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AGO 1950 No. 246 - April 04, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

SEWER DISTRICTS ‑- POWER OF COMMISSIONERS TO APPOINT PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR

1. The commissioners of a sewer district do not have authority to employ and pay a public relations director to publicize a proposed sewer revenue bond issue and may not provide him with district moneys for publicity program or office expenditures.

2. Said commissioners do have authority to provide maps, plans and other data for their own use, for the use of their engineers and other employees, and to demonstrate the proposed sewage plan and cost of said proposed project.

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                                                                    April 4, 1950

Honorable Cliff Yelle
Auditor
State of Washington
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 246

Attn:  Lawrence Hubble, Chief Examiner

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your inquiry in which you ask:

            1. May the commissioners of a sewer district employ and pay a public relations director to acquaint the electors of the district with costs and other facts in connection with a sewer revenue bond issue?

            2. May the commissioners use moneys of the district to provide said public relations director with office expenses, printing, mailing and other costs to publicize the said bond issue?

            Our conclusions may be summarized as follows:

            1. Sewer districts commissioners are not empowered to hire a public relations director, and

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            2. May not provide him with moneys for a publicity program or office, but a part of the expenditures obviously were necessary for the bond election.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            You will note that by statute the commissioners are authorized, and required, to give notice to the electorate by posting as well as by publication in a newspaper of such impending election according to existing laws governing general elections.  See sections 12 and 13, chapter 210, Laws of 1941 (9425-22 Rem. Supp. 1941).  They are authorized to employ engineers and clerical help, and can expend moneys for securing adequate data on the sewerage plan ‑ section 12, chapter 210, Laws of 1941,supra, (9425-21 Rem. Supp. 1941).  It would appear that the usual powers are granted to advise the electorate of the proposition on which they may vote; and, as the activities of a sewer district are governmental rather than proprietary or promotional, there is no necessity for pressure advertising or other persuasions to secure a favorable vote.

            Inasmuch as municipal or public corporations are created by statute, their powers are restricted to express powers granted by statute or by necessary implication, and in the event of doubt the policy of the law is to construe said powers strictly and against the municipality and in favor of the taxpayer.  The matter falls withinPacific First Federal Savings & Loan v. Pierce County, 27 Wn. (2d) 347, 178 P. (2d) 351, and numerous other opinions of our Supreme Court.

            We therefore conclude that the commissioners were given all the necessary powers usually granted to advise the electorate on the proposition to be placed before them; that by hiring a public relations director the commissioners were using public funds, and authorized their expenditure as a convenience only, without authority of law express or implied; therefore they may not use said public funds for any such unauthorized purpose.

            We further conclude that the commissioners also possess no authority to appropriate funds for the use of said director in his publicity activities or for his office expenses.  However, a re‑examination [[reexamination]]of his expenditures should be made in light of the fact that the commissioners may provide certain maps and plans both for their own use, for the use of their engineers and other employees, as well as to have tangible illustrations of the sewerage plan, as well as to publish legal notice of the time and places for voting and the proposition on which the electorate are to vote.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

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