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Incompatible Offices Court Decisions and AG Opinions

This page highlights key court decisions and attorney general opinions regarding the Doctrine of Incompatible offices. For a general overview of this doctrine, see our page on Incompatible Offices.


Court Decisions


Establishing the Doctrine of Incompatible Offices and the two-part test to determine if it applies.

Kennett v. Levine, 50 Wn.2d 212 (1957): The Washington Supreme Court decision that established the Doctrine of Incompatible Offices in Washington State. The court held that “it has been long and universally recognized that no one should hold incompatible public offices.” The case also established the two-part test to determine whether the Doctrine of Incompatible Offices applies to a specific situation.


Five-part test to determine if a position constitutes a "public office."

State ex rel. Brown v. Blew, 20 Wn.2d 47 (1944): A Washington Supreme Court decision that lays out the five-factor test for determining whether a position constitutes a “public office.”


Attorney General Opinions


School board member / planning commissioner are likely incompatible.

AGO 2016 No. 7: Discusses the positions of school director (school board member) and planning commissioner. Both are determined to be public offices. Although recognized as a close call, the AG’s Office concludes that these offices are likely incompatible with one another. One example given for a possible incompatible situation is where a School Director would make a decision on the use of school property that is latter reviewed by the Planning Commissioner.


City councilmember / fire protection district firefighter are compatible.

AGO 1983 No. 3: Discusses the positions of city councilmember and fire protection district firefighter. Both are determined to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes they are not incompatible because even if the city were to be annexed into the district, neither a subordinate situation nor an instance of divided loyalties would arise.


Mayor / port commissioner are incompatible.

AGO 1978 No. 12: Discusses the positions of mayor and port commissioner. Both are determined to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that they are incompatible because an instance of divided loyalties would occur. For example, when making decisions related to port property located within the city, a port commissioner would be subject to the city’s zoning laws, which the mayor would have a part in enforcing.


City councilmember / county prosecuting attorney are compatible.

AGO 1971 No. 28: Discusses the positions of city councilmember and county prosecuting attorney. Both are determined to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that the offices were compatible even though the city lies within the county. The reasoning hinged on several deciding factors: (1) the office of county attorney did not provide legal counsel to the city; (2) the offices were within distinct and separate municipalities; (3) the county attorney was not a full-time position; and (4) that the county attorney’s power of removal over the council was not discretionary.


Certain county elected officials can also serve as state elected officials.

AGLO 1970 No. 82: Discusses the capacity of certain county elected officials to serve, simultaneously, as state elected officials. If both positions are considered public offices, the AG’s Office found that they will not be incompatible as it is a long held position of the AG’s Office that local officials can also hold a seat in the state legislature.


Precinct committee member is not a public office.

AGLO 1970 No. 153: Discusses the positions of police judge and political party precinct committee member. The AG’s Office concludes that a precinct committee member is not a public office, therefore the doctrine does not apply.


Fire district commissioner / fire district civil service commissioner are incompatible

AGO 1968 No. 16: Discusses the positions of fire district commissioner and fire district civil service commissioner. Both are determined to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that the offices are incompatible due to both the appointive and disciplinary relationships between the two offices.


County commissioner / school board member are incompatible.

AGO 1965 No. 7: Discusses the positions of county commissioner and school board member. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because the school district is located, at least partially, within the county and the county commissioners have discretionary spending power to allocate monies to the school districts within the county. Without this discretionary power the determination may be different.

(Note the difference between this opinion and AGO 1952 No. 321.)


County commissioner / county civil defense director are incompatible.

AGO 1964 No. 92: Discusses the positions of chairperson of county board of commissioners and county civil defense director. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that they are incompatible because the civil defense director is appointed by the county commissioners and is subject to their control.


County sheriff / county civil defense director are compatible.

AGO 1963 No. 66: Discusses the positions of county sheriff and civil defense director. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are compatible because they will not provide a situation of divided loyalties or subordination.


Fire district commissioner / fire district firefighter are incompatible. (RCWs may allow service as a volunteer firefighter see note.)

AGO 1962 No. 162: Discusses the positions of fire protection district commissioner and a fire fighter for the district. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because the possibility of both subordination and divided loyalties is present.

(Note that RCW 52.14.010 now allows the board of a fire protection district to authorize, by resolution adopted by unanimous vote, any of its members to serve as volunteer firefighters without compensation.)


PUD commissioner / state representative are compatible.

AGO 1962 No. 177: Discusses the positions of state representative and public utility district commissioner. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Offices concludes that these offices are compatible because it is a long held position of the AG’s Office that local officials can also hold a seat in the state legislature.


County commissioner / state highway commission member are incompatible.

AGO 1960 No. 139: Discusses the positions of county commissioner and state highway commission member. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because divided loyalties would occur if the highway commission member was to negotiate with the county for various services.


Fire district commissioner / fire district secretary are incompatible. (Superseded by RCW see note.)

AGO 1960 No. 157: Discusses the positions of fire prevention district commissioner and fire prevention district secretary. Both are determined to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because the secretary is subordinate to the commissioner.

(Note that RCW 52.14.080 now allows the board of a fire protection district to appoint a board member as district secretary, although the board member may not receive any additional compensation for serving as secretary.)


County commissioner / county board of education member are compatible.

AGO 1959 No. 11: Discusses the offices of county commissioner and county board of education member. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are compatible because the county commissioners do not have discretion over the funds they provide to the board of education.


County commissioner / mayor are incompatible

AGO 1957 No. 90: Discusses the offices of county commissioner and mayor. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because of the divided loyalty of serving in both offices.


County commissioner / school board director are compatible.

AGO 1952 No. 321: Discusses the offices of county commissioner and school board director. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are compatible because they do not create a situation of subordination or divided loyalty.

(Note the difference between this opinion and AGO 1965 No. 7.)


County coroner / deputy sheriff are incompatible.

AGO 1952 No. 331: Discusses the positions of county coroner and county deputy sheriff. Both are considered to be public offices. The AG’s Office concludes that these offices are incompatible because, pursuant to RCW 36.24.010, the coroner serves as sheriff in instances where the sheriff is “interested or otherwise incapacitated from serving.” Specifically, the AG’s Office concludes that the county coroner is precluded from being a deputy sheriff by reason of the fact that they would be a subordinate of the sheriff, and in the instance where the sheriff is interested, and the coroner acts in their stead, the coroner would in effect be serving as their own superior.


Last Modified: June 20, 2017