Boards & Commissions

Citizen Participation Through Boards and Commissions

The citizens of Washington State have enjoyed a long tradition of participation in state government. Through representation on boards and commissions, Washington residents are offered an important avenue to help create effective and equitable laws and policies. Citizen involvement contributes not only to the success of their government, but to their overall quality of life as well.

Citizen participation works at all levels of state government and covers a broad range of issues, such as education, the environment and natural resources, social services, economic development, and transportation. Some boards appointed by the Governor shape policy for major state agencies and departments, others prepare regulations governing specific program areas, and some serve solely in an advisory capacity.

In selecting members, the Governor strives to create geographic, gender, and ethnic diversity representation on each board. This helps ensure that decisions reached and services rendered more adequately reflect the wants and needs of all populations being served.

Washington’s system of boards and commissions is fundamental to encouraging the use of citizen talent and interest in affairs of the state, keeping government innovative and responsive, and improving the overall performance of state agencies and institutions.

Types of Boards and Commissions

Boards and commissions are created by state laws and rules, executive orders, federal laws and regulations.

Each board is unique in its purpose, mission, and role. It is especially important that members be familiar with their board’s governing statutes or other authorizing directives so they understand the framework within which the board must operate. Copies of your board’s governing statutes or authority may be obtained from your staff employees. There are three main types of boards:

Advisory Boards. These may be created by the Governor, Legislature, individual agencies, or existing boards. The members serve as advisors on policy matters to the appointing authority responsible for administering policy. Advisory boards may study existing policy and make recommendations for changes or implementation. Advisory boards do not have authority to enforce policy or create rules, but their analysis and recommendations can play an important role in furthering the effective operation of state government.

Policy-Making Boards. These boards generally receive their authority by statute. Policies are created through careful analysis and interpretation of legislative intent, as set forth in statute. Policy-making boards often serve as governing boards within an agency. The boards may be responsible for directing the agency, approving budgets, creating and implementing agency policy, or appointing the agency director. Members of these boards have final decision-making authority.

Regulatory Boards. These boards may have some of the responsibilities of the advisory and policy boards, depending on the statute or order under which they were created. Usually, these boards are created by the Legislature, and perform rule-making or quasi-judicial functions. In fulfilling these functions, the board may operate as a legislative body or as a review and appeals body. As an appeals body, regulatory boards hear individual cases and ensure rulings; board decisions, however, are subject to judicial appeal.

Regulatory boards often have the responsibility to determine the competence of members of a professional or occupational group. The board may examine and license members of occupations to practice in Washington State, and take disciplinary or corrective actions, such as revoking or suspending licenses.

The Advisory Role

Members of advisory bodies provide an important link between the public and agencies, the Legislature, and the Governor. The information that members provide about community needs and opinions can have a profound effect on state policies and lead to improved service. Advisory board members play a very special role in creating recommendations on important societal and governmental issues.

If you are appointed as a member of an advisory board, you will be expected to:

  • Interpret community opinions, attitudes, and needs to agencies, the Legislature, and the Governor.
  • Study programs and services, and analyze problems and needs.
  • Offer new proposals and recommend changes in programs, policies, and standards.
  • Provide the public with information and interpretation of department and state policies, programs, and budgets.

Advisory boards support and counsel departmental and gubernatorial staff. They make important recommendations about policy. Most advisory boards, however, do not create or administer policy, programs, or services, unless this power is granted to them by their governing statute.

When presenting recommendations to any agency, the Legislature, or the Governor, it is essential that board members keep the following in mind:

  1. All recommendations should be in written form.
  2. All ideas should be expressed in clear and concise language.
  3. Proposed solutions should be viable and cost-effective.
  4. Recommendations should identify the reasons for the changes suggested.
  5. The advice should reflect a consensus or a majority of the board members.

About Policy-Making

As a board member, it is your responsibility to be knowledgeable about board policies and changes. It is important that you understand the fundamental meaning and characteristics of policy.

Policy is a written statement. It is intended to be a guiding principle defining an organization’s intent and direction. Policy should be set forth in broad terms so that it may remain applicable and usable for a long period of time. It should not be so detailed that it dictates how, when, or where things must be done.

Policy may be amended, rewritten or abolished. Policy should be reviewed periodically to ensure that it remains appropriate. Policy should be stated clearly, timely and concisely. Board interpretative policy statements should be made available to the public in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act, RCW 34.05.230. This requirement is most applicable to regulatory boards.


Boards may engage in rule-making only if the Legislature has specifically delegated that authority in the board’s enabling statute. Rules are generally created to provide interpretative support for the statute.

Most boards are granted authority to establish the rules and regulations necessary to implement their own statutory powers; however, a board may not pass rules which go beyond the scope of its statute.

A rule is any agency order, directive, or regulation of general applicability, as defined in RCW 34.05.010 (15). It may set forth standards and expectations in general terms or may deal specifically with day-to-day objectives. A rule, rather than a policy, is adopted when the subject matter affects the public or another agency of government, or when the statute directs that a rule be adopted. Once adopted, a rule has the force of law, and all people or entities to whom the rule applies must adhere to it. Failure to adhere to the rule may subject a person to a penalty or administrative sanction.

Legal Guidelines. Because rules often affect the public, they must be adopted in compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act (chapter 34.05 RCW). In developing rules, the board should keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • The board must have statutory authority to adopt the rules and may adopt only those rules supported by statute.
  • The board may not adopt a rule which conflicts with law or the constitution.
  • The board must comply with Administrative Procedure Act regarding rule-making procedures.
  • The board’s legal counsel from the Attorney General’s Office should approve all proposed rules.
  • The board must give notice to the public regarding the intent to adopt the proposed rule, and hold a public hearing.
  • Rules must reflect a consensus or a majority of members of the board.
  • The board must take into account the economic impact of the proposed rule on consumers, business, industries, occupations, and others who may be affected.

Being an Effective Board Member

Washington boards and commissions vary in size and complexity. Because board members are in a critical position to shape and influence board decisions and actions, it is important that each member keeps informed and up-to-date on issues, legislative activity, and statutes affecting their board.

Attendance. A board member may forfeit his or her position on the board as a result of poor attendance. Regular attendance is essential so that decisions will represent the opinions of the board as a whole. In addition, regular attendance enables board members to keep abreast of board concerns and helps ensure that issues are examined from a variety of perspectives. The bylaws of your board should define attendance requirements.

Preparation. Adequate preparation is another requisite for effective membership on the board. Your board’s staff members will provide reports, proposals, and other information to help you make informed decisions. Do not hesitate to request any additional information you need in order to make thoughtful and appropriate decisions.

Effective board members:

  • Attend all board meetings.
  • Are well prepared for meetings.
  • Recognize that serving the public interest is the top priority.
  • Recognize that the board must operate in an open and public manner.
  • Are knowledgeable about the legislative process and issues affecting the board.
  • Examine all available evidence before making a judgment.
  • Communicate well and actively participate in group discussions.
  • Are aware that authority to act is granted to the board as a whole, not to individual members.
  • Possess a willingness to work with the group in making decisions.
  • Recognize that compromise may be necessary in order to reach group consensus.
  • Do not let personal feelings toward other board members or staff interfere with their judgment.

Resignations. If you are unable to complete your term, it is important to let the Governor’s Office and the appropriate staff from your board or commission know. A letter of resignation should be sent to the Governor indicating the date your resignation is effective and whether or not you are able to serve until a replacement is named.

Board Staff Members

Some boards have dedicated employees to perform daily administrative tasks. There are, however, a number of state boards that work within a state agency or have access to advice from the agency. If a board works within an agency, certain central support services will usually be made available to the board.

However, board members must keep in mind that staff may have other job responsibilities outside of their board duties.

Staff Functions. The primary function of the board staff is to carry out the rules, policies, and programs developed by the board. In addition, the staff members notify board members of pertinent issues and legislative activity. They may also arrange meetings, prepare meeting materials, compile background information, and conduct research.

Board employees serve as a liaison with other boards and agencies, the Attorney General, the Legislature, and the public. Board staff are a valuable resource for members. A good staff member can enhance the productivity and effectiveness of a board. Board members should not hesitate to ask staff for help in carrying out their responsibilities.

Office of the Attorney General (AGO)

The state Attorney General (360) 753-6200 is the state’s chief legal officer and is elected for a term of four years. The Attorney General is responsible for providing a broad range of legal services to public officials and others.

Legal Counsel. The Attorney General serves as legal counsel to the Governor, members of the Legislature, state officials, and boards and commissions. The Attorney General advises and represents state agencies as they fulfill their official duties, issues legal opinions, and defends state officials and employees for actions performed in their official capacities and in good faith.

When to Involve Your Assigned Counsel. Each board and commission is assigned an Assistant Attorney General. That person can provide valuable information and advice regarding statutes and legal issues. A board that follows the advice of its Assistant Attorney General is immune from liability and is far less likely to find itself involved in legal problems. Board members may request the following kinds of information from their Assistant Attorney General:

  • Assurance that board decisions and actions fall within statutory authority.
  • Questions about conflict of interest.
  • Review of proposed regulations and revisions, and the drafting of such documents in legally correct language.
  • Evidence in support of complaints, and the cross-examination of witnesses in disciplinary hearings.
  • General legal advice about board actions and activities.

Legal Fees. The board should be aware that its budget will be charged for all advice and service rendered by the Office of the Attorney General. Agencies generally have budgeted funds for this purpose.

The Office of Financial Management (OFM)

The Office of Financial Management (OFM) was established to coordinate and integrate the biennial budget proposals of the various state agencies with the long-range, unified planning goals of the state. In addition, OFM advises the Governor and Legislature on matters of planning, management, and policy. It also provides policy direction, and reviews business and management practices of state agencies and institutions. The director of OFM is appointed by, and serves at the pleasure of, the Governor.

Policy Support. The Governor’s Executive Policy Office (360) 902-0666 is one of five divisions within OFM. This unit works most closely with boards and commissions. It is comprised of executive policy assistants who are assigned to major functions of state government such as education, transportation, social services, general government, the environment and natural resources, and development.

The Governor’s Executive Policy Office reviews all “departmental request” legislation proposed by state agencies. The policy assistants track legislation throughout the year and provide detailed analyses. Policy assistants are very knowledgeable in their specialized areas and are an excellent resource if you require information on issues, legislation, or statutes. They also can direct you to other resource people both within and outside OFM.

The Department of Personnel (DOP)

The Department of Personnel (360) 664-6339 is a valuable resource that appointees should look to for guidance and training when dealing with hiring or other human resource issues. If your board has the responsibility of hiring the agency head, it is critical that all board members have a clear understanding of the state’s hiring process and follow appropriate procedures.

Recruitment/Hiring. Because agency heads are exempt from state civil service laws, there is considerable latitude in the hiring process. It is important that the most beneficial recruitment process for the circumstances that exist on your board is utilized. The DOP can assist your board in developing an appropriate recruitment strategy. Also, remember to communicate with the Governor’s Office and keep the Governor’s staff updated as to the progress of the recruitment and hiring process.

Evaluation of Agency Head. Once the decision to hire has been made, your board/commission must make it clear to the agency head what is expected and how the board intends on measuring their success. Period performance reviews of the agency head to determine how well they meet the expectations of the board and the Governor is crucial. Your board should develop and agree upon the best method for conducting agency head reviews. This is another area where your board should utilize the expertise of DOP staff.

Supervisory Responsibilities. For your board and agency head to work successfully together, the role of the board or commission versus that of the agency head must be clear. Who supervises the agency head? Who supervises other staff members? Clear understanding of these issues will help ensure a successful working relationship.

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