A state senator sought an opinion regarding whether a city council can remove an appointee to the Board of Trustees for a Mosquito and Vector Control District at the city council’s discretion before the appointee’s term has expired and without specific statutory authority for removal. The Attorney General determined the appointee could not be removed at the city council’s pleasure. (Attorney General Opinion No. 09-502, August 22, 2011).
The Legislature enacted in 2002 the Mosquito and Vector Control District Law to “create and continue a broad statutory authority for a class of special districts with the power to conduct effective programs for the surveillance, prevention, abatement, and control of mosquitoes and other vectors.” Each district is governed by a board of trustees who has the authority to establish and implement policies for the district’s operation. A trustee position is an appointed rather than elected position.
Attorney General Opinion
The Attorney General found the language of the statute did not permit either the city council or a county board of supervisors in its appointing authority capacity to remove the appointee at its pleasure. The relevant statute, Health and Safety Code § 2024(a), provides that the term of office for a trustee “shall be for a term of two or four years, at the discretion of the appointing authority.” The Attorney General found that the phrase “at the discretion of the appointing authority” refers to “a term of two or four years” and interpreting it to mean that a trustee serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority would render the phrase “for a term of two or four years” a nullity. The Attorney General further found the plain language in § 2024(a) provides for a fixed rather than an indeterminate term of office based on the statutory context and legislative history of § 2024.
The Attorney General also reasoned that if the Legislature had meant to create an office without a fixed term, it could have done so. In fact, the Legislature did so in a statute governing the duration of service of board members of pest abatement districts where the statute provides “[t]he members of the district board shall hold office at the pleasure of the board of supervisors.”
Supporters of the view that appointees can be removed at the council’s pleasure rely on Government Code section 36506 “as an independent source of authority for such removal.” The Attorney General found this statute to have no application finding it “is intended to apply to municipal officers and employees, and not to the officers of independent special districts, such as a mosquito abatement district.” Even if this statute included a city’s appointee to a mosquito abatement district board, the Attorney General still would conclude that the appointee could not be removed at the city’s discretion because § 36506 conflicts with § 2024 in that § 36506 does not provide for a fixed term and § 2024 does. When applying the rules of statutory construction, a more specific statute governs a more general statute when they cannot be reconciled.
The Attorney General does point out, however, that there are circumstances under § 2024(b) where a mosquito abatement district trustee may be “removed from, disqualified from, or deemed to forfeit the office.” However, the Attorney General finds that this provision “is not the same as saying that the appointing power may remove a trustee at its pleasure.” The Attorney General thus concluded that the city council cannot remove an appointee “to the Board of Trustees of a Mosquito and Vector Control District at the council’s pleasure.”
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Jeffrey L. Massey | 916.321.4500