Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1953 No. 108 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


Trustees of city public library must comply with notice requirement of chapter 216, Laws of 1953.

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                                                                  August 6, 1953

Honorable Gordon J. Brown
State Representative
Twenty-ninth District
237 Farallone Avenue
Tacoma, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 53-55 No. 108

Dear Sir:

            By letter as previously acknowledged you have requested the opinion of this office on the following question:  Do the notice requirements of chapter 216, Laws of 1953, apply to meetings of the Board of Trustees of the Tacoma Public Library?

            In our opinion, such meetings fall within the provisions of chapter 216.


            The relevant portions of chapter 216, Laws of 1953, are as follows:

            "SECTION 1. No board, commission, agency or authority of the state of Washington,nor the governing board, commission, agency or authority of any political subdivision exercising legislative, regulatory or directive powers, shall adopt any ordinance, resolution, rule, regulation, order or directive, except in a  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] meeting open to the public and then only at a meeting, the date of which is fixed by law or rule, or at a meeting of which public notice has been given by notifying press, radio and television * * *Provided, That this act shall not apply * * * to those regulatory orders of quasi-judicial bodies applicable only to named partiesas distinguished from orders having general effect on the public or a class or group.  (Italics, except as to "Provided," supplied)

            Section 2 provides that any of the bodies described may hold executive sessions, at which no final action is to be taken, without admitting the public; although any meeting of which notice must be given is required to be open and public.

            The basic criterion in the construction of a statute is the legislative intent, keeping in mind the evil to be prevented and the remedy which the law applies.  It is quite clear that chapter 216 was enacted to insure the right of general public attendance upon any governmental meeting at which action might be taken affecting the public or a class or group of persons.  The statute is simply a restatement of a long-standing American tradition.  It is indeed unfortunate that the need has arisen for such a restatement; but we doubt that many would quarrel with the principle expressed.

            Our problem is to determine whether or not the Board of Trustees of the Tacoma Public Library falls within the scope of this law.  In the case ofFitz v. Gibbs, 39 Wn. (2d) 481, 483, 236 P. (2d) 545, the following rule is stated:

            "Where no contrary intention appears in a statute, relative and qualifying words and phrases, both grammatically and legally, refer to the last antecedent.  (Citing numerous authorities)

            "The last antecedent is the last word which can be made an antecedent without impairing the meaning of the sentence.  Traverse City v. Township of Blair, 190 Mich. 313, 157 N.W. 81."

            In the italicized portion of chapter 216, "exercising legislative, regulatory or directive powers" must qualify "board, commission, agency or authority;" because while a political subdivision has at least some of these powers, there is no doubt that they areexercised by authorized individuals or bodies acting in behalf of the subdivision.  The word "exercising" we think makes only the distinction rephrased and amplified in section 2, as quoted; that where no  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] exercise of the power is contemplated, notice need not be given.

            It may be said that, since the legislature applied this law toany agency of the state, and only to "the governing (board, etc.) of any political subdivision," only one such body was meant to be included for each political subdivision.  The language employed might admit of this construction.  But the statute must be read in its entirety and in the light of its primary purpose in the search for legislative intent.  We think that the legislature sought effect for the statute whenever any governmental body exercised one of the described powers on behalf of a political subdivision.  In large cities, with complex administration, it would be virtually impossible for one body to devote the requisite time and energy to the conduct of every facet of public business which involved the exercise of "legislative, regulatory or directive powers."  As with the state government, some of these powers must necessarily be delegated, in varying context and degree.  It would be an obvious inconsistency to hold that the law applies when such powers are exercised by the "governing board," and does not apply when the same powers are exercised by a subordinate body.  Where delegable powers are involved, circumvention of the statute would become a simple matter.  We cannot believe that the legislature intended such a result.

            We think that the question may be resolved to this: Does the Board of Trustees of the Tacoma Public Library exercise legislative, regulatory or directive power which affects the general public or a class or group?

            RCW 27.12.210 details the powers and duties granted to the trustees, including the following:

            "The trustees, immediately after their appointment * * * shall meet and organize by the election of such officers as they deem necessary.  They shall:

            "(1) Adopt such bylaws, rules, and regulations for their own guidance and for the government of the library as they deem expedient;

            "(2) Have the supervision, care, and custody of all property of the library, including the rooms or buildings constructed, leased or set apart therefor;

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "* * *

            "(5) Have exclusive control of the finances of the library;

            "* * *

            "(7) Lease or purchase land for library buildings;

            "(8) Lease, purchase, or erect an appropriate building for library purposes, and acquire such other property as may be needed therefor;

            "* * *

            "(10) Do all other acts necessary for the orderly and efficient management and control of the library."

            It has broad powers over a public institution in which a large proportion of the public may be interested.  It regulates and directs the operation of that institution.  Within reasonable limits, it decides what sort of library service the public shall have.  Apparently it exercises powers which may affect any citizen interested in the use of the library.

            We conclude that the Board of Trustees of the Tacoma Public Library does exercise legislative, regulatory or directive power on behalf of a political subdivision.  In our opinion, it is within the purview of chapter 216, Laws of 1953, and subject to the mandate of that law respecting notice requirements.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General