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April 14, 1970
Honorable R. Ted Bottiger
State Representative, 29th District
8849 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, Washington 98444
Cite as: AGLO 1970 No. 61
By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion as to the time when an election must be held to fill an existing vacancy on the board of commissioners of the Port of Tacoma. We paraphrase your question as follows:
Under the provisions of RCW 53.12.150, which provides for the filling of a vacancy in the office of port commissioner "at the next general election," when will the next general election for purposes of this section occur?
In our opinion this election will occur the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November of 1971, in accordance with the provisions of RCW 29.13.020. Our reasons in support of this conclusion are set forth below.
By way of background, it is our understanding that the territorial limits of the Port of Tacoma are coextensive with Pierce county ‑ a class A county. The district is governed by a three‑member board of elected port commissioners as provided for in RCW 53.12.010. Under RCW 53.12.220, these commissioners are elected for six-year terms commencing on the first day of January following the date of their election. Their terms are staggered so that one port commissioner is elected at the time of each "biennial election" of the district ‑ which is now held in November of each odd-numbered year in accordance with the recently amended version of RCW 29.13.020, as noted more fully below.
Following receipt of your letter we were contacted by legal counsel for the Port of Tacoma, who specifically informed us that the vacancy which now exists on the board of commissioners of the Port of Tacoma was created by reason of the recent death of the incumbent commissioner whose six-year term is not due to expire until January 1, 1974. As both you and he have correctly pointed out, the governing statute regarding the manner of filling this vacancy is RCW 53.12.150, which provides, in material part, as follows:
[[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
"In the event of a vacancy in the office of port commissioner by death, resignation or otherwise, such vacancy shall be filled at the next general election, the vacancy in the interim to be filled by appointment by a majority vote of the remaining port commissioners." (Emphasis supplied.)
Counsel for the Port of Tacoma has at least tentatively suggested that in his opinion, the "next general election" within the meaning of this statute, can be taken to mean the next general port district election at which the particular commissioner position is next scheduled to be voted upon ‑ i.e., the port district general election of November, 1973. On the other hand, you have suggested two other possibilities; namely, the November, 1971 port district general election or, alternatively, the forthcoming state general election which is to be held in November of 1970.
We shall consider, first, the approach to the matter which has been suggested by counsel for the port district. We must respectfully disagree with his view that "the next general election" for the purposes of RCW 53.12.150, supra, should be taken to mean the next general election at which the particular commission position which has become vacant is scheduled to be filled. It will be noted that prior to the "next general election," the statute in question further states that:
". . . the vacancy in the interim [is] to be filled by appointment by a majority vote of the remaining port commissioners."
With this statutory language in mind, it will be seen that the practical effect of counsel's suggestion would be that the interim appointee would serve for the remainder of the entire unexpired term of the commissioner whose death caused the vacancy. Under RCW 53.12.220, the port commissioner elected at the November, 1973 general port district election will not take office until January 1, 1974 ‑ which is, as previously noted, the date of termination of the current six-year term of the deceased former commissioner. Accordingly, it follows that counsel's proposed interpretation of RCW 53.12.150 would, in effect, write the whole phrase "such vacancy shall be filled at the next general election" completely out of the statute, in contravention of the well-established rule of construction that every statute should, if possible, be so construed that no clause, sentence or word is rendered superfluous, void or insignificant. See, e.g., Kasper v. Edmonds, 69 Wn.2d 799, 420 P.2d 346 (1966), and cases cited therein.
[[Orig. Op. Page 3]]
This leaves us, then, with the two possibilities which you have suggested ‑ November, 1971, or November, 1970. Under the provisions of RCW 29.13.020, it is clear that the former (1971) will constitute the next general port district election in this state ‑ while the latter (1970) will be the next ensuing State‑wide [[statewide]]general election. Were the situation involved in your question to have arisen prior to the enactment of the current version of this statute, which originated as § 1, chapter 200, Laws of 1963, and was amended by § 3, chapter 123, Laws of 1965, there can be no doubt but that the answer to your question would have been the 1970 election ‑ in accordance with RCW 53.12.060. For many years, this last noted statute keyed the elections of port district commissioners to the dates of elections of county officers ‑ and, as you are aware, the next general election of county officers in this state will be the state‑wide general election which is to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November, 1970. Accord, RCW 29.13.010 and RCW 36.16.010.
However, under the foregoing 1963 and 1965 enactments ‑ which make up the current text of RCW 29.13.020, port district general elections are now, instead, keyed to city, town and special purpose taxing district elections, as follows:
"All city, town, and district general elections, except as hereinafter provided, shall be held throughout the state of Washington on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the odd-numbered years: . . ."
Furthermore, in recognition of the fact that this enactment would result in a change in the various municipalities' election dates, the legislature went on to provide in an ensuing portion of the most recent of its two amendatory enactments ‑ § 3, chapter 123, Laws of 1965 ‑ that:
"There shall be no regular district elections held in the years 1964, 1966, 1968, and 1970, and the positions that would have been voted upon, except for the provisions of the 1963 elections act as amended, in the years 1964, 1966, 1968, and 1970 shall be voted upon at the general elections to be held on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in the years 1965, 1967, 1969, and 1971, respectively and each two years thereafter." (Emphasis supplied.)
[[Orig. Op. Page 4]]
It is on the basis of this express statutory mandate that we conclude, in response to your question, that the "next general election" within the meaning of RCW 53.12.150, supra ‑ which, but for the provisions of the 1963 elections act as amended would be the November, 1970 election ‑ will, instead, be the November, 1971 general port district election as specified therein.
We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Assistant Attorney General