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AGO 1972 No. 27 - December 05, 1972
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

DISTRICTS ‑- PUBLIC UTILITY ‑- COMMISSIONERS ‑- REALIGNMENT OF COMMISSIONER DISTRICT BOUNDARIES ‑- VOLUNTARY CHANGE OF RESIDENCE ‑- VACATION OF OFFICE

(1) Where a public utility district commissioner ceases to be a resident and qualified voter of the commissioner district in which he resided and voted at the time of his election as a consequence of his voluntary removal of his place of residence from one such commissioner district to another, his office is not deemed to have been vacated.

(2) Where, as a consequence of the realignment of public utility district commissioner district boundaries under RCW 54.12.010, a duly elected commissioner of a public utility district ceases to be a resident and qualified voter of the commissioner district in which he resided and voted at the time of his election, his office is not deemed to have become vacant.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                               December 5, 1972

Honorable Dan Jolly
State Senator, 16th District
P.O. Box 185
Connell, Washington 99326

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1972 No. 27

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Where a public utility district commissioner ceases to be a resident and qualified voter of the commissioner district in which he resided and voted at the time of his election as a consequence of his voluntary removal of his place of residence from one such commissioner district to another, is his office thereby to be deemed to have been vacated?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Where, as a consequence of the realignment of public utility district commissioner district boundaries under RCW 54.12.010, a duly elected commissioner of a public utility district ceases to be a resident and qualified voter of the commissioner district in which he resided and voted at the time of his election, is his office to be deemed, thereby, to have become vacant?

            We answer both of these questions in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 54.12.010 provides for the division of public utility districts into three commissioner districts having approximately equal population.  This statute, as amended by § 1, chapter 106, Laws of 1969, further provides for the periodic realignment of such commissioner district boundaries by the commission on the basis of population changes found to have occurred since the last previous such alignment.1/

             The significance of these commissioner districts, from the standpoint of the election of PUD commissioners, is to be gleaned from certain other segments of this same statute, the first of which provides that:

            ". . .  No person shall be eligible to be elected to the office of public utility district commissioner for a particular district commissioner district unless he is a freeholder within the boundaries of such public utility district, and a qualified voter of the public utility district commissioner district . . . from which he is elected."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            However, although thus requiring candidates for these positions to be qualified voters (and, hence, residents)2/ of particular commissioner districts, RCW 54.12.010 goes on to provide that:

            ". . .  All candidates shall be voted upon by the entire public utility district."

            In both of these respects, the aforesaid statutory provisions relating to the election of public utility district commissioners are similar to those which were contained in RCW 28.57.350, relating to the election of school district directors, prior to the repeal of this section by § 9, chapter 67, Laws of 1971.  As quoted on page 2 of AGO 1969 No. 10, [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Clark County on May 27, 1969]]copy enclosed, this statute provided that:

            ". . .  When five directors constitute the board, one shall be elected from among the residents of each of the five directors' districts of the school district by the electors of the entire school district, . . ."

            In this 1969 opinion we were asked the same question with respect to school directors as you have here asked, by your first question above stated, in the case of public utility district commissioners.  Our answer was that once elected and qualified, a school director's tenure in office for the term for which he was elected is not affected by his voluntary removal of his place of residence from one director district to another within the school district ‑ so long as he remains a resident of the school district itself.

            In so concluding we followed several earlier opinions of this office to the same effect with respect to the analogous situation of county commissioners ‑ and, in addition, we made note of AGO 59-60 No. 25 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Spokane County on March 25, 1959]], copy enclosed, dealing with school directors.  There we had determined that the term of office of a duly elected and qualified school district director is, likewise, not affected by a reorganization of the district resulting in changes in the boundary lines of the various director districts (a situation comparable to that raised by your second question) saying:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "The board of directors of a second class school district consists of five members (RCW 28.58.080), one member being elected from among the residents of each of the five director districts by the electors of the entire school district.  RCW 28.57.350. . . .

            "From an examination of the statutory provisions relative to the general powers and duties of all class school districts (RCW 28.58.100) and considering the exclusive control which the boards exercise over all the school property in their respective districts, (RCW 28.58.010), we must conclude that the board of directors of a school district are officers of the entire district and are not merely officers of their respective director districts.  Accordingly, it is our opinion that no action by the county committee, changing the boundary lines of the director districts can affect the right of any director to hold office until the expiration of his term.  Regardless of any change in boundaries of the director districts, the director continues to reside in theschool district for which he was elected and within which the duties of his office are to be discharged and, thus, no vacancy is created.  RCW 42.12.010,supra."

            Addressing ourselves to this 1959 opinion in AGO 1969 No. 10,supra, we said, at page 4 of the latter:

            "Although this opinion involved a realignment of director districts rather than, as here, a voluntary change of residence from one director district to another, we believe its reasoning, as thus stated, is equally applicable to ‑ and determinative of ‑ your present question.  A school director is not merely an officer of his director district ‑ any more than a county commissioner is of his commissioner district.  Therefore, a school director, by moving his place of residence from one director district to another (for  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] whatever reason) remains just as much a resident of the school district

            "'. . . for which he shall have been elected or appointed, or within which the duties of his office are to be discharged. . . .'

            "as does a county commissioner remain a resident of his county under like circumstances."

            By reason of the above described similarities between the provisions of RCW 54.12.010, regarding the election and qualification of public utility district commissioners, and those of RCW 28.57.350 as to school directors, we think the conclusions which we have reached with respect to the latter should be viewed as being equally applicable to the former.  Accordingly, based upon the reasoning of AGO 1969 No. 10, supra, we answer your first question, as paraphrased, in the negative; and on the basis of AGO 59-60 No. 25, supra, we likewise answer your second question in the negative.  The fact that a duly elected public utility district commissioner ceases to be a resident and qualified voter of the commissioner district in which he was residing and voting at the time of his election, whether by reason of a voluntary move or the realignment of commissioner district boundaries, should not be deemed to result in a vacancy in his office ‑ so long as the commissioner remains a resident of the public utility district, proper.

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,


SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Prior to the enactment of this 1969 amendment the boundaries of public utility district commissioner districts were coextensive with the boundaries of county commissioner districts of the county in which the district was located, in all cases where the public utility district occupied the entire county.  Accordingly, until the adoption of this amendatory provision the boundaries of such commissioner districts were automatically affected by any changes made in the corresponding county commissioner district boundaries by the board of county commissioners.  See, AGO 65-66 No. 87 [[to Prosecuting Attorney, Clark County on February 11, 1965]].

2/See, Washington Constitution, Article VI, § 1 and RCW 29.07.070.

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