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AGLO 1974 No. 97 - November 19, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- ELECTIONS ‑- POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF COUNTY EMPLOYEES

RCW 41.06.250, as amended by § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., in granting to the employees of the state or any political subdivision thereof the right to engage in certain described political activities, does supersede the provisions of § 560 of the King county charter to the extent that this charter provision is in conflict with the state statute as thus amended.

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                                                               November 19, 1974

Honorable William M. Polk
State Representative, 41st District
7220 92nd S.E.
Mercer Island, Washington 98040                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 97

Dear Sir:
 
            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:
 
            Does RCW 41.06.250, as amended by § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., in granting to the employees of the state or any political subdivision thereof the right to engage in certain described political activities, supersede the provisions of § 560 of the King county charter to the extent that this charter provision is in conflict with the state statute as thus amended.
 
            In our opinion, your question is answerable in the affirmative.
 
                                                                     ANALYSIS
 
            Section 560 of the King county charter provides that certain designated county officers and employees who are not members of the county's career service, and all members of that service,
 
            ". . . shall not engage in any political activity on behalf of, and shall not pay or be asked to pay any assessment or contribution which will benefit directly or indirectly, anyone occupying or seeking appointment, nomination or election to any elective county office.  . . ."
 
            If your question were whether this prohibition is constitutionally or otherwise legally valid in the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] abstract, we would, for reasons of policy, ordinarily decline to answer it because of our potential responsibilities under RCW 7.24.110 in the event of a challenge in court.  This statute, as you may know, provides that:
 
            ". . .  In any proceeding which involves the validity of a municipal ordinance or franchise, such municipality shall be made a party, and shall be entitled to be heard, and if the statute, ordinance or franchise is alleged to be unconstitutional, the attorney general shall also be served with a copy of the proceeding and be entitled to be heard."  (Emphasis supplied.)
 
            See, e.g., our letter of June 12, 1972, to State Senator Martin J. Durkan [[an Informal Opinion AIR-72596]], a copy of which you will find enclosed.  In the instant case, however, the question is not whether § 560, supra, constitutes a valid county charter provision but, instead, it is simply whether that charter provision has been superseded by the 1974 legislative enactment to which you have referred.
 
            By its enactment of § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., the legislature amended the provisions of RCW 41.06.250, a statute previously relating primarily to state civil service employees, so as to cause subsection (2) thereof to read as follows:
 
            "(2) Employees of the state or any political subdivision thereof shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates ((, but shall not)) and to hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign.  Nothing in this section shall prohibit ((a classified)) an employee of the state or any political subdivision thereof from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for nonpartisan offices."
 
            In addition, by subsection (5) of this section, the legislature expressly provided that:
 
            "(5) The provisions of this section shall supersede all statutes, charter provisions, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, and requirements promulgated by  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] the state or any subdivision thereof, including any provision of any county charter, insofar as they may be in conflict with the provisions of this section."
 
            Based upon the express language of this last quoted provision, it seems clear to us that to the extent of a conflict between § 560 of the King county charter, as above quoted, and RCW 41.06.250(2), supra, as amended, but only to that extent, the latter must be deemed to have superseded the former.  Accordingly, we answer your question, as above paraphrased, in the affirmative.
 
            In so concluding, we should add, we have not overlooked the fact that King county currently is a "home rule" charter county under Article XI, § 4 (Amendment 21) of our state constitution.  However, we also note that this constitutional provision expressly states that any county "home rule" charter framed thereunder shall be ". . . subject to the constitution and laws of this state, . . ."  What this means, as we explained in our opinion of October 7, 1971, to the prosecuting attorney of King county [[to Christopher T. Bayley, an Informal Opinion AIR-71618]], copy enclosed, is that such counties, like charter cities under Article XI, § 10 of the constitution,
 
            ". . . possess the same legislative authority within their territorial jurisdictions as is possessed by our state legislature itself ‑ subject only to subordination to conflicting acts of the legislature or conflicting provisions in our state constitution.  See, Winkenwerder v. Yakima, 52 Wn.2d 617, 328 P.2d 873 (1958), and cases cited therein.  . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)
 
            We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
 
Very truly yours,
 
SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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