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AGO 1952 No. 388 - August 27, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington


Terms of office for port commissioners must be six years‑-problem is one recommended for legislative action.

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                                                                 August 27, 1952

Honorable John J. O'Connell
Prosecuting Attorney
Pierce County
Court House
Tacoma, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 388

Attention:  Mr. Leonard A. Sawyer

Dear Sir:

            On July 12, 1952, you requested an opinion of this office as to the terms the port commissioners of your county should be elected for now that Pierce County has been changed by the last census from a First Class County to a Class A County.

            The commissioner of District 3, who is now up for election, should be elected for a term of six years, running to 1958.


            The following statutes and constitutional provision are pertinent to the analysis of this problem: RCW 53.12.220 provides:

            "In such port districts the term of each commissioner shall be six years from the first day of January following his election, and one commissioner shall be elected at each general biennial election.  * * *"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            RCW 53.12.230 provides:

            "In a district which is coextensive with a first class county, a commissioner shall be elected at the general biennial election in 1942 from commissioner district No. 2; one from district No. 1 in 1944; and one from district No. 3 in 1946.

            "Commissioners holding office in June, 1941, shall continue in office until their successors are elected and qualified."

            Article XI, section 8, of the Constitution of the State of Washington, provides in part:

            "* * * The salary of any county, city, town, or municipal officers shall not be increased or diminished after his election or during his term of office, nor shall the term of any such officer be extended beyond the period for which he is elected or appointed."

            The draftsman of RCW 53.12.230 completely overlooked the problem arising from the change of classification of a First Class county to a Class A county.  This problem is one of first impression and this analysis is admittedly a "make‑shift" answer necessitated by the acute problem of your county as an election must be held in the near future.  It is the hope of the writer that this statute be changed by the legislature at the next session.

            RCW 53.12.220,supra, provides that the terms of office for commissioners be six years.  Therefore, whatever terms the commissioners are elected for must be six years.  On the other side of this "nut-cracker" is the constitutional provision quoted above which forbids the extension of term of office.  Thus our power to make adjustment of terms of office for commissioners for the transition from a First Class to a Class A county has these two sharp limitations.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            One solution to this problem which would tend to avoid the constitutional provision would be to interpret the last paragraph of RCW 53.12.230,supra, as meaning a port commissioner can hold over in office until his successor is elected and qualified, and disregard the June, 1941, limitation.  As this would mean at least one of the present port commissioners would be required to hold over for an additional six years, this office will not recommend this procedure unless the legislature fails to act prior to the time that the next commissioner comes up for election in 1954.

            The intention of the legislature in providing terms of office by dates was to stagger the terms by two-year differences so that two experienced commissioners would be in office at all times.  It is this intention which the writer hopes to carry out in presenting the recommended answer to this problem.  A copy of our recommendation to the State and Local Government Committee is enclosed for your information.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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