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Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1956 No. 306 -
Attorney General Don Eastvold


The Board of County Commissioners of Clallam County cannot establish a civil service or merit system without a statute enabling them to do so.

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                                                                  August 2, 1956

Honorable Francis Pearson
State Senator
Twenty-fourth District
132 West 14th
Port Angeles, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 306

Dear Sir:

            You have requested our opinion on the following questions, which we paraphrase as follows:

            1.         Is there statutory authorization allowing county commissioners to establish by ordinance a civil service or merit system for deputy sheriffs?

            2.         If not, is legislation to authorize the establishment of such a system required in order to accomplish this?

            We answer your first question in the negative and your second question in the affirmative.


            RCW 36.16.070 reads in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "In all cases where the duties of any county office are greater than can be performed by the person elected to fill it, the officer may employ deputies and other necessary employees with the consent of the board of county commissioners.  The board shall fix their compensation and shall require what deputies shall give bond and the amount of bond required from each.  The sureties on deputies' bonds must be approved by the board and the premium therefor is a county expense. . . .

            ". . . The officer appointing a deputy or other employee shall be responsible for the acts of his appointees upon his official bond and may revoke each appointment at pleasure."

            A very similar statute has been construed to mean that the officer has exclusive control over the appointment and dismissal of his deputies, although the board of county commissioners controls the number and salaries of deputies.  Thomas v. Whatcom County, 82 Wash. 113.

            There is no express authority contained in RCW 36.32.120 permitting the board of county commissioners to establish a civil service or merit system.  In view of the provisions of RCW 36.16.070 quoted above, such power cannot be implied.

            We therefore conclude that although the commissioners have control over the number and salaries of deputies, it cannot establish a civil service or merit system.

            As to your second question, in view of the statutory provisions discussed above, we feel that legislative action is necessary before a board of county commissioners may establish a civil service or merit system.  County officers have only expressly delegated powers or those to be reasonably implied.  State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575.  The state legislature has the power to prescribe the duties of the board of county commissioners and the sheriff.  Amendment 12, Art. 11, § 5, Washington constitution.  We see no reason why the legislature might not, by express statutory authority, authorize the establishment by the board of county commissioners of a civil service or merit system for deputy sheriffs.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We trust that the above analysis has been of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General