Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1982 No. 11 -
Attorney General Ken Eikenberry


Although additional port commissioners may be elected under RCW 53.12.120 as amended by § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982 at a special election conducted in November of 1982 (rather than waiting for the next port district general election in November of 1983), the terms of those additional commissioners, if they are so elected, will, nevertheless, not commence until January 1, 1984 since that is ". . . the date provided by law for port commissioners to next commence their terms of office"; in turn, their successors will then be elected in November of 1987 and 1989, respectively, at the same time as other port commissioners, generally, are elected. 

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                                                                 August 13, 1982 

Honorable Lorraine Wojahn
State Senator, 27th District
3592 East "K" Street
Tacoma, Washington 98404

Cite as:  AGO 1982 No. 11                                                                                                                

 Dear Senator Wojahn:

             We are in receipt of your letter requesting our opinion on the following question:

             "If a Port District special election is called in an even-numbered year in a District which has increased in membership from three to five (pursuant to § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982), for how long will the person(s) elected serve and when will their successor(s) be elected?"

             We respond in the manner set forth in our analysis.


             The foregoing question, as noted, arises in the context of § 1, chapter 219, Laws of 1982 by which the legislature amended RCW 53.12.120, relating to port districts, to read as follows:

             "((In port districts having a population of)) When the  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] population of a port district reaches five hundred thousand ((or more)), in accordance with the latest United Statesregular or special census or with the official state population estimate, there shall be submitted to the voters of the district, at the ((first)) next general election ((after June 11, 1953)) or at a special port election called for that purpose, the proposition of increasing the number of commissioners to five.  At any general election thereafter, the same proposition may be submitted by resolution of the port commissioners, by filing a certified copy of the resolution with the county auditor at least four months prior to the general election.  If the proposition is adopted, the commission in that port district shall consist of five commissioners in positions numbered as specified in RCW 53.12.035, the additional commissioners to take office five days after the election."

             In AGO 1982 No. 7, copy enclosed, this office concluded that the "next general election," for purposes of the foregoing statute, will be the November, 1983 port district general election as provided for in RCW 29.13.020.  In so concluding, however, we also noted the possibility of an earlier special election which, conceivably, could be held during the fall of 1982, instead.  And, in turn, we later confirmed that latter proposition in our letter to State Representative Wendell Brown of July 12, 1982, a copy of which is also enclosed for your immediate reference, where we observed that:

             ". . . It is only the general elections of cities, towns or districts which are required by RCW 29.13.020 to be conducted in an odd-numbered year‑-on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November."

             Your question also takes cognizance of this latter possibility and inquires as to the terms of office which the two additional port commissioners will serve if the subject election is, indeed, conducted this year rather than in 1983.  The answer, basically, will be found in RCW 53.12.130 which provides as follows:

             ". . . The additional commissioner thus elected receiving the highest number of votes shall hold office for six years and the other shall hold office for four years from the date provided by law for port commissioners to next commence their terms of office.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "A successor to a commissioner holding position four or five whose term is about to expire, shall be elected at the general election next preceding such expiration, for a term of six years."

             In AGO 1982 No. 7 we alluded to the possibility that if the two additional commissioners were to be elected at the November, 1982 state general election (instead of the November, 1983port district election) they would then serve terms which would be ". . . totally out of step with the terms of the other commissioners."  That conjecture, however, assumed (without deciding) that the terms of the two new commissioners would begin on January 1, 1983, so as to then end on January 1, 1987 and January 1, 1989, respectively.  And even under that schedule it is possible that the anomaly (as we called it) could have been rectified (as we later suggested to the Secretary of State's Office) through application of the common law holdover rule‑-under which an incumbent may hold over after the conclusion of his term until the election and qualification of a successor.  See, 63 Am.Jur.2d, Public Officers and Employees, § § 157-160.1

             The precise wording of your present question, however, places the wording of RCW 53.12.130, supra, in somewhat sharper focus.  Specifically, two points will now be noted.  First, no matter when they are elected, the six and four-year terms of office prescribed by the statute for the new commissioners do not commence until ". . . the date provided by law for port commissioners to next commence their terms of office."  And, second, a successor to each such new (or additional) commissioner is then to be elected at the general election next proceeding the expiration of their respective initial terms.

             With that, the light now shines through.  Since port commissioners, generally, are not elected in even-numbered years their terms do not commence on January 1st of an odd-numbered year  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] at all.  Rather, under RCW 29.13.020, they are elected at port district general elections held in odd-numbered years.  And therefore, under RCW 29.04.170, their terms all commence on January 1st of an even-numbered year.  For example, port commissioners who are next elected at the November, 1983 port district general elections will then begin the terms for which they were elected on January 1, 1984.

             In turn, by reason of the first feature of RCW 53.12.130 which we have just noted, that will also be true of any additional port commissioners who might be elected at a special election held in the fall of 1982.  Even though the additional commissioners may be elected at that time, they will not actually commence serving the terms of office (four years and six years respectively) for which they were elected until January 1, 1984 since that is ". . . the date provided by law for port commissioners to next commence their terms of office."  By the same token, their successors will then be elected in November of 1987 and 1989, respectively, at the same time as other port commissioners, generally, are again elected.  We thus answer your question as above stated, accordingly.2

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

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

 1/Note also, in our own state, the following proposition, as set forth in RCW 4.04.010:

             "The common law, so far as it is not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States, or of the state of Washington nor incompatible with the institutions and condition of society in this state, shall be the rule of decision in all courts of this state."

 2/What this means, of course, is that if it is decided to conduct a special election in 1982, rather than waiting for the next general port district election in 1983, that approach will merely accelerate the decision-making process of the voters but not the actual operational, effect of their collective decision.