throughout the year, a council majority may refer an item to a committee agenda during the regular meeting. Afterwards, the staff liaison will consult with the committee chair to determine when this referral can be added to the committee’s current work plan. Due to time constraints and/or heavy workloads, the committee chair may decide the item should be added to the committee work plan for the next year. In this case, if a majority of Councilmembers still feel the item should go to the committee in the current year, they may request the committee chair add an extra meeting to the committee agenda.

2.7 Committee Recommendations

Council committee recommendations will be presented to the full Council by the respective Committee Chair. Usually, the committee chair will report the committee’s findings during member reports at the Council meeting, or findings may appear as an action item on the consent calendar. If an item does not have a unanimous recommendation from the committee, it shall not be placed on the Council’s consent calendar. A Council committee chair may request that a specific item from the committee be placed on the Council’s agenda as an “Other Business” item, even if committee support is unanimous. When a committee recommendation is forwarded to the Council for action, the staff (transmittal) report will include an explanation from the committee chair of the Committee’s rationale for its recommendations. The rationale will be presented in a designated area on the transmittal (“staff”) report.

2.8 Non-Committee Member Attendance at Council Committee Meetings

There are implications toward the Open Public Meetings Act when four City Councilmembers are present at a committee meeting. Therefore, if a Councilmember who is not a member of the committee wishes to attend a meeting of that committee, s/he should notify the committee’s chair no later than the Wednesday prior to the committee meeting date so that the meeting can be noticed appropriately.

Councilmembers are welcome to attend and observe, but they cannot act as a voting member. All Council committee meetings are intended to be meetings of the committee, even if Councilmembers not assigned to the committee are in attendance. Council committee meetings will be chaired by a member of the committee, and Councilmembers will respect the role of the committee.

2.9 Representation on Interlocal and Community Boards by Councilmembers

The City of Olympia has a number of interagency agreements which require representation by a member of the Olympia City Council on that agency’s board (such as LOTT Alliance, Animal Services, etc). In addition, other community boards, councils, commissions, or committees often request City Council representation on their board (such as the Visitor and Convention Bureau, Economic Development Council, etc). This type of representation facilitates communication and provides interaction with other governmental bodies and community agencies. The City Council appoints members to some of these groups on an as-needed or as-requested basis.

Membership appointment to these groups is made after each Council election by consensus of the Council at its annual goal setting retreat and ratified by Council at a subsequent business meeting. If more than one Councilmember desires to serve as a member of a particular outside group, the member for that group will be appointed by a majority vote of the Council.

Where applicable, the Council will appoint an alternate to attend outside boards, councils, commissions, or committees in the event the main delegate to such group is unable to attend. The main delegate should notify the alternate as soon as possible after the main delegate realizes they will be unable to attend an upcoming meeting of the outside group.

Councilmembers participating in policy discussions at board meetings will represent the consensus of the Council. Personal positions will be identified and not represented as the position of the City. Councilmembers are responsible for reporting inter-agency actions and positions to the full Council. Time for such reports is regularly scheduled on the Council meeting agenda.

Assignment and direction of staff in relation to regional meetings are at the discretion of the City Manager.

2.10 Role of Mayor

Olympia Municipal Code (OMC) 02.04.060 establishes the following role and powers of the Mayor, which are also consistent with State law (RCW 35A.13.030). “The chair of the council shall have the title of mayor and shall preside at meetings of the council. In addition to the powers conferred upon him or her as mayor, he or she shall continue to have all the rights, privileges, and immunities of a member of the council. The mayor shall be recognized as the head of the City for ceremonial purposes.”

The term of the office of Mayor shall be four years to run concurrently with the term for Position One of the Council.

In Olympia, the Mayor votes on all items before the City Council in the same manner as the other members of the Council.

2.10.a. Mayoral Proclamations.

The Council has authorized the Mayor 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 the same at the next scheduled meeting.

2.11 Absence of Mayor and Councilmembers/Forfeiture of Office

The Mayor Pro Tem shall serve in the absence of the Mayor. In the absence of both the Mayor and the Mayor Pro Tem, the council shall, by majority vote, elect a chairperson to preside over the meeting(s) of the council.

Per OMC 2.04.040, “In the event of the extended excused absence or disability of a Councilmember, the remaining members by majority vote may appoint a Councilmember pro tempore to serve during his/her absence or disability.”

Per OMC 2.04.030 (Forfeiture of Office), “A Councilmember shall forfeit his/her office if he/she is absent for three consecutive regular meetings of the council without being excused by the council, or if he/she ceases to have the qualifications prescribed for such office by law or ordinance, or is he/she is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude or an offense involving a violation of his/her oath of office.”

2.12 Mayor ProTem

The Council can appoint a Mayor ProTem annually at its first business meeting of the year or at another time as the Council deems appropriate.

2.13 Personnel Appointments

The City Council is responsible for appointing three positions: the City Manager, Police Auditor and Hearings Examiner.

The City Manager serves the Council and is responsible for all personnel within the city organization.

The Police Auditor is an independent contractor, who, on behalf of the City Council, reviews completed internal investigations of complaints about police personnel to determine if they were conducted in a thorough, fair and impartial manner, and in keeping with accepted investigatory standards. [The City of Olympia has not hired a Police Auditor since 2010.]

The Hearing Examiner is responsible for hearing appeals of administrative decisions rendered by the City’s employees and for reviewing certain development review applications as required by the Unified Land Development Code. The Hearing Examiner is an independent contractor appointed by the City Council to hear such cases and render decisions in a quasi-judicial manner.

All other City officers and personnel, including the City Attorney, are appointed by and report to the City Manager.

2.13a. City Manager Performance Review.

The City Council shall meet annually in December with the City Manager to review performance and establish priority expectations for the coming year. The City Council shall also meet mid-year in June with the City Manager to review performance. The meetings shall be held in Executive Session scheduled according to the Council’s Agenda Scheduling procedures.

2.14 Incompatibility of Offices

There are certain restrictions on a Councilmember holding any other public office or employment within city government. RCW 35A.12.030 provides that a mayor or Councilmember cannot hold other public office or employment within city government unless permitted under the code of ethics for municipal officers, 42.23 RCW or other statute. RCW.11.110 permits Councilmembers to serve as volunteer firefighters or reserve law enforcement if authorized by resolution passed by a two-thirds vote of the full council.

2.15 Emergency Response

OMC 02.04.080 gives the Mayor power to proclaim a civil emergency whenever riot, unlawful assembly or insurrection, or the imminent threat thereof, occur in the city and result in, or threaten to result in, the death or injury of persons or the destruction of property to such extent as to require, in the judgment of the mayor, extraordinary measures to protect the public peace, safety and welfare. In addition, OMC 02.04.090 outlines the powers of the Mayor during an emergency.

The City of Olympia has an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). In the case of an emergency, a wing of the main fire station converts into the EOC and EOC staff (a group of trained employees from across departments) will support an Incident Command Structure. The Council in an emergency is one of policy support. The Council has a very limited role in emergency management operations. Please refer to Ordinance 6632 in Appendix A.