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AGO 1950 No. 407 - December 27, 1950
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

WATER DISTRICTS -- COMMISSIONERS -- COMPENSATION

The provision for compensation of water district commissioners relates only to reimbursement for the time spent and reasonable expenses incurred in carrying out their governmental or administrative functions as commissioners, and does not provide a wage for labor performed as employees of the district.

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                                                               December 27, 1950

Honorable Ralph G. Swanson
Prosecuting Attorney
Thurston County
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 49-51 No. 407

Dear Sir:

            We acknowledge receipt of your request for an opinion of this office of December 14, 1950, in which you ask whether the $10.00 per day provision for water district commissioners provides compensation for labor performed by any such commissioners for the district.

            Our conclusions are stated as follows:

            The provision for compensation of water district commissioners relates only to reimbursement for the time spent and reasonable expenses incurred in carrying out their governmental or administrative functions as commissioners, and does not provide a wage for labor performed as employees of the district.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            You will note that in the earlier act, Section 7, Chapter 114, Laws of 1929 (Rem. Rev. Stat. 11585) it was provided that all water commissioners shall serve without compensation.  The present act which is section 2, chapter 50, Laws of 1945 (§ 11585 Rem. Supp. 1945) provides in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "Each water district may provide by resolution for the payment of compensation to each of its Commissioners at a rate not exceeding ten dollars ($10) for each day or major part thereof devoted to the business of the district.  Each Water District Commissioner shall be reimbursed for reasonable expenses actually incurred in connection with such business, including his subsistence and lodging while away from his place of residence and mileage for use of personal automobile at the rate of five cents (5¢) per mile."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The status of water commissioner has been recognized by our office to be that of a public official and in connection with the status of the commissioners their compensation for labor performed, we earlier stated in a letter of February 6, 1933, to Mr. J. A. Ruhle, Secretary of the Water District, in part as follows:

            "It is our opinion that a water commissioner is a public official and that the proposed scheme as outlined in your letter would be void, being contrary to public policy.  It is further our opinion that the commissioner entering into such an arrangement would be guilty of gross misdemeanor.  Division 2, section 2334, Vol. 1, Rem. Comp. Stat., reads in part as follows:

            "'Every public officer who shall be beneficially interested, directly or indirectly in any contract, sale, lease or purchase which may be made, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part * * * shall be guilty of a gross misdemeanor and any such contract, sale, lease or purchase shall be void.'

            "In our opinion, this section prohibits the entering into a contract of employment such as outlined in your letter by one of the commissioners of the district."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            When interpreting the act in question it must be borne in mind that where provision is made for compensation of public officers the basic doctrine of statutory interpretation is that such public officers may not benefit from the activities of their districts or public corporations and any such act will be construed strictly against the officers in favor of the public.  See section 245, Crawford's Statutory Construction.

            Inasmuch as commissioners formerly were by statute given no reimbursement for their expenses or time spent in conducting the official business of the district, and the section before us uses the term "payment of compensation for each day or major part thereof devoted to the business of the district and each water district commissioner shall be reimbursed for reasonable expenses actually incurred in connection with such business," it becomes apparent that the legislature did not intend to provide salaries or stated labor wages for said commissioners, but was merely remedying the earlier act which neither provided for reimbursement for time spent in their activities or administrative capacities as commissioners, nor for their actual expenses such as subsistence and lodging, and it is therefore our opinion that provision for compensation relates only to reimbursement to the commissioners when acting in their official capacity and does not provide a wage.  Furthermore, it would be difficult to find otherwise when the language of the act is to provide reimbursement while carrying out the business of the district rather than reimbursement for labor which would be the business of the individual rather than of the district.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

PHILIP W. RICHARDSON
Assistant Attorney General

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