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Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1976 No. 52 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


Under Article XI, § 10 of the state constitution an amendment to a city charter may be submitted to the voters at any general election held pursuant to the provisions of RCW 29.13.010.

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                                                                 August 25, 1976

Honorable R. Ted Bottiger
State Senator, Second District
8849 Pacific Avenue
Tacoma, Washington 98444                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 52

Dear Senator Bottiger:

            Thank you for your letter of August 12, 1976, clarifying the scope of your earlier request for our opinion on a question pertaining to the submission to the voters of the city of Tacoma at the forthcoming, November 2, 1976, general election, of what we now understand to be a proposed amendment, by the initiative process, to the Tacoma City Charter.


            Because the particular initiative with which you are concerned involves a proposed charter amendment rather than a mere ordinance, it would appear to us that in addition to the two sections of the existing charter which you cited earlier (§§ 2.20 and 2.22) some note must also be made of § 9.6 of the charter which reads as follows:

            "Amendments to this Charter may be submitted to the voters by the city council or by initiative petition of the voters, subject to the initiative and referendum provisions of this Charter and in the manner provided by the state Constitution and laws."

            Clearly, it is constitutionally permissible for a city adopting a charter under the provisions of Article XI, § 10 of our state constitution to provide for different means of amending that charter than are stated in the constitution itself.  Accord,State ex rel. Hindley v. Superior Court, 70 Wash. 352, 126 Pac. 920 (1912).  Moreover, it has also been established by another supreme court decision that the terms of Article XI, § 10, supra, do not derogate against the constitutional ability of the legislature to authorize alternative means of revising or amending a previously adopted city charter.  See,Reeves v. Anderson, 13 Wash. 17, 42 Pac. 625 (1895), sustaining the constitutionality of statutory predecessors to RCW 35.22.070-35.22.190 even though the procedures for amending a charter which were set forth therein differed in certain respects from those provided for by the constitution itself.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            From this it will be seen in brief summary that there are actually a total of three potential sources of both substantive and procedural law regarding the amendment of a city charter.  First, there is Article XI, § 10 of the state constitution itself which provides that:

            ". . .  Such charter may be amended by proposals therefore submitted by the legislative authority of such city to the electors thereof at any general election after notice of said submission published as above specified, . . ."

            Second is RCW 35.22.120 under which (assuming that this alternative procedure is utilized)

            ". . . the said amendment shall be submitted to the voters at the next regularmunicipal election, occurring thirty days or more after said petition is filed, . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            And thirdly, there is the existing city charter itself ‑ in this case § 9.6 of the Tacoma City Charter as above quoted ‑ together with §§ 2.20 and 2.22 to the extent that the Tacoma city attorney (rather than this office)1/ concludes that the procedures set forth in those two additional sections of the charter are applicable to an initiative posing a charter amendment as well as to one proposing the adoption of a mere city ordinance.

            Since the forthcoming, November 2, 1976, general election is not amunicipal election (see, RCW 29.13.010) it would not seem to us that a charter amendment submitted in accordance with the procedures set forth in RCW 35.22.120,supra (i.e., the second alternative method above described) could be voted upon at that election.  The November 2, 1976, election is, however, most certainly a general election and thus would appear to qualify if resort, instead, is made to Article XI, § 10 of the constitution,supra, in accordance with the first of the three approaches above listed.2/   And  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] finally, if the Tacoma city attorney is of the opinion that §§ 2.20 and 2.22 of the present charter (and particularly the latter) apply to an initiative proposing a charter amendment (as authorized by § 9.6,supra) it would likewise follow that the proposed amendment in question could be voted upon on November 2, 1976, if a special municipal election were called for that date (in conjunction with the state general election) in accordance with the procedures contained in the present charter.  Accord,State ex rel. Hindley v. Superior Court, supra.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/See, again, the policy considerations which we briefly described to you in our earlier letter of August 4, 1976, which was written in acknowledgement of your original opinion request.

2/Under §§ 9.6 and 2.20 of the Tacoma City Charter, supra, the people exercising their right of initiative under the charter should properly be regarded as an alternative part of the "legislative authority" of that city ‑ along with the city council thereof.