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AGO 1953 No. 73 - June 25, 1953
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Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington


Municipal corporations cannot legally reimburse an officer for expenses incurred while attending a national convention outside the state.

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                                                                   June 25, 1953

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
State of Washington
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 73

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request for an opinion from this office relative to the following question:

            "May the administrative officers of a municipal corporation authorize an officer to attend a national convention outside the state at the expense of the municipal corporation?"

            In our opinion a municipal corporation could not legally reimburse the officer for a national convention outside the state.


            On July 14, 1900, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington handed down the decision of the case ofJames v. City of Seattle, 22 Wash. 654.  A brief statement of the facts involved in that case will be of assistance here.

            The City of Seattle passed an ordinance in October, 1898, creating a special committee to visit various cities to secure information upon the following matters:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Waterworks, street paving, street lighting, terminal facilities, and other municipal matters which are now, and constantly will be, coming before the legislative and executive department for consideration."

            In the same month, the appellant and other members of the special committee visited St. Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, West Superior, and Spokane.  The auditing committee and the council approved reimbursement to the committee members; however, the city comptroller refused to countersign the warrant on the ground that the expenditure was illegal.  The appellant then sought a writ of mandate to compel the respondent, City Comptroller, to sign and to compel the city to deliver to the plaintiff the warrant.  The trial court sustained a demurrer to the complaint on the ground that it did not state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action.

            At this point, the committee members appealed to the Supreme Court from the decision of the trial court.  The Supreme Court rendered its decision affirming the action of the trial court stating in part as follows:

            "* * * The compensation of a member for his official duties as councilman may be determined and fixed, and cannot be changed during his incumbency of office.  If the members of the council, upon their tour of inspection, were in the discharge of their official duties, the restriction upon additional compensation applies.  Tacoma v. Lillis, 4 Wash. 797 (31 Pac. 321, 18 L.R.A. 372.)

            "The only ground, then, upon which compensation could be sustained, would be that of necessary expenses incurred in the performance of official duties.  Necessary expenses must be such as are strictly essential to municipal purposes.  This principle is well established.  1 Dillon, Municipal Corporations (4th ed.), §§ 89-91; 19 Am. & Eng. Enc. Law, 541.

            "* * *

            "* * * Where this authority does not exist, the council is without power to authorize the payment of the claim against the city; and, upon sound principle, it cannot be conceded that the council had the power to authorize the payment of the claim of appellant."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It is to be noted that the case of James v. City of Seattle, supra, has never been overruled by the Supreme Court of the State of Washington in spite of the passage of some 53 years.  In fact, it has been accepted as the law of this state.  SeeLewis County v. Montfort, 72 Wash. 248, 254;State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Superior Court, 93 Wash. 267, 271, and 169 A.L.R. 1235 N.

            Municipal corporations are creatures of the statutes under which they are organized and operated.  By those statutes their powers are granted, measured, and limited.  Beyond the limits of the powers they are expressly granted, and those fairly implied therefrom or incident thereto, they cannot lawfully act or agree to act.  Any fair and reasonable doubt of the existence of a corporate power is fatal to its being.  SeeCity of Fort Scott v. W. G. Eads Brokerage Company, 117 Fed. 51 at 54;Valentine v. Robertson, 300 Fed. 521 at 522; andReherd v. Manders, 66 Fed. Supp., 520 at 531.

            The various statutes regarding municipal corporations have been examined and they do not in our opinion grant specifically, or by necessary implication, the power to reimburse municipal officers for this purpose.

            Inasmuch as we find no constitutional or statutory authority for making the expenditures concerned, and further, in the light of the case ofJames v. City of Seattle, supra, we conclude that municipal corporations cannot legally reimburse an officer for expenditures incurred in attending a national convention outside the state.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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