Local Government 101 – Bainbridge Island

How council, city staff and citizen advisory groups work together to govern our island

Ever wondered exactly how Bainbridge’s very own special form of local government is intended to work, and how it came to be?

In the first of this new series of in-depth website articles, our Chamber team walks you through the 3 core elements of Bainbridge civic life:

  1. City Council
  2. City Staff
  3. Citizen Advisory Groups

But first, a little background…


How Did We Get Here – A Brief City History:

The city began with the incorporation of Winslow as a town in 1947, with the rest of the island being unincorporated Kitsap County.

Left to its own devices, the island’s historic downtown operated in concert determining policy, while the rest of the island remained either self-reliant or reliant on Kitsap County to provide services and policy. Like many areas that have both incorporated and unincorporated areas in proximity overarching land-use and development policy varied.

Efforts to incorporate the island as an entire city started as early as 1960. It wasn’t until 1991 that the City of Winslow annexed the remainder of the island, establishing the City of Bainbridge Island in 1991. With 71 percent of eligible voters turning out, incorporation passed by just 136 votes.


What Is Bainbridge Island’s Current Form Of Government?

From it’s inception in 1991 until 2009, the city operated under a Mayor-Council form of government. After nearly 20 years, that form of government was replaced by the current Council-Manager form of governance in order to reduce friction between elected City Council members and an elected Mayor.


1. City Council

COBI City Council 2023

Today, the island operates under a Council-Manager form of government wherein, seven city council members are elected by popular vote. City Council members are directly responsible for establishing legislative policy and sets budget authority for departments and positions.

Council members are elected in four-year, staggered terms and there is a ceremonial mayoral position rotated among council members every two years. The position has no regular administrative duties, but presides over council meetings and acts as the head of the city for ceremonial purposes. However, if authorized to do so, can take command of police, maintain law and enforce order in times of public danger or in an emergency.

A deputy mayor (or pro tem) is also selected by council in absence or temporary disability of the mayor.

Bainbridge Island City Council Wards

City Council positions include:

  • At Large – District 1; Term Expires: 12/31/23
  • North Ward – District 2;  Term Expires: 12/31/23
  • North Ward – District 7; Term Expires: 12/31/25
  • Central Ward – District 4; Term Expires: 12/31/23
  • Central Ward – District 5;  Term Expires: 12/31/25
  • South Ward – District 3;  Term Expires: 12/31/25
  • South Ward – District 6;  Term Expires: 12/31/23

Council members are available to the public via email, phone or through in-person open office hours – learn more at the City website


2. City Staff

Bainbridge Island City Staff

The city staff is a team of fulltime, part-time, and contracted employees working primarily within city hall to ensure the city’s policies and day-to-day responsibilities and operations are conducted.

City Manager

Since 2009, the Bainbridge Island’s city staff has been led by a fulltime executive in the role of City Manager. The City Manager is appointed by the City Council and acts as the city’s Chief Executive Officer.

The City Manager’s office has three core missions:

  1. Effectively supporting City Council
  2. Overseeing the City’s day-to-day operations
  3. Helping the public access the City’s operations and services

While City Council is directly responsible for and oversees the City Manager, they do not interfere with the day-today management of the city. Only the City Manager is directly in charge of carrying out policy developed by City Council. The City Manager also prepares a proposed budget, appoints and removes city employees, and oversees the work of employees that work in each of the city’s departments. The City Manager is held accountable by City Council for meeting goals in annual performance reviews of his work.

See more information and contact information for Bainbridge’s City Manager

The City Manager’s Executive Office includes direct reports for the following positions:

  1. Deputy City Manager – Facilitates coordination between city department’s areas of responsibility to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of operations and activities.
  2. Executive Assistant – Performs varied administrative, technical, and analytical support to the City Manager and executive department.
  3. City Attorney – Directs and supervises legal services for the city, providing counsel to the City Manager, City Council, staff and citizen committees and commissions.
  4. Human Resources Manager – Develops, implements, evaluates, and administers city’s personnel policies, programs, and services/systems, oversees recruitment and benefits, performance and labor relations management.
  5. Emergency Management Coordinator – Develops and leads the city’s emergency management program in all phases, including mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
  6. City Clerk – Manages the city’s response to public records requests and reviews and implements policies related to public records responses, monitors legal requirements, trains city staff on public records and updates the municipal code, posts legal notices, and receives claims for damages, appeals, and lawsuits filed against the city.
  7. Deputy City Clerk/Records Management Coordinator – Performs a variety of administrative duties in support of the city clerk and acts as clerk in their absence.

More information about COBI’s executive team

City Departments

    1. Finance & Administrative Services – Supports accounting and auditing, budget and operations, and financial planning services as well as residents with business licensing and utility billing.
    2. Municipal Court – Handles parking and traffic infractions, processes payments, paperwork and passports, fulfills probation requirements and public hearings in criminal cases, and issues protection orders.
    3. Planning & Community Development – Coordinates and manages land use activity on Bainbridge Island.
    4. Police – Protects and serves the community in a variety of capacities including upholding the law as outlined in the city’s code and within Washington state.
    5. Public Works – Plans, designs, constructs, operates and maintains public improvements, facilities and equipment owned by the city and the public.

Note: The Bainbridge Island Fire Department is not part of the City government, but rather a combination fire department that serves the Island. The BIFD’s paid and volunteer members respond to over 3,000 emergency calls annually out of three local fire stations.


3. Citizen Advisory Groups

Bainbridge Island Citizen Advisory Group

Another important facet of Bainbridge Island life is role of the Citizen Advisory Groups. These standing or temporary committees are established and appointed by the City Council or by the City Manager.

They are tasked with researching, drafting, and providing guidance or draft policies for the City Council and City Manager to help guide the final development of ordinances which become city policies.

The city is always in need of new volunteers to fill these committees and encourages anyone with working knowledge or background of their subject matter to apply, especially those residents coming from traditionally marginalized and under-represented groups. See any open positions here on the city’s Citizen Advisory Groups page.

There are no fewer than 17 such committees within the city:

  1. Civil Service Commission – Ensures hiring examination processes for the Police Department are open and competitive at entry and promotional levels, adopts rules and regulations for the department’s Civil Service employees, and handles appeals related to testing and employee discipline.
  2. Climate Change Advisory Committee – Serves as a technical and planning body on issues related to climate change and assists in the implementation of climate related goals/policies.
  3. Cultural Funding Task Force – Develops funding recommendations for $300,000 in city financial support to cultural activities in the community on a biennial basis.
  4. Design Review Board – Composed of 7 members with experience in human built design, art, landscape, and urban design, it evaluates project design and permits, making recommendations to the city’s planning commission and city council.
  5. Environmental Technical Advisory Committee – Helmed by individuals with local knowledge of the island’s natural resources, this group provides recommendations on habitat management plans and environmental management standards for the Shoreline Master Program and critical areas.
  6. Ethics Board – Consists of 7 members who provide training to council members and city committees and commissions on the city’s Code of Conduct and Ethics Program. Members serve a 3-year term.
  7. Green Building Task Force – Helps identify and recommend green building policies to increase the use of sustainable materials and energy efficient design in future private and public projects.
  8. Historic Preservation Commission  – 7 members who advocate for the preservation of historically significant buildings, structures, sites, objects and districts.
  9. Human Services Funding Advisory Task Force – On an annual basis, the City of Bainbridge Island provides significant financial support to local nonprofit organizations to support human services programs in the community. The task force reviews and develops funding recommendations to nonprofits focused on these activities on island.
  10. LEOFF 1 Disability Board – Consists of 5 members that administer retirement benefits for members of the Law Enforcement Officer and Fire Fighter retirement system.
  11. Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC) – This body of community members serves annually to distribute funds from lodging taxes for visitors collected by the state to the community’s network of attractions, creative and performance organizations, destination marketing organization, and hospitality businesses to be reinvested in projects that that attract visitors to the island and contribute to the tax base.
  12. Planning Commission – This 7 member body prepares and reviews the city’s comprehensive plan, examines whether development projects fit within the island’s character and design, makes recommendations for granting conditional use permits, reviews zoning and land use policies.
  13. Public Access Television Advisory Committee – Makes general recommendations to promote and develop optimal utilization of Public Access Television and resolve issues relating to services, facilities that subscribers may be having.
  14. Race Equity Advisory Committee – Addresses and rectifies systemic and structural racism and bias within government and law enforcement. This active group also hosts community-wide conversations, develops proclamations, and policy recommendations for projects to bring the city into better alignment with its mission.
  15. Salary Commission (https://www.bainbridgewa.gov/241/Salary-Commission) – This commission established new salary recommendations for elected officials serving in City Council and the ceremonial Mayor positions.
  16. Sustainable Transportation Task Force – Developed and came up with three possible policy recommendations for City Council to create a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable transportation system around the island.
  17. Utility Advisory Committee  – This group helps identify issues and opportunities in the operation/management policies of the city’s water, sanitary sewer, storm water and other utilities.

More information about COBI’s system of Citizen Advisory Groups



Ultimately, across the three parts of Bainbridge’s local government, hundreds of elected officials, staff members of all kinds, and engaged citizens all come together to try and help guide the Island through the challenges of today, and into the possibilities of tomorrow…

Upcoming Chamber articles in this series will include looks at how policy is set, what an ordinance is, and present user guides for City Council Meetings, and for engaging with all the forms of the island’s local government…


Learn More:

All images in this article are courtesy of The City of Bainbridge Island