Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1963 No. 21 - May 07, 1963
AGO Opinion Header Image
John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- CIVIL DEFENSE AND HEALTH OFFICES ‑- LOCATION.

The civil defense office and the health office of Lincoln county may be located at a place other than the county seat.

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

                                                                    May 7, 1963

Honorable Willard A. Zellmer
Prosecuting Attorney
Lincoln County
Davenport, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 21

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested an opinion of this office on the following question:

            May the civil defense office and/or the health office of Lincoln county be located at a place other than Davenport, the county seat?

            In our opinion both offices may be located outside the county seat.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The establishment of a county civil defense organization is authorized by § 8, chapter 178, Laws of 1951 (cf. RCW 38.52.070).  See, AGO 51-53 No. 230 [[to Wally Carmichael, State Representative on January 28, 1952]], a copy of which is enclosed.  Similarly, a county health organization, functioning under the supervision of the board of county commissioners serving in the capacity of a county board of health, is provided for by statute‑-§ 1, chapter 85, Laws of 1907 (cf. RCW 70.06.020).

            Neither the statutes above cited nor any other statutory provision we have found contains any express requirement that either the county civil defense office or the county health office be physically located in the county seat.  We are aware that chapter 82, Laws of 1893 (cf. RCW 36.16.090), provides:

            "The boards of county commissioners of the several counties of the state shall provide a suitable furnished office for each of the county officers in their respective court houses."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            However, we do not believe that this statute requires that either the county civil defense office or the county health office necessarily be physically located at the county seat.  Chapter 82, Laws of 1893 (RCW 36.16.090) supra, was entitled:

            "AN ACT toauthorize boards of county commissioners to provide suitable offices for the use of each county officer."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In determining legislative intent regarding the meaning of words contained in the body of an act, resort to the title may be had.  State ex rel. Seymour v. Superior Court, 168 Wash. 361, 12 P. (2d) 394 (1932).  Ayers v. Tacoma, 6 Wn. (2d) 545, 108 P. (2d) 348 (1940).  Thus, while the word "shall" ordinarily is a word of mandate, reading "shall" as it appears in chapter 82, Laws of 1893, supra, in connection with the language appearing in the title of the act, it appears that in this case the word "shall" is to be taken as directory only.

            Without question, the board of county commissioners is responsible for providing suitable office space for all offices or departments of county government.  In the case of certain offices, there are express statutory provisions requiring the maintenance of the office at the county seat.  See, § 1, chapter 57, Laws of 1891 (cf. RCW 36.23.080) (county clerk); § 2, chapter 45, Laws of 1891 (cf. RCW 36.28.160) (county sheriff).  But see § 1, chapter 122, Laws of 1909 (cf. RCW 36.27.070), which merely requires that the prosecuting attorney of each county keep an office at the county seat of the county of which he is prosecuting attorney.  InState ex rel. Becker v. Wiley, 16 Wn. (2d) 340, 133 P. (2d) 507 (1943), the court concluded that a prosecuting attorney must maintain an office at the county seat, but could also maintain an additional office elsewhere in the county,at county expense.  In other words, chapter 82, Laws of 1893 (cf. RCW 36.16.090), supra, was held not to preclude the board of county commissioners from maintaining an office for the prosecuting attorney not only outside of the court house, but away from the county seat.

            In the absence of any requirement that either the county civil defense office, or the county health office be located at the county seat, the reasoning of the Washington court inState ex rel. Lemon v. Langlie, 45 Wn. (2d) 82, 273 P. (2d) 464 (1954), is not pertinent.  In that notable case, wherein the court compelled various offices of the executive branch of state government to be returned from Seattle to Olympia, the court arrived at this result on the basis of the construction of Article III, § 24, of the Washington Constitution,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] providing:

            "The governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, superintendent of public instruction, commissioner of public lands and attorney general shall severally keep the public records, books and papers relating to their respective offices, at the seat of government, at which place also the governor, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor shall reside."

            The court stated:

            "It will be noticed that Article III, § 24, requires all of the officers making up the executive department of the government, with the exception of the lieutenant governor, to maintain their offices at the seat of government.  (The lieutenant governor, strictly speaking, has no executive duties at all except when he is acting as governor, at which time he is required by the mandate of the constitution to reside at and keep the records of his office at the seat of government.  Article III, § 16, provides that the lieutenant governor shall be presiding officer of the state senate, but while acting as such presiding officer the lieutenant governor actually is serving as an officer of the legislative branch of government and not as an officer of the executive department.) Consequently, the constitution requires all of the executive officers of the state known at the time it was framed and adopted to maintain their offices at the seat of government."  (Emphasis supplied.)  (pp. 97, 98.)

            As we have previously stated, no similar mandate exists with regard toall offices of the executive branch of county government.

            Accordingly, it is our opinion that neither the civil defense office of Lincoln county nor the health office of Lincoln county are required by law to be physically located at the county seat.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo