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AGO 1955 No. 59 - April 14, 1955
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- P.U.D. -- OFFICERS -- EMPLOYEES -- GROUP INSURANCE

Where a public utility district has less than the minimum number of employees required to contract for group insurance, it may not provide insurance for its commissioners.

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                                                                   April 14, 1955

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 59


Attention:  !ttMr. A. E. Hankins

            Chief Examiner

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your letter of March 23, 1955, requesting our opinion upon the following:

            May a public utility district commissioner be termed an "employee" for the purpose of securing the requisite minimum of ten "employees" to be able to contract for group insurance under the terms of RCW 54.04.050 and chapter 124, Laws of 1955, such public utility district havingnine employees and three commissioners?

            It is our conclusion that commissioners of a public utility district may not be termed "employees" for the purpose of securing a requisite number of "employees" to allow the district to contract for group insurance for the benefit of the employees and the commissioners.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The question is whether in order to provide group insurance coverage for the commissioners of a public utility district having nine employees and three commissioners under chapter 124, Laws of 1955, a commissioner could be  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] termed an "employee" in order to qualify under the terms of RCW 54.04.050 which provides for a minimum of ten "employees" in order to contract for group insurance.

            RCW 54.04.050 provides:

            "A district engaged in the operation of electric or water utilities may contract for group insurance for the benefit of ten or more of its employees, and pay all or any part of the premiums therefor out of the revenue derived from the operation of its properties.  If the premium is to be paid by the district and employees jointly, and the benefits of the policy are offered to all eligible employees, not less than seventy-five percent of the employees may be so insured."

            Chapter 124, Laws of 1955, provides in part:

            "That the total compensation paid to such commissioner during any one year shall not exceed two thousand five hundred dollars.  Also, any district providing group insurance for its employees, covering them, their immediate family and dependents, may provide insurance for its commissioners with the same coverage."

            It is our opinion that in order to provide the coverage for the public utility commissioners under chapter 124, Laws of 1955, the district must bepresently providing group insurance for its employees under the terms of RCW 54.04.050or able to qualify under its terms as a prerequisite to being able to provide insurance for the commissioners.  The public utility district must have a total of ten "employees" in order to contract for group insurance under the terms of RCW 54.04.050.

            A public utility district commissioner is an "officer" of a municipal corporation and is not in any sense the same as an "employee" of said district.   [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] In support of this view it was stated in Pollack v. Montoya, 55 N.M. 390, 234 P.2d 336, that

            "Where a position is created by law and has certain definite duties imposed by law on the incumbent and involves the exercise of some portion of the government power such a position is presumably an 'office' while one which lacks any of them is a mere 'employment'."

            Griggs v. Harding County, 68 S.D. 429, 3 N.W. 2d 485, states that

            "A delegation to officer of some part of functions of government to be exercised by him for the benefit of the public, fixed tenure of position, taking of oath of office, and giving of official bond, distinguish 'public office' from mere 'employment'."

            In construing the words of the statute there is not a total of ten "employees".  Therefore, in the situation presented here, insurance cannot be provided for the commissioners under chapter 124, Laws of 1955, until the district isproviding or able to provide insurance under the provisions of RCW 54.04.050.

Very truly yours,

DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General


ROBERT G. BOYD
Assistant Attorney General

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