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General Government: G 4.4000 - Ordinance procedures

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  1. When the city passes an ordinance or amends an ordinance, is it necessary to publish the full ordinance? How many times does it have to be published?

    As an initial matter, when you refer to "publishing" of ordinances we presume you are referring to publishing in the city's official newspaper.

    An ordinance can only be amended by an ordinance so the requirements regarding publishing are the same for an ordinance and an ordinance that amends an ordinance. Regarding publishing of ordinances, for code cities RCW 35A.12.160, in relevant part, provides:

    Promptly after adoption, the text of each ordinance or a summary of the content of each ordinance shall be published at least once in the city's official newspaper.

    For purposes of this section, a summary shall mean a brief description which succinctly describes the main points of the ordinance. Publication of the title of an ordinance authorizing the issuance of bonds, notes, or other evidences of indebtedness shall constitute publication of a summary of that ordinance. When the city publishes a summary, the publication shall include a statement that the full text of the ordinance will be mailed upon request.

    The identical requirement applies to all other city classifications: see RCW 35.22.288 (first class cities); RCW 35.23.221 (second class cities); RCW 35.27.300 (towns). Note that this publication requirement gives the city the option of either publishing the text of each ordinance or a summary of its content.

    Regarding how many times an ordinance must be published, these statutes provide that the city publish, promptly after adoption of each ordinance, the text of the ordinance or a summary of the content of the ordinance "at least once" in the official newspaper of the city.



  2. What is the effective date of ordinances in a code city?

    RCW 35A.12.130 provides that ordinances in mayor-council code cities become effective five days after publication, and RCW 35A.13.190 provides the same for council-manager code cities. Under both these statutes, emergency ordinances - those "necessary for the protection of public health, public safety, public property or the public peace" - can be made effective immediately upon adoption. A code city council can also specifically provide in the ordinance for a delayed effective date.

    However, in code cities that have adopted the powers of initiative and referendum, ordinances cannot, with some exceptions, go into effect until at least 30 days after passage, because they are subject to the filing of a referendum petition during that period. The exceptions to this 30-day requirement are identified in RCW 35A.11.090 and include emergency ordinances that can be made effective immediately, and ordinances authorizing or repealing the levy of taxes, ordinances appropriating money, ordinances initiated by petition, and ordinances providing for the compensation of or working conditions of city employees, all of which would be subject to the five-day rule.



  3. What are the requirements for amending an ordinance in a second class city?

    When amending or revising an ordinance or a section of an ordinance in a secondclass city, the new ordinance must contain "the revised ordinance or the amended section at full length." RCW 35.23.211.



  4. Are cities required to codify their ordinances?

    There is no requirement that cities codify their ordinances. However, many cities have decided that codification is worth the cost, because a properly updated code makes it easier for city officials, employees, and the public to find the local laws. 



  5. May the mayor of a code city vote to break a tie on the passage of an ordinance amending the budget?

    No. The mayor of a code city may not break a tie vote on the passage of an ordinance. The authority of the mayor to vote to break a tie in a code city is limited "to matters other than the passage of any ordinance, grant, or revocation of a franchise or license, or any resolution for the payment of money." RCW 35A.12.100.  In addition, passage of an ordinance requires "the affirmative votes of at least a majority of the whole membership of the council."  A tie vote broken by the mayor could not satisfy that requirement, because the mayor is not a councilmember.



  6. When would vetoed ordinance go into effect, if code city council overrides veto?

    The determination of an ordinance's effective date should probably begin by reference to the date of the council's override of the mayor's veto. RCW 35A.12.140 requires every ordinance be signed by the mayor to be valid. The mayor's signature would be the final act by the city in the enactment of the ordinance and prior to its publication. No ordinance may go into effect until five days after its date of publication, unless otherwise provided. If the council overrides the veto, that would be the final act in the legislative process. If the veto is over-ridden, the ordinance would then be published and would go into effect five days later, assuming that a different effective date was not provided for by the ordinance. (The same answer should apply in a second class city. See RCW 35.23.211).



  7. In a code city, if ordinance is published on Thursday, when does it first become effective?

    On the following Tuesday, in all likelihood. RCW 35A.12.130 provides in part:

    "No ordinance shall take effect until five days after the date of its publication unless otherwise provided by statute or charter."

    When computing time, one must exclude the first day and include the last (unless the last day is a holiday or Sunday, in which case that day or days are also to be excluded).

    Thus, an ordinance would be effective on the first Tuesday following the Thursday publication date, which would be the fifth day after the date of publication, excluding the date of publication. (The date a paper is published is the date shown on the paper as its publication date; this date may differ from the date the paper is actually printed.)



  8. Is an ordinance invalid if not published within a specified time period?

    The state statutes require that ordinances be published "promptly after adoption." Promptly is not defined, and there appears to be some discretion, within reasonable bounds, as to when an ordinance is published.

    If an ordinance is not published "promptly after adoption" the validity of the ordinance may be questioned. Therefore, it would probably be best to repass the ordinance and then publish it in the newspaper if a considerable time period has passed since its adoption.



  9. Do resolutions have to be published in the official newspaper for the city?

    Resolutions do not have to be published in order to be effective as far as state law is concerned. The state statutes only contain a publication requirement for ordinances.



  10. Is there a particular location in the newspaper in which summaries of ordinances must be published?

    The state statutes only require that the ordinance or summary of the ordinance be published in the official newspaper for the city. It does not indicate that the publication must be placed into any particular section of the paper. As long as it is published, it would seem to satisfy the statutory requirements.



  11. Does publication of the title of an ordinance satisfy the requirement of publication of a summary?

    While an ordinance title may on occasion succinctly describe the main points of an ordinance, in many instances it probably would not. Thus, a real summary is usually necessary to satisfy statutory requirement.



  12. May the city publish an ordinance in summary form?

    Yes, an ordinance may be published in the city's official newspaper in summary form. This is true for every class of city or town. The summary must include a brief description which succinctly describes the main points of the ordinance. Also, a statement should be included that the full text will be mailed upon request.



  13. Must an ordinance be published?

    Yes. All cities and towns are required to publish every ordinance in their official newspaper. However, ordinances may be published in summary form.  The statutes requiring publication, for each class of city, are:

    First class cities -- RCW 35.22.288;

    Second class cities -- RCW 35.23.221;

    Code cities --  RCW 35A.12.160 & 35A.13.200;

    Towns -- RCW 35.27.300.



  14. Must a municipality keep a bound book containing all ordinances?

    All ordinances passed by the legislative body of any city or town shall be recorded by the city or town clerk in an ordinance book.

    RCW 5.44.080



  15. Would a procedural irregularity in the enactment of an ordinance in a code city affect the validity of that ordinance?

    RCW 35A.21.010, which applies to code cities, indicates that if a prescribed procedure is not strictly complied with, the ordinance is still valid if no substantial detriment was incurred by any affected person by reason of the irregularity.



  16. Must an ordinance be recertified each time it is provided and sent out to a citizen?

    It is sufficient to send a copy of the ordinance as enacted with a copy of the original certification attached. It is not necessary that a new certification be attached to each ordinance every time it is provided to a citizen. This would appear to satisfy any statutory requirements regarding certification of an ordinance.



  17. Does certification of an ordinance require that the signature of the clerk be witnessed by a notary public?

    No. The requirement that an ordinance be certified does not mean that the signature of the clerk must be witnessed by a notary public.

    All that is required is that the clerk or clerk-treasurer of the city or town sign the ordinance in his or her official capacity and certify that it is a true and correct copy of the ordinance as adopted.



  18. How is an ordinance certified?

    Certification consists of a statement which is attached to the ordinance that it represents the full and true copy of the final ordinance as adopted. It is signed by the city or town clerk, dated, and attached to the ordinance.



  19. May an ordinance be passed at a special meeting?

    First Class City-Reference should be made to the charter of a first class city to determine whether an ordinance may be passed at a special meeting.

    Second Class Cities-The state statutes specifically indicate that no ordinance may be passed at a special meeting of the city council in a second class city. This means that all ordinances must be passed at regular meetings in a second class city. Also, no contract may be entered into or bill for the payment of money allowed at any special meeting.

    Code Cities-A noncharter code city is not limited by the state statutes as to the types of actions it may take at a special council meeting. According to state law, any type of ordinance or resolution can be adopted at a special council meeting in a noncharter code city, as long as proper notice of the action was given in the notice for the special meeting.

    Towns-An ordinance may be passed at a special meeting in a town as long as proper notice of the action was given in the notice for the special meeting. However, no resolution or order for the payment of money may be passed at a special meeting. This type of action must be taken at a regular meeting.



  20. May an ordinance be reenacted after it has been repealed?

    The council always has the authority to readopt or reenact an ordinance that has previously been repealed. The important point is that the procedures for the adoption of ordinances must be followed in order to reenact a new ordinance. Basically, these procedures are similar to those which must be followed for the original enactment of an ordinance.



  21. May council reconsider ordinance that has been passed?

    Once an ordinance has been passed by the council, signed by the mayor and attested to by the clerk, it is no longer capable of being reconsidered in the typical sense. The appropriate action, if the council chose to do so, would be to repeal the ordinance. This, of course, would require a new ordinance designed to either repeal or amend the previous ordinance.



  22. Must a municipality enact an ordinance which provides the procedures for adoption of ordinances?

    It is not mandatory that a municipality adopt rules of procedure for the adoption of ordinances beyond those which are contained in the state statutes. However, the statutes indicate that the council may establish rules for the conduct of its proceedings. This could include procedural rules for the adoption of ordinances, as long as these rules do not conflict with state statutes. This is a policy decision for the council to make.



  23. When does an ordinance become effective?

    An ordinance should state the time when it takes effect, provided that the date set is not for a date before the earliest date possible under state law. Absent a stated effective date, the ordinance becomes effective according to the provisions set by state law. An effective date must be included if a later effective date than provided for under state law is desired.

    The following indicates when ordinances become effective, according to state law:

    First Class Cities-When ordinances enacted in first class cities become effective is dependent upon the provisions of each city's charter (and whether a referendum petition has been filed).

    Second Class Cities-Ordinances do not take effect until five days from and after the date of their publication.

    Towns-Publication is required but no waiting period is specified after publication before an ordinance can become effective. Thus, an ordinance could be made effective from and after the date of publication (or at some later, more convenient date).

    Code Cities-No ordinance can take effect until five days after the date of its publication, except for public emergency ordinances. Public emergency ordinances, which require a vote of a majority plus one of the whole council membership, may be made effective upon adoption. A "public emergency ordinance" is one designed to protect public health and safety, public property, or the public peace; it may not levy taxes, grant review, or extend a franchise or authorize the borrowing of money.  If the city has adopted the powers of initiative and referendum, the ordinance cannot go into effect before 30 days from the date of final passage, allowing for a referendum petition to be filed, assuming the subject of the ordinance is subject to referendum. 

    Commission Cities-Ordinances can not go into effect before 30 days from the date of final passage. Ordinances are subject to referendum during the waiting period unless:

    1. They have been initiated by petition;
    2. They are necessary for immediate preservation of public peace, health, and safety and contain a statement of urgency and are passed by unanimous vote, or;
    3. They provide for a local improvement district.

  24. Must a municipality enact an ordinance which provides the procedures for adoption of ordinances?

    It is not mandatory that a municipality adopt rules of procedure for the adoption of ordinances beyond those which are contained in the state statutes. However, the statutes indicate that the council may establish rules for the conduct of its proceedings. This could include procedural rules for the adoption of ordinances, as long as these rules do not conflict with state statutes. This is a policy decision for the council to make.



  25. In a town, may councilmember sign ordinances in clerk's absence?

    RCW 35.27.280 provides in part:

    In the absence of the mayor the council may appoint a president pro tempore: in the absence of the clerk, the mayor or president pro tempore, shall appoint one of the councilmembers as clerk pro tempore.

    As appointed clerk pro tempore this councilmember would be in a position to attest to an ordinance.



  26. In a town, who should sign an ordinance when the mayor is unavailable and there is no mayor pro tem?

    RCW 35.27.290 provides in part:

    "Every ordinance shall be signed by the mayor and attested by the clerk."

    A special meeting of the council should be called to allow for the appointment of a mayor pro tem. Once a mayor pro tem is appointed, he or she would act as the mayor in the mayor's absence and could, in our opinion, sign the ordinances that are currently unsigned. There is no time specified for when the mayor must sign (see RCW 35.27.290) and thus, it would appear, a "reasonable amount of time" should be allowed. What is "reasonable" would take into consideration all relevant facts.



  27. May the mayor pro tempore in a mayor-council, noncharter code city sign an ordinance in the absence of the mayor?

    The mayor pro tem in a noncharter code city does have the authority to sign ordinances in the absence of the mayor. The duties of the mayor pro tem are not specifically indicated in the statutes relating to noncharter code cites. However, one of the duties of the mayor is to sign ordinances and the mayor pro tem is designated to serve as mayor when the actual mayor is absent or temporarily disabled (see RCW 35A.12.065).



  28. In a code city is an ordinance valid if it is not signed by the mayor?

    An ordinance is probably still valid even if it has not been signed by the mayor. Although RCW 35A.12.130 states that "[o]rdinances shall be signed by the mayor," it does not follow that the lack of the mayor's signature affects the ordinance's validity. The mayor may veto ordinances, but that veto may be overridden by the council. Additionally, an ordinance goes into effect if the mayor fails to approve or veto it within 10 days. RCW 35A.12.130. Thus, it would not make sense, given the above, that the mayor could prevent an ordinance from becoming effective and valid simply by not signing it.



  29. May the mayor veto an ordinance?

    A mayor has veto power only when and to the extent that the power has been vested in the mayor by law. Excluding first class cities, which are governed by their individual charters, the veto power is granted only to mayors in mayor-council second class cities, and code cities organized under the mayor-council plan of government.  The relevant statute for second class cities is RCW 35.23.211; the relevant statute for mayor-council code cities is RCW 35A.12.130.



  30. Once passed, who must sign an ordinance?

    Ordinances typically must be signed and attested following passage. The rules applicable to the various classes of municipalities are as follows:

    First Class Cities-Reference should be made to the city charter for the rules that apply to any particular first class city.

    Second Class Cities-In a second class city operating under the mayor-council plan, each ordinance is to be signed by the mayor. The clerk then records each, annexes a certificate giving the ordinance's number and title, and stating that the ordinance was published and posted according to law and that the record is a true and correct copy.

    In a second class city operating under the council-manager plan, ordinances are signed by the mayor or by two councilmembers and then filed and recorded by the clerk - see RCW 35.18.180.

    Towns-Ordinances are signed by the mayor and attested by the clerk.

    Code Cities-In a code city ordinances are signed by the mayor and "authenticated by the clerk."

    Commission Cities-Ordinances are signed either by the mayor or by two commissioners. Then, typically, the signed ordinance will be attested by the clerk - see RCW 35.17.190.



  31. What are the requirements for the reading of an ordinance?

    There is no statutory requirement that an ordinance be "read". Similarly, if an ordinance is read there is no requirement that it be read more than once or in its entirety or by title only. These considerations are frequently covered by local rules. For example, many municipalities have adopted rules of procedure providing for the reading of ordinances by title only unless a request to read all or portions of the ordinance is made by a councilmember or the public in attendance. If a local rule has been adopted, that rule should be followed.



  32. How many votes are required for passage of an ordinance?

    The number of votes necessary to pass an ordinance is dependent upon the classification of the municipality, the size of the legislative body, and, in some instances, upon the nature of the legislation involved.

    First Class Cities-For the most part, reference should be made to the charter of a first class city to determine the number of votes necessary for the passage of an ordinance.

    Emergency expenditure ordinances for cities having a population of less than 300,000 are governed by RCW 35.33.081 and 35.33.091; for cities with a population over 300,000, reference should be made to RCW 35.32A.060.

    Second Class Cities-Most ordinances (as well as resolutions and orders) require an affirmative vote of at least four councilmembers for passage.  Passage of a franchise ordinance requires a vote of at least five councilmembers - see RCW 35.23.251.  An emergency expenditure ordinance requires a vote of at least one more than a majority of all members of the legislative body for passage.

    Towns-Most ordinances may be enacted by majority vote of the councilmembers present at a meeting, once a quorum has been established. Thus, if three members are present, an affirmative vote of two would be sufficient for passage of an ordinance, except the following.  Passage of a franchise ordinance requires at least three votes (see RCW 35.27.330) as does adoption of any resolution or order calling for the payment of money (see RCW 35.27.270).  Ordinances providing for emergency expenditures require a vote of one more than a majority of all members of the legislative body.  (If a town operates under the council-manager form of government then an ordinance is not valid unless passed by affirmative vote of at least the majority of the members of the council).

    Code Cities-The passage of any ordinance, grant or revocation of a franchise or license, and any resolution for the payment of money, requires an affirmative vote of a least a majority of the whole membership of the council.  RCW 35A.12.120.

    Public emergency ordinances, necessary for the protection of public health, public safety, public property, or public peace, may take effect immediately upon final passage (instead of after a five day delay) if passed by a majority plus one of the whole membership of the council.  RCW 35A.12.130.

    Passage of an ordinance for an emergency expenditure requires a vote of one more than a majority of all members of the council.

    Commission Cities-There must be a quorum of two commissioners to act and two affirmative votes are needed to adopt any motion, resolution, ordinance, or cause of action.



  33. Would a deficiency in the form of an ordinance affect its validity?

    Code Cities-Deficiencies in the form of an ordinance or resolution adopted by the legislative body of a code city shall not affect the validity of the ordinance if the following requirements have been met:

    1. The purpose and intent of the ordinance or resolution are clear;
    2. Any regulatory or procedural provisions are expressed in clear and unambiguous terms, or the legislative intent can be determined by the usual methods of judicial construction;
    3. The legislative body followed the prescribed procedures, if any, for the passage of such an ordinance or resolution; or, if prescribed procedures were not strictly complied with, no substantial detriment was incurred by any affected person by reason of such irregularity.  [See Bale v. Auburn, 87 Wn.App. 205 (1997)]

    Second, Third, Fourth Class and Commission Cities-There is no provision for deficiencies in form of an ordinance for other classes of municipalities.



  34. Are there any requirements regarding format style of ordinances?

    The only legal requirements regarding the style of ordinances are those relating to the enactment or ordaining clause. The requirement is statutory for most municipalities and is required by charter in the state's 10 first class cities.

    The following language is required:

    Second Class Cities - "The city council of the city of do ordain as follows:" RCW 35.23.211

    Towns - "Be it ordained by the council of the town of " RCW 35.27.290

    Code Cities - "The city council of the city of do ordain as follows:" RCW 35A.12.130 and 35A.13.190

    Commission Cities - "Be it ordained by the city commission of the city of :" RCW 35.17.030 and 35.23.211



  35. May an ordinance be enacted the same night it is introduced?

    There is no provision in state law which would prohibit most types of ordinances from being enacted the same night they are introduced. There are a few exceptions, notably franchise ordinances. However, most ordinances can be introduced, read, and passed at the same council meeting.

    It is possible that some cities and towns have enacted local rules of procedure which would not allow this. These local rules should be checked to be sure there is not a provision which relates to this subject.



  36. Who may write an ordinance?

    There are no statutory requirements as to who may write an ordinance. However, the city may have its own rules regarding the drafting of an ordinance, including a common provision requiring that the city attorney approve the ordinance as to form.



  37. How many ordinance readings are required in a code city before an ordinance can be enacted?

    State law is silent as to how many readings are required prior to enactment of ordinances in code cities.  In most cases, there is no statutory requirement that an ordinance be "read" at all.    

    It is only if  a city or town has adopted a local rule of procedure regarding how many readings are required that this becomes a specific legal requirement.  Many cities do "read" an ordinance as a matter of practice before enactment, but this is not based on a statutory requirement.



  38. Must all ordinances be codified to be effective as law?

    No. There is no statute that requires codification of all ordinances. Indeed, there are many types of ordinances required by law that are not appropriate or suitable for codification, such as ordinances approving annexations and street vacations, and ordinances initiating condemnation of property, to name a few.



Expand Section WSAMA Conference Proceedings (5 Results)

  1. Publication of Ordinances, by Patrick L. Brock, City Attorney of Kelso. Legal Notes No. 458, Fall 1988
    Document Date: 10/28/1988


  2. Preparation of Ordinances and Resolutions by Municipal Attorneys, by Ronald C. Dickinson, City Attorney of Mercer Island. Legal Notes No. 458, Fall 1988
    Document Date: 10/28/1988


  3. Drafting Ordinances - "Nuts and Bolts - Strange and Wonderful Ordinances," by Michael D. Howe, Callaway, Howe & DeTro P.L.L.C. Legal Notes No. 496, Fall 1996
    Document Date: 10/4/1996


  4. Defending Ordinances from Constitutional Challenge: a Practical Guide, by Hugh Spitzer, Foster Pepper & Shefelman PLLC. Legal Notes No. 500, Spring 1998
    Document Date: 5/1/1998


  5. Emergency Ordinances--How to Keep Inside the Law, by John Vanek, City Attorney of Yakima, and Henry Hamilton, III (Applicant for Rule 9 Intern). Legal Notes No. 473, Spring 1991
    Document Date: 6/21/1991

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