How you interact with the board depends on the board’s legal role in a particular issue. The board has three principal functions, and those functions determine the type of input citizens may provide. These functions affect what the board can or cannot do and bind the board to considering issues in specific ways.
Sometimes the law limits the board to considering an issue in a public meeting setting only. By law, this precludes public comments and also precludes individual board members from having direct contact with interested parties. This is not a decision of the board but a binding requirement of the law.
With that in mind, here are the three principal board roles and the legalities that must come into play regarding citizen participation.
The board acts administratively in its dealings with departments that are its direct responsibility. For issues such as roads and social services, commissioners usually give direction and discuss policies with county staff in work sessions. These sessions, which generally take place on Wednesdays, are open to the public.
How to participate: Although the commissioners are not legally required to seek citizen input at their work sessions, they sometimes use those occasions to ask for comments from people in attendance. So work sessions are an opportunity to learn more about an issue and may also be an opportunity for you to share your thoughts.
Besides work sessions, you may also discuss an administrative issue with a commissioner at any time. There are no legal restrictions on your calling, writing, or working with staff members involved in the issue either, and they welcome your input.
In addition, even though administrative decisions typically do not require the board to hold a public hearing, on major issues the county usually provides for workshops or open houses where your comments are invited. (If you’re unsure whether an issue is an administrative item, please ask the Clerk to the Board by calling (360) 397-2232).
When the commissioners adopt resolutions or ordinances, they are carrying out their legislative, or law-making, function. Board actions such as adopting zoning codes, the county’s biennial budget, or leash laws fall within its legislative function. To take legislative action, the board must hold a public hearing and allow public comments.
How to participate: In addition to testifying at the public hearing, either orally or by submitting written comments, you may contact county commissioners directly. There are no legal restrictions from phoning them or writing to them individually about an issue they will decide in a public hearing.
The board acts in a quasi-judicial role when it examines whether a law was applied correctly in a particular decision. This usually deals with an appeal of a decision made by a land-use hearings examiner regarding a development proposal. In its quasi-judicial role, the board is limited to determining whether the hearings examiner was in error based on the evidence that was provided to the examiner. The board is not deciding the case over again. The board makes its decisions on such appeals at public meetings.
How to participate: An official public meeting in which the board makes quasi-judicial decisions has some legal restrictions on the input commissioners may receive. The board may not receive new information about the issue. Instead, only arguments that deal with whether the original decision was or wasn’t in error, based on the evidence available at the time of the original decision, are allowed. Those arguments must be provided in writing, in advance. By law, no comments are allowed at the public meeting itself. This means that for you to have input on an issue that might be appealed, the time to be involved is early in the process. When a decision is at the hearings examiner level, there is plenty of opportunity for your input. Once an issue is appealed to the board, there are fewer opportunities.
- Public hearing: Citizens may provide written or oral comments.
- Public meeting: By law, citizens may not provide oral comments. However, citizens may submit written comments prior to the meeting addressing whether errors were made in the case under review.