Boards & Commissions

Restrictions and Requirements

As a Governor’s appointee, you should be aware of certain restrictions and requirements that may affect you during your tenure as a board member.

  • Board members must be familiar with and operate within their board’s governing statutes and bylaws, and state and federal laws at all times.
  • To ensure accountability, all applicable policies and procedures adopted by the board should be in written form.
  • No board member may make unilateral decisions or take action without the consent of the board as a whole.
  • At industry or professional gatherings, individual board members must use discretion to avoid the appearance of speaking for the board, unless specifically authorized to do so.
  • Board members must keep in mind that their mission is to serve the public, and that it is inappropriate to use board membership to create a personal platform.
  • Members are restricted by RCW 42.52.130, 140, 150, and 42.18.230 from accepting or soliciting anything of economic value as a gift, gratuity, or favor if it is given only because the member holds a responsible position with the state.
  • Questions about board issues should be directed to the board’s administrative or executive officer, who will see that all board members receive full information by the next regular meeting.
  • Details of board investigations, personnel files, or business discussed at closed executive sessions should not be disclosed unless they are part of the public record.

Open Public Meetings Act

Notification of Meetings. The Open Public Meetings Act requires that all meetings of the governing body of a public agency, as well as other meetings regarding policies affecting the public, be open to the public. In addition, the public must be notified of such meetings in a timely manner.

Confidential Transactions. Exceptions to the Open Public Meetings Act include confidential subjects such as personnel matters and real-estate transactions, which may be dealt with in "executive sessions."

Public Disclosure. The minutes of all regular meetings must be recorded and made available for public inspection.

The Open Public Meetings Act applies to most all boards and commissions. To determine whether or not the Act applies to your board, you should consult the Assistant Attorney General assigned to your board. Regardless of whether the Act applies, all boards should be in compliance with open meeting requirements.

Accessibility Requirements. To afford members of the public who have disabilities an equal opportunity to participate, meetings subject to the Open Public Meetings Act shall be held in facilities which are wheelchair accessible. Public notices regarding such meetings shall include a statement that sign language interpreters, materials in Braille, large print or tape, and other necessary auxiliary aids will be provided with advance notice. Notices should include the name and phone number of the individual responsible for coordinating such requests. The relevant statutes are RCW 42.30.010 and 42.30.900.

Reasonable Accommodation of Persons with Disabilities

In addition to the Open Public Meetings Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets criteria for accessibility and accommodation. Under the ADA, people who have disabilities have a right to an equal opportunity for effective participation in the activities of boards and commissions, whether as appointed members or as members of the public.

Accessible Locations and Communications. Meetings and other board or commission sponsored activities should be held in wheelchair accessible locations. Qualified sign language interpreters, materials in accessible formats such as Braille, large print and tape, and other forms of auxiliary aids for effective communications should be provided upon request. Reasonable modifications should be made to policies or procedures, including travel reimbursement policies for members of boards and commissions, whenever such a policy or procedure creates a barrier to the full and equal participation of a person who has a disability.

As is true of all entities of Washington State government, boards and commissions are required to carry out five action steps necessary to bring a public entity into compliance with the ADA. These action steps are:

  1. Designate a responsible employee or ADA coordinator who will plan and coordinate the entity’s overall compliance efforts.
  2. Provide notice on a regular basis to employees, members, participants, the public at-large, and other interested individuals of the protections against discrimination on the basis of disability provided under the ADA.
  3. Establish and publish grievance procedures for the prompt and equitable resolution of complaints alleging discrimination on the basis of disability.
  4. Conduct a self evaluation to identify any policies or practices which do not comply with the requirements of the ADA, and modify those policies and practices to bring them into compliance.
  5. Develop a transition plan which identifies any physical barriers limiting the accessibility of board or commission programs, services, or activities to people with disabilities, describes the methods and timetables for the elimination of those barriers, and identifies the public official responsible for the implementation of the plan.

A board or commission which is administratively linked to a larger state entity may choose to incorporate its own ADA compliance activities into those of the host agency or institution.

Administrative Procedure Act

The Administrative Procedure Act primarily applies to those boards involved in rule making and adjudicative actions. The Act provides that any orders, directives, or agency policies or procedures that have general applicability to the public must be adopted as rules in accordance with chapter 34.05 RCW. You should always consult with your Assistant Attorney General when preparing and adopting rules.

Executive Branch Ethics in Public Service

A new ethics law for public officers, boards and commissions members, and employees took effect January 1, 1995. The Ethics in Public Service Act places restrictions on the activities of those working with state agencies, boards, commissions, or any other entity of state government.

The Act provides that no state employee may use his or her position for personal services rendered during their term of state employment. State employees are prohibited from using any information acquired while in state service for personal gain.

The Act also prohibits board members from engaging in actions that result in personal gain or benefit close relatives within a two-year period following termination of state service. The Act allows the agency head to dismiss, suspend, or take other appropriate action when provisions of the Act are violated.

All board members should familiarize themselves with the Ethics in Pubic Service Act, chapter 42.52, RCW. The Assistant Attorney General assigned to the board can offer additional information.

Ethics and the Appearance of Fairness

As a board member, you are expected to uphold a high standard of ethics. It is extremely important that board members avoid conflicts of interest or even the appearance of conflicts of interest.

Using a public position for private gain is improper and illegal. Similarly, actions benefiting close relatives are prohibited. There are penalties for violations of state ethics statutes. The following are examples of conflicts of interest:

  • Directing state contracts to a business in which one has a financial interest.
  • Using confidential information for private investments.
  • Accepting gifts or favors in exchange for certain regulatory rulings.
  • Accepting gifts or favors in exchange for making certain purchases.
  • Obtaining personal favors from employees.
  • Accepting favors for disclosure of confidential information.
  • Engaging in outside employment which assists non-governmental entities in their quests for state business.

Board members can avoid conflict of interest problems by being aware of statutory restrictions, adhering to such restrictions, using good judgment, and being fair and equitable in decision-making. For additional information on provisions of the state ethics law see the state “Managers’ Handbook.”

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