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AGO 1960 No. 138 - August 30, 1960
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

SCHOOLS - COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT - ABOLISHMENT OF OFFICE UNDER RCW 28.19.190.

The term of office of the incumbent county superintendent of schools (the appointee of the county commissioners of Wahkiakum county) ends within the purview of RCW 28.19.190 at the next general election, and if a majority of the electors in the county vote to abolish the office of county superintendent at the November 8, 1960 election the office will be abolished on the date when the returns of said election are certified and declared by the proper canvassing authority.

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                                                                 August 30, 1960

Honorable Alf M. Jacobsen
Prosecuting Attorney
Wahkiakum County
Cathlamet, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 138

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            When does the term of office of an appointed county superintendent "end" within the meaning of § 8, chapter 216, Laws of 1959 (RCW 28.19.190) which provides for the abolishment of the office of county superintendent "at the end of the term of office for which the incumbent county superintendent was elected or appointed?"

            We answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            During its regular 1959 session the legislature enacted, as a part of chapter 216, Laws of 1959, § 8 (RCW 28.19.190) which prescribes the conditions and procedures for abolishing the office of the county superintendent of schools.  The statute provides in pertinent part as follows:

            "The office of the county superintendent of schools in any county having only one school district, or only one high  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] school district and not more than three third class school districts, within its boundaries may be abolished.  If in the opinion of the county committee on school district organization in any county having but one school district, or only one high school district and not more than three third class school districts, there is no need for a county superintendent in that county, the committee may by resolution request the county auditor to call and conduct a special election in conjunction with the county or the state general election, at which special election the electors of the county may vote for or against the abolishment of the office of the county superintendent.  Upon receipt of such resolution the county auditor shall call and conduct such election, and, if a majority of the votes cast on the proposition favor the abolishment of the office of the county superintendent, the office shall be abolished at the end of the term of office for which the incumbent county superintendent was elected or appointed. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            In interpreting the foregoing statute it must be borne in mind that, in arriving at the intent of the legislature, the first resort of the courts is to the context and subject matter of the legislation, because the intention of the lawmakers is to be deduced, if possible, from the words used.  Hatzenbuhler v. Harrison, 49 Wn. (2d) 691, 306 P. (2d) 745 (1957); Guinness v. State, 40 Wn. (2d) 677, 246 P. (2d) 433 (1952).  Furthermore, a statute must be construed whenever possible so that no clause, sentence orword shall be held to be superfluous, void or insignificant.  Public Hospital District No. 2 of Okanogan County v. Taxpayers, 44 Wn. (2d) 623, 269 P. (2d) 594.

            Applying these rules, it is quite apparent that the legislature has expressly authorized the electors in a county to abolish the office of the county superintendent at the end of the term of office for which the incumbent was elected or appointed.  The phrase "term of office" and the word "incumbent" are not defined in the act but our court has previously had occasion to pass upon the meaning of each.

            (1) In State ex rel. Henneford v. Yelle, 12 Wn. (2d) 434, 436, 121 P. (2d) 948 (1942) our court said:

            "A term of office, when the period of the term is fixed by the constitution or statute, means the period designated by the constitution or statute. . . ."

            (2) In State ex rel. Vanderveer v. Gormley, 53 Wash. 543, 550, 102 Pac. 435 (1909) the court, in discussing an election question, stated:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . . the word 'incumbent' is defined as 'one who holds an office or performs official duties. . . ."

            Regarding the particular facts giving rise to the question you have submitted, you have advised us that pursuant to RCW 28.19.190, supra, the county committee on school district organization of Wahkiakum County has, by resolution, requested the county auditor to call a special election to be held in conjunction with the November 1960 general state election to allow the electors to determine whether the office of the county superintendent should be abolished.  You further state in your letter:

            "In the 1958 General Election in Wahkiakum County, a County Superintendent of Schools was elected for a 4 year term beginning on the 1st Monday in September 1959.  This elected office holder resigned and the County Commissioners appointed a qualified person to fill the unexpired term until the next general election.  Their appointee, however, did not file for election to the office and, in fact, no person has filed for the unexpired term".  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Based on the foregoing, you desire to know when the term of office of the appointed (incumbent) county superintendent ends within the meaning of RCW 28.19.190, supra?

            The incumbent county superintendent, that is, the person presently authorized by law to carry out the duties of the office of county superintendent, was appointed until the next general election in accordance with RCW 28.19.030 which provides as follows:

            "The county board of education, whether of an individual county or a consolidation of superintendents' offices of counties, shall recommend two or more candidates to the board or boards of county commissioners for appointment to fill any vacancy that may occur in the office of county superintendent in their county or consolidation of counties,until the next general election.  The county commissioners shall appoint a qualified person to fill such vacancy."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            See, also, Article XI, section 6, Washington State Constitution.

            Thus, we believe that the "term of office" of the incumbent county superintendent, (the appointee of the county commissioners of Wahkiakum County) ends within the purview of RCW 28.19.190 supra, at the next general election -in this case, the November 1960 general state election.  To arrive  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] at any other conclusion we would have to render as superfluous, void or insignificant the words "incumbent" and "appointed" as used in RCW 28.19.190 supra.

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that if a majority of the electors in the county vote to abolish the office of the county superintendent at the November 8, 1960 election, the office will be abolished on the date when the returns of said election are certified and declared by the proper canvassing authority.  See AGO 57-58 No. 227 [[to Victor Meyers, Secretary of State on November 17, 1958]], a copy of which is enclosed for your general information.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT J. DORAN
Assistant Attorney General

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