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January 22, 1971
Honorable George F. Hanigan
Cathlamet, Washington 98612
Cite as: AGLO 1971 No. 9 (not official)
We are in receipt of your letter dated January 20, 1971, requesting our opinion on the following two questions:
"(1) If a public utility district commission by resolution appoints and hires an auditor, . . . is that auditor the employee of the board of district commissioners, or is the auditor and are the auditor's functions, subject to the supervision and control of the manager?
"(2) May an auditor be appointed by resolution of the commission and be delegated the financial duties of the manager provided in RCW 54.16.100, ergo: 'keep the commission fully advised as to the financial condition and needs of the district', so as not to be an employee of the manager but directly accountable to the commission?"
As you have pointed out in your letter, the position of auditor for a public utility district is to be filled by appointment of the board of commissioners of the district under RCW 54.24.010. Accord, letter dated February 2, 1959, to Houghton, Cluck, Coughlin & Henry, a copy of which is enclosed herewith.
The manager of a public utility district is also to be appointed by the commissioners, under RCW 54.16.100. The essence of our letter of February 2, 1959, was that the positions of auditor and manager of a public utility district should be regarded as being independent of each other ‑ and not to be held, simultaneously by the same person:
"In our opinion, the purpose of the legislature in creating the separate position of 'auditor' was to add a separate step in the payment of claims in order to provide a [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] further means of control over expenditures, and that permitting the manager or assistant manager whose office incurs bills, simultaneously to occupy the position of issuing warrants for their payment would be a violation of public money."
Based upon the reasoning of this letter, it would be our opinion that a public utility district auditor should be regarded as an appointee of the board of district commissioners and not as an employee of the district subject to the supervision and control of the manager. And secondly, consistent with the foregoing, the auditor is not to be called upon to perform any of the duties and functions of the district manager ‑ nor is the manager to be called upon to perform any of the functions of the auditor.
To the foregoing we would only add, of course, that we assume the public utility district in question is consulting with its own attorney in regard to the specifics of its reported present difficulties. Ordinarily, of course, our only responsibility and function in providing you with an attorney general's opinion is to assist you in the performance of the duties and responsibilities of your own office as prosecuting attorney ‑ which, of course, do not include that of providing legal counsel for a public utility district. But for the fact that your present questions are, essentially, answered by a previous expression of the opinion of this office, written in connection with an official state audit of a public utility district, we would not, therefore, be in a position of answering for you the questions which you have presented.
With this in mind, we nevertheless trust the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
FOR THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General