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AGO 1960 No. 110 - March 31, 1960
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

ELECTIONS - MUNICIPAL OFFICERS - TERMS OF OFFICE - EFFECT OF §§ 1 AND 5, CHAPTER 86, LAWS OF 1959 (RCW 29.13.050 - 1959 SUPP.) UPON TERMS OF MUNICIPAL OFFICERS RE ELECTED [[REELECTED]]MARCH 8, 1960.

The new terms of municipal officials in first class cities who were re elected [[reelected]]to their respective offices at the municipal general elections March 8, 1960, commence on the first Monday in June, 1960.

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                                                                  March 31, 1960

Honorable Donald H. Webster
Director, Bureau of Governmental
Research and Services
266 J. Allen Smith Hall
University of Washington
Seattle 5, Washington                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 110

Dear Sir:

            By letter dated March 11, 1960, you have requested the opinion of this office upon a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Under chapter 86, Laws of 1959, do the new terms of officials in first class cities who were re elected [[reelected]]to their respective offices at the municipal general elections March 8, 1960, commence on the first Monday in April, 1960, or on the first Monday of June, 1960?

            Your letter states that the question is important in determining when new salary increases become effective, in view of the provisions of Article XI, § 8 of the Constitution of Washington which prohibits increasing or decreasing an officer's compensation during his term of office.

            In our opinion the new terms of such officers commence on the first Monday in June, 1960.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 1, chapter 86, Laws of 1959 (RCW 29.13.050 1959 Supp.) provides as follows:

            "The term of every city, town, and district officer, excepting school district officers, elected to office on the second Tuesday in March shall begin on the first Monday in April following his election.  The term of every officer in first, second, and third class school districts shall begin on the twentieth day following his election.  Each board of directors shall be organized at the first meeting held after a newly elected director takes office."

            Section 5 of the same act provides as follows:

            "Persons elected to office under the provisions of this amendatory act shall not assume office until the terms of their predecessors have expired."

            In view of the foregoing provisions it is necessary to determine whether the term "predecessor" includes an officer who has been re elected [[reelected]]to the same office, or whether it refers only to an officer who was defeated and was replaced by a different individual.  Since the term "predecessor" appears to be ambiguous in this respect, we must construe the statute in order to ascertain the legislature's intention.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).

            Black's Law Dictionary (4th ed.) defines the word "Predecessor" as:

            "One who goes or has gone before; the correlative of 'successor.'  One who has filled an office or station before the present incumbent. . . ."

            From that general definition and from other principles which we will presently discuss, we believe that the word as used in § 5, supra, includes all those holding municipal offices prior to the terms of those elected to office under the provisions of the act, whether they be the same or different individuals.

            Although we have found no cases directly in point, we believe the question can be resolved effectively, although somewhat indirectly, by considering the meaning usually attached to the word "successor," since that is the correlative of the term "predecessor."  Black's Law Dictionary, supra.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            If an officer is his own "successor" in office, when he is re elected [[reelected]], it would follow as a correlative that he is his own "predecessor" as well.  The word "successor" appears to have been given such meaning.  To illustrate, the terms of municipal officers are usually for a fixed period "and until their successors are elected and qualified" or some similar language is used.  See RCW 36.32.030 (county commissioners); RCW 36.16.020 (1959 Supp.) (county officers); and the following statutes relating to city officers:  RCW 35.17.020 (1959 Supp.); RCW 35.18.020 (1959 Supp.); RCW 35.23.040 (1959 Supp.); RCW 35.24.050 (1959 Supp.); RCW 35.27.090 (1959 Supp.).  The same or similar language was employed in each of those statutes, of course, prior to their 1959 amendment.  For a construction of such language as applying to the term of a city attorney who was re elected [[reelected]], see Hillyard v. Collier, 133 Wash. 249, 233 Pac. 955 (1925).

            Furthermore, unless we construe the correlative term "predecessor" in the same manner, § 5 of the present act would have the effect of shortening the terms of some, but not all, of those who held office immediately prior to the March 8, 1960 election.  This result was not expressly intended and statutes will not be construed to shorten the terms of incumbent officers unless the intent is plainly and clearly expressed.  State ex rel. Pendleton v. Superior Court, 119 Wash. 73, 78, 204 Pac. 1053 (1922).  In the present case we need not rely entirely upon the presumption, because that intention was expressed by the legislature itself in the course of passing Senate Bill No. 22 which later became chapter 86, Laws of 1959.  That was the reason given for striking the original § 5 of that chapter, an emergency clause which would have put the act into effect immediately.  The legislature then substituted in its place the present § 5.  See 1959 House Journal, pp. 626, 627.  Of course, if a law is subject to construction, resort may be had to the House Journals as an aid in arriving at legislative intent in passing the act.  Nostrand v. Balmer, 53 Wn. (2d) 460, 335 P. (2d) 10 (1959); State ex rel. Blume v. Yelle, 52 Wn. (2d) 158, 324 P. (2d) 247 (1958).

            It might be argued that where the question involves the time when salary increases shall become effective, the reason for the presumption fails because shortening the term would be beneficial, rather than detrimental, to the re elected [[reelected]]incumbent.  That argument, however, would ignore the equal possibility that some re elected [[reelected]]incumbents in other cities might have had their salaries reduced, rather than increased.

            We see no reason, therefore, for purposes of § 5, chapter 86, to make a distinction between those officers who were newly elected March 8, 1960, and those re elected [[reelected]]to office at that time.  In our opinion, the legislature simply meant to postpone the operation of the act so as not to affect existing terms of office which would normally expire on the first Monday in June.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT F. HAUTH
Assistant Attorney General

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