Quick Jump Links
Council Meetings: Mondays beginning at 7 p.m.,
Council Chambers, City Hall.
The schedule for the year can be found on the
Council Meetings Schedule page or by requesting the full schedule from the
Bellingham City Council
Form of Government - Elections - The Job of a Council Member
Bellingham is a First Class City and has a Mayor-Council form of
government, and the general grant of municipal power is provided in the City
Charter (copies of the Charter are available in the Finance Department).
Voters elect the nonpartisan, part-time Council of seven persons. The City
of Bellingham is divided into six (6) wards as nearly equal in population
and geographically compact as possible. You can determine the ward in which
you live by the last digit in your precinct number, i.e., if your precinct
number is 81, you are in Ward 1, or if your precinct number is 94, you are
in Ward 4. You may also call the Council office to find out the ward in
which you live in and the name of your City Council representative.
Six Council positions carry four-year terms, and the At-Large Council
position is a two-year term. Terms of Council members are staggered so that
three (3) ward Council members and the Council member-at-Large are elected
at each municipal general election by majority vote from the City at large.
Council members must be registered voters of the City and a resident of the
City for one year next preceding his/her election. Council members cannot
hold any other office or employment within the City government. The
principal job of a Council member is to make policy for the governance of
the City and its populace. The principal forum for local government
policy-making is the City Council meeting. The Council does not administer
or become involve~ in the day-to-day administration of city affairs. A
policy is a course of action for a community. Policy-making often takes the
form of passing ordinances or resolution at City Council meetings. After
policy decisions are made by the legislative body, the Mayor has the
administrative task of implementing the policies. The distinction between
formulation and implementation may not always be clear, necessitating open
communication between legislators and administrators.
The Council does not make policy in a vacuum. Councils rely on ideas from
many sources, including the Council staff, citizens' groups, advisory
committees and various local chambers and organizations. It is the Council's
responsibility to consider the merits of each idea and then approve, modify,
or reject it. In doing so, Council members analyze community needs, program
alternatives and available resources. Decisions often take the form of an
ordinance or resolution, although it may take the form of a rule,
regulation, motion, or order. The Comprehensive Plan is a powerful policy
tool; the annual budget is one of the strongest policy-making tools, and
both are adopted by ordinance. The Council has all the legislative powers
and authority allowed cities in the State of Washington. The Council has
general ordinance-making powers and control over the City finances and
properties. In order to perform these functions, the Council:
- Sets the Regular Meeting schedule for the following year by passing
a Resolution approving the dates.
- Meets at least twice monthly with additional meetings scheduled as
- Holds special meetings, work sessions, and public hearings as needed;
- Holds committee meetings and attends board meetings as need dictates
(Council members serve on various committee and board assignments to
receive more in-dept input and data from the citizens and City staff
members. Based on the information received, committee/board members make
recommendations to the other Council members on the best avenue to
- Legislates laws as needs dictate to allow the staff to efficiently
operate the daily business of the City; (Council provides effective
representation of the citizens of the City of Bellingham by carefully
weighing all input and alternatives prior to passing legislation either
in the form of ordinances or resolutions.)
- Adopts an annual budget to meet the needs of the citizens within the
resources available; and (Council receives from the Mayor a preliminary
annual budget and after public hearings and staff presentations, when
necessary, Council passes a final annual budget that will most
effectively meet the needs of the citizens within the parameters of the
- Establishes all policies for the efficient operation of the City;
- Adopts Robert's Rules of Order, Revised, for all parliamentary rules
not otherwise provided by the Charter.
Regular Sessions of the City Council
City Council meetings, special meetings, work sessions and committee meetings are open
to the public. The Bellingham City Council Regular Meeting begins at 7 p.m.
on scheduled Mondays in
the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 210 Lottie Street.
During a regular council meeting, you may:
- Listen and watch
- Present a new issue or raise a concern under the "Public Comment
Period" section of the agenda
- Speak during a public hearing
You may find that the Council moves swiftly in taking action on some
agenda items since it has previously reviewed most of the topics on the
agenda for its regular session at a committee meeting held the afternoon
prior to the 7 p.m. meeting.
Generally, Council does not meet on fifth Mondays of the month, and when
Monday is a holiday it meets on Tuesday instead. Often times Council will
recess from meetings for one or two weeks during the summer.
Types of Council Action
During regular sessions, the Bellingham City Council may take action in
The Council may adopt an ordinance (a local law of a municipal
corporation, prescribing general rules of conduct). Ordinances may be used
for a variety of purposes, including administrative actions such as
establishing offices and setting salaries or they may be used for actions
that control the conduct of the public. An ordinance is a legislative
enactment, within its-sphere, as much as an act of the state legislature.
Final passage occurs no earlier than at the next regular council meeting
following introduction, except as otherwise provided in the City Charter.
Ordinances usually become valid within ten days of final passage, and they
are published in the City's official newspaper, the Bellingham Herald,
within five days after becoming valid. Most ordinances take effect 15 days
after the date of their final passage. Most ordinances become part of the
City's Municipal Code book. The Council may amend or repeal an ordinance by
adopting another ordinance.
The Council may, on the other hand, pass a resolution which is typically
an act that is less solemn or formal than an ordinance, and may be no more
than an expression of the opinion of the official body. Legislation must be
enacted via ordinances. Deciding in any particular case what constitutes
legislation may require reference to case law, but the general guiding
principle is that "actions relating to subjects of a permanent and general
character are usually regarded as legislative, and those providing for
subjects of a temporary and special character are regarded as administrative
. . ."1
Business is brought before the Council by motions, which constitute a
formal procedure for taking actions. To make a motion, a member must first
be recognized by the presiding officer. After the member has made a motion
(and after the motion is seconded if required), the chair must then restate
it or rule it out of order, then call for discussion. Most motions require a
seconding motion, although there are some exceptions such as nominations,
points of order, questions of privilege, and calls for the order of the day.
City Council Committee Meetings
You can also attend Council's committee meetings Monday afternoons or as
otherwise published. On an as-needed basis, committees meet informally to do
the preliminary "spade work" on problems, and the committees serve as
advisory boards to the remainder of the Council. Usually, a City of
Bellingham staff member, or occasionally an outside expert, presents
committee members with information in response to their questions. In most
cases, and as time allows, public participation is welcome. Council may
establish its committees by ordinance or resolution, and depending on the
role of the committee, the Open Public Meetings Act may apply to committee
meetings. Council members cannot take action on city business during
committee meetings. Formal votes may only be taken by the full Council
during a Regular Meeting or a Special Meeting.
Council Agendas and Packets
Council agendas are available for free at
www.cob.org/meetings five days prior to a regular meeting. You can
peruse a hard copy of the agenda packet at the Finance Desk at City Hall or
the Reference Desk at the Central Library. See the agenda for exact
The agenda lists the periods for citizen comments. You can address the
Council at each regular council meeting during the "Public Comment Period"
near the beginning of each meeting and during any public hearing.
The agenda lists the business items that will be considered at the
evening meeting and the order in which they will be discussed. The agenda
also includes possible actions the Council may wish to take on each item,
however, the Council is not restricted to the actions listed on the agenda.
The agenda also often contains a consent agenda which is a tool used to
streamline council meeting procedure by collecting routine,
non-controversial items into a group whereby all are passed with a single
motion and vote. Commonly, no debate is allowed on the consent agenda or on
any item included in it; however, Council members may remove items from the
consent agenda for separate consideration.
Public hearings are required by Washington State statutes on a number of
subjects that cities regulate including zoning, annexations, appeals,
improvement districts and franchises.
When necessary, the City Council may recess to an executive session.
Executive Sessions are portions of regular or special meetings that may be
closed to the public, designed for consideration of specific issues, where
public disclosure would harm individual interests or legitimate interests of
the governing body. During these closed sessions, the Council by law may
only discuss certain items of business such as personnel matters, property
acquisition and disposition, and advice from legal counsel on litigation
All council business -- except for executive sessions -- is conducted in
public, and citizens are welcome to watch and listen.
Public Participation / Tips for Talking with the Council
The City Council welcomes participation in all public meetings.
Arrangements for a sign language interpreter, hearing assistance and other
assistance can be made by calling the Council
When you feel strongly about a public issue or a local concern, the
Council encourages you to share your information and thoughts with them. If
you are unable to attend a meeting or would rather not give testimony at the
meeting, you are encouraged to mail, fax, or email a letter which would be made a part
of the official record.
To speak during the Public Comment Period, you do not have to sign up in
advance, and you may talk on any item and/or concern not scheduled for a
If you want to speak on the topic at a public hearing scheduled for that
evening, you must comment during the public hearing portion of the meeting,
however, you need not sign up in advance.
When you talk with the Council, step up to one of the microphones and
identify yourself by stating your name and address. You are not
required to give this information but it is helpful for the Council to know who you
are. Be sure your microphone is on and speak into it clearly (it is not
necessary to try to adjust the microphone to your height). During the Public
Comment Period, your comments are limited to three minutes. These are
guidelines to help Council members hear as many different viewpoints as
possible in the limited time available. If you are speaking for a group, you
must tell the Council how the group developed the position that your are
If previous speakers have already made the comments you wish to make,
feel free simply to identify yourself and indicate your agreement with what
has already been said.
During the Public Comment Periods, citizens have called the Council's
attention to a wide variety of issues concerning the City. Citizen's views
have ranged from concerns about parking in front of their homes to improving
wheelchair accessibility throughout the City.
A public hearing offers you a formal opportunity to give your views to
the Council on the subject of the hearing. To give testimony, step up to one
of the microphones and identify yourself by stating your name and address
for the record. You are not required to give this information but it is
helpful for the Council to know who you are. When you talk to the Council during a public hearing,
Council members, staff and the audience will remain silent. After the last
person has spoken, the hearing will be closed. The City Council will then
discuss and make a decision on the issue.
The audience may not comment during Council's deliberations unless a
Council member requests more information from a citizen.
Again, you are also encouraged to submit your written comments on the
subject to the Council Secretary or City Clerk before the meeting so they
can be included in the record and distributed to the Council.
Initiative and Referendum
The powers of initiative and referendum are means by which citizens can
impact legislation directly. Initiative is the power of the public to
initiate ordinances by petition. Referendum is the means by which the public
can have enacted ordinances referred to them for review. These powers of the
public are not universally available, and are only available in first class
cities. Initiative and referendum procedures are controlled by the City
Questions or Concerns
If your call to a City department does not resolve an issue to your
satisfaction, then a call to your City Council representative is in order.
You may call the City Council to
request a current listing of council members which includes their names,
addresses, telephone numbers and terms, as well as a listing of other
council assignments and meeting dates.