Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1979 No. 16 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


RCW 52.12.090, rather than RCW 42.30.080, governs the calling of a special meeting of a board of fire protection district commissioners; accordingly, such a meeting may be called ". . . by a majority of the commissioners or by the secretary and chairman of the board. . . ."

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                                                                  March 22, 1979

Honorable Paul H. Conner
State Senator, 24th District
427 Public Lands Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1979 No. 16

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have requested our opinion on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            By what means may a special meeting of a board of fire protection district commissioners be called?

            We answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.


            Your question has arisen, as we understand it, because of an apparent conflict between two statutes.  First, RCW 52.12.090 (codifying § 31, chapter 34, Laws of 1939 as last amended by § 8, chapter 254, Laws of 1947) provides as follows:

            "The office of the fire commissioners and principal place of business of the district shall be at some place within the county in which the district is situated, to be designated by the board of fire commissioners.  The board shall hold regular monthly meetings at their office on such day as they, by resolution previously adopted, shall determine,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] and may adjourn such meetings as may be required for the proper transaction of business.  Special meetings of the board may be called at any time by a majority of the commissioners or by the secretary and the chairman of the board.  Any fire commissioner not joining in the call of a special meeting shall be entitled to a three days written notice by mail of the same, specifying generally the business proposed to be transacted at said special meeting, but when at any special meeting of the board all members are present, lack of previous notice thereof shall not invalidate the proceedings."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The other statute involved is RCW 42.30.080.  This statute originated as § 8, chapter 250, Laws of 1971, 1st Ex. Sess., a part of the state open public meetings act, and reads (in pertinent part) as follows):

            "A special meeting may be called at any time by the presiding officer of the governing body of a public agency or by a majority of the members of the governing body by delivering personally or by mail written notice to each member of the governing body; and to each local newspaper of general circulation and to each local radio or television station which has on file with the governing body a written request to be notified of such special meeting or of all special meetings. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            To the extent that a special meeting of the commissioners of a fire protection district may be called by a majority of the commissioners there is, you will note, no conflict between the two statutes.  There is, however, a conflict on the question of whether the chairman of the board of fire commissioners may call a special meeting by himself or whether such action requires the concurrence of the secretary of the particular fire protection district which he serves.  If RCW 42.30.080 takes precedence the chairman of the board of commissioners, by himself, may call a special meeting.  But if, instead, RCW 52.12.090 prevails the concurrence of the secretary is required.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            In resolving any question of whether a general act supersedes or amends by implication a special act, resort must necessarily be had to the established rules of statutory construction.  In our opinion, the following rules are determinative of the question here presented to us:

            (1) Special acts are not presumed to be amended or repealed by a general act.  State ex rel. Wenatchee etc. Dist. v. Banker, 179 Wash. 343, 37 P.2d 1115 (1934).  In fact, the presumption is against amendments or repeals by implication.  1 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 2014, p. 468; 82 C.J.S. Stat. § 298.  Or, to state it another way, it is elementary that repeals or amendments of statutes by implication are not favored.  State v. Becker, 39 Wn.2d 94, 234 P.2d 897 (1951).  This is particularly true where the prior statute relates to a specific class of a subject and the latter act is general.

            (2) A general act does not ordinarily supersede a special act unless that is the plain legislative intent even when the acts may contain somewhat inconsistent provisions.  Spokane & Eastern Tr. Co. v. Spokane County, 173 Wash. 699, 22 P.2d 656 (1933);Bank of Fairfield v. Spokane Co., 173 Wash. 145, 22 P.2d 646 (1933).  In 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 5204, p. 541, the proposition is stated as follows:

            "General and special acts may be in pari materia.  If so, they should be construed together.  Where one statute deals with a subject in general terms, and another deals with a part of the same subject in a more detailed way, the two should be harmonized if possible; but if there is any conflict, the latter will prevail, regardless of whether it was passed prior to the general statute, unless it appears that the legislature intended to make the general act controlling."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Similarly, inPeople v. Breyer, 139 Cal. App. 547, 34 P.2d 1065, 1066 (1934) the California court stated the rule as follows:

            "It is the general rule that where the general statute standing alone would include the same matter as the special act, and thus conflict with it, the special act will be considered as an exception to the general statute whether it was passed  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] before or after such general enactment.  Where the special statute is later it will be regarded as an exception to or qualification of the prior general one; and where the general act is later the special statute will be considered as remaining an exception to its terms unless it is repealed in general words or by necessary implication.  [Citations omitted]. . . ."

            (3) Where general and special laws are concurrent the special law applied to the subject matter contemplated by it to the exclusion of the general act.  State v. Becker, supra; City of Airway Heights v. Schroeder, 53 Wn.2d 625, 335 P.2d 578 (1959).

            Bearing these principles in mind we conclude, first, that in this case it is RCW 52.12.090,supra, which is the "special statute" while RCW 42.30.080,supra, is the "general statute."  The first of these two statutes applies only to one particular class of governing bodies; namely, the board of commissioners of a fire protection district.  RCW 42.30.080, on the other hand, is a general act applicable to all such public governing bodies in this state.1/

             Secondly, having so characterized the two statutes in question, we conclude that the prevailing statute‑-insofar as your question is concerned‑-is RCW 52.12.090, supra.  Thus, notwithstanding the later enactment of RCW 42.30.080 it is still RCW 52.12.090 which governs the calling of a special meeting of a board of fire protection district commissioners.  For this reason it is our opinion, in direct answer to your question, that (in the words of RCW 52.12.090):

            ". . . Special meetings of the board may be called . . . by a majority of the commissioners or by the secretary and chairman of the board. . . ."

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

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, the definitions in RCW 42.30.020(1) and (2).