Guide to Public HearingsThis guide summarizes the hearing examiner process. It is only intended as an informal helpful guide; it does not have strict legal effect. The hearings are legal processes governed by constitutional principles, state law, Title 20 of the King County Code, other codes, ordinances and rules pertinent to the matter at issue, and the hearing examiner rules of procedure. Copies of relevant county codes and ordinances are available from the clerk of the council or the responsible county agency. Questions are invited. Contact us at (206) 296-4660 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The hearing examiner is appointed by the county council to hold hearings to receive evidence and testimony, and hear argument regarding the laws, ordinances, policies and administrative regulations that apply to the application, alleged violation or other matter being reviewed. The examiner then determines (“finds”) the pertinent facts, applies the proper law, and issues a report with a decision and/or recommendation.
TYPES OF HEARINGS
The examiner holds two types of public hearings: hearings on applications and hearings on administrative appeals. In some cases, there are combined proceedings involving both an application and one or more appeals.
Hearings on applications
In an application hearing, the examiner considers land use or development proposals and issues either a final decision or a recommendation to the county council. These hearings provide the general public an opportunity to provide testimony and comment, and to obtain responses to questions. They include applications for:
- Reclassification (rezoning) of specific parcels of real property
- Shoreline environment redesignation
- Reduced tax assessment of "public benefit" land or timberland (current use)
- Preliminary plat approval (subdivisions), plat alterations, and preliminary plat revisions
- Site-specific amendments to official county land use plans
- Urban planned developments and fully contained communities
Except for site-specific plan amendments, persons who disagree with the examiner’s written recommendation or decision may file a formal appeal to the county council. Contact the clerk of the council or the hearing examiner’s office for additional information on the process for filing an appeal. Strict deadlines apply. (Examiner recommendations on site-specific plan amendments are considered in the county council’s legislative process.)
Administrative appeal hearings
In some circumstances, when a decision is made or action taken by a county agency, county code authorizes an appeal to the hearing examiner. If a notice of appeal and appeal statement are properly filed with the county agency that made the decision or took the action that is disputed, the examiner will hold an administrative appeal hearing. Typical administrative appeals address code enforcement citations, permit fees, conditional use and variance decisions and short plat decisions.
Administrative appeal hearings enable the parties directly affected (including the responsible county agency) to obtain timely and fair dispute resolution. The opportunity for the general public to comment on such disputes is very limited; usually, only witnesses called by the parties may testify. The examiner’s administrative appeal decisions can be appealed to the superior court or, in some cases, to an identified state agency or board.
King County provides an opportunity to mediate issues within the hearing examiner's jurisdiction. To initiate a mediation, make a written request early in the application or appeal review process. Mediation rules are available from the office of the hearing examiner.
INITIATING A HEARING
For public hearings on applications, the hearing process begins when the reviewing department notifies the examiner that the application is ready to be considered and issues a notice of hearing.
Administrative appeals to the examiner must be filed with the department that made the disputed decision. Strict filing and information requirements apply:
1. Notice of appeal and appeal fee. The notice of appeal and any required appeal fee must be filed, within the time allowed, with the county agency that made the decision or took the action being appealed. In most instances, the deadline for receipt by that department of the notice and fee is fourteen (14) calendar days from the date of issuance of the county decision. Check the decision you are appealing and the county code to ensure you understand the deadline in your case.
2. Appeal statement. The appeal statement is often consolidated with the notice of appeal, but may be filed separately. If filed separately, it usually must be received by the responsible county agency within twenty-one (21) calendar days of the decision or action appealed. Again, confirm the deadline. The appeal statement must contain specific information, as outlined below, describing the nature and scope of the appeal. If the following information is not contained in a timely appeal statement, the appeal may be subject to dismissal without a full hearing.
A. Identify the decision being appealed. Provide the name of the King County department or division that issued the decision, the department file number, the date of the decision, and if applicable, the applicant's name and the property location.
B. Identify the appellant's interest. Give the name of the appellant (including address and telephone number, fax number and e-mail address, if available) and describe the way in which the decision being appealed harms or adversely affects the appellant or the appellant's property.
C. State the basis for the appeal. Describe the specific reasons why the decision is thought to be wrong and/or that there were procedural errors, why it should be reversed or modified, and the harm caused to the appellant. Typical reasons include the impact it will cause, the laws or policies it conflicts with or violates, and significant issues it fails to address.
D. State the relief requested. Describe the outcome that the appellant seeks, for example: a reversal of the decision; remand to a department for reconsideration; or a change in the conditions of a permit approval.
PROHIBITED EX PARTE CONTACTS; APPEARANCE OF FAIRNESS
Most examiner hearings are quasi-judicial. All persons are prohibited from contacting the examiner outside the public hearing for the purpose of influencing a decision. The examiner’s administrative staff screens all correspondence and telephone calls to prevent prohibited contacts. Similarly, contacting a member of the county council for the purpose of influencing the outcome of a quasi-judicial hearing or appeal can lead to disqualifying that councilmember.
Examiners and councilmembers may not participate in quasi-judicial proceedings in which they have a financial interest, have pre-judged the issues, or may appear to be biased as a result of a relationship to a party or property involved. Any person who has reasonable grounds to believe that an examiner or a member of the council might be influenced by any factor outside the public record of the hearing should promptly bring that concern to the attention of the pertinent official.
NOTICE OF HEARINGS
Notice of the initial hearing on a land development application is given by advertising in the official newspaper of the county and by mailing to nearby property owners (as listed in the records of the King County assessor) whose properties are within a certain radius of the parcel to be developed and to parties of record. Other types of notice requirements apply to other types of cases.
When you testify at the hearing or otherwise provide your name and mailing address to the hearing examiner's office, you will receive any additional notices or reports that the hearing examiner may issue.
The parties to a proceeding normally include the applicant and/or appellant and the responsible county agency. Anyone else is regarded as an “interested person.” An interested person may request intervenor status as a party to a hearing when that person has a substantial property interest in the subject matter of the proceeding, owns property which is likely to be directly physically affected by the result of the proceeding or shows that his or her participation as a party would be in the public interest. When appropriate, the examiner may grant to an intervenor procedural rights to conduct pre-hearing discovery, cross examine witnesses and be heard on scheduling and other motions.
PRE-HEARING CONFERENCES AND DISCOVERY
The examiner may schedule a pre-hearing conference for complex matters or expected lengthy proceedings. Pre-hearing conferences seek to clarify issues and address procedural matters in advance, leading to a more efficient hearing. If a pre-hearing conference is not scheduled at the outset, the examiner's written notice of the hearing, sent to parties and interested persons, will specify the final date for requesting one. Pre-hearing conferences normally need not be requested when the issues are clear and involve only a few parties and witnesses.
To make hearings more efficient and to reduce the likelihood of parties being surprised by new issues or information at the hearing, the examiner’s procedural rules require exchange of certain information ("discovery") by the parties before the hearing.
STAFF REPORTS AND FILES
The responsible agency submits a preliminary report to the examiner two weeks before the hearing. Interested persons may request a copy in advance of the hearing from the responsible agency. Copies will sometimes be available in the hearing room. The report reviews the known facts, provides the department’s analysis of applicable laws and ordinances, and contains a recommendation to the examiner.
The responsible agency maintains a separate file for every application or appeal. These files are public records. Interested persons may arrange with the responsible agency to review the file before the hearing.
AGENDAS AND HEARING ROOMS
On the day of the hearing, the examiner’s office posts on the door of the hearing room an agenda listing all items to be heard. If you are uncertain as to where, when or whether a matter will be heard, call the hearing examiner's office at (206) 296-4660 or e-mail at email@example.com.
ORDER OF PROCEEDINGS
The order of proceedings for a hearing is subject to the terms stated in a pre-hearing order, if one has been issued. Modifications in the usual sequence may also be made by the examiner. In most hearings, the order of proceedings is:
1. Staff introduction of exhibits
2. Staff summary of issues and preliminary recommendation
3. Testimony by applicant and/or appellant
4. Public testimony (for development applications only)
5. Staff rebuttal and responses to questions
6. Rebuttal by the other participants (following the same order as initial statements)
7. Final arguments.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE
To assure a complete hearing record, one of the microphones provided by the examiner's office must be used for all statements or questions. When you first speak, spell your last name and give your mailing address. State your name each time you speak. All testimony is required to be under oath or affirmation.
Testimony and argument are most useful if they provide factual information or argument that contends how a specific statute, rule of law, ordinance or county policy applies to the proposal or situation under review.
State directly and succinctly the relevant information or argument you wish to present. Avoid repetition. Question and answer format is permitted but is not necessary. Persons testifying may use notes, written statements and visual aids. If you simply agree with testimony previously presented, a statement to that effect is sufficient. However, you may elaborate or expand on others’ testimony if you desire.
Arrange for audiovisual or other presentation aids before the hearing. Make requests for audiovisual equipment to the responsible department several days before the hearing. (The equipment you desire may or may not be available from the county; you may need to arrange for it privately.) Provide duplicate copies of photographs, tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc., to primary (applicant, appellant, county department) parties and to the examiner. Any PowerPoint or similar presentation must be accompanied by printed paper copies of each panel/image presented, one for each primary party, the Examiner and the case record.
Exhibits introduced into evidence become part of the permanent county record. They must be readily storable, preferably within standard legal size filing folders. Large, easily seen exhibits may be used for illustrative purposes at the hearing but reduced size copies will be required for the permanent hearing record.
Request the examiner’s attention to ask questions that arise during the hearing concerning procedures. If you cannot hear or see adequately, feel free to move about the hearing room. Be as comfortable in participating as you can without disturbing the proceeding.
As a courtesy to other participants, refrain from side conversations during the hearing and turn off all cell phones, pagers, etc.
A hearing usually proceeds during regular business hours on succeeding days until concluded. Sometimes, however, a hearing may be continued by the examiner to a later date or “on call,” meaning indefinitely, often with a status report(s) required at a specific time(s) in the future. On other occasions, a hearing may be continued for "administrative purposes,” which allows the future submission of written evidence or argument specified by the examiner.
The examiner's recommendation or decision includes findings of fact based upon evidence in the hearing record and conclusions drawn from those findings. The examiner customarily mails the report within ten days after the close of the hearing to the parties and known interested persons.
APPEALS FROM EXAMINER RECOMMENDATIONS OR DECISIONS
As a service to the public, the examiner's report usually includes information on the method of appeal available and the time limit within which an appeal must be filed. However, it is an appellant's responsibility to determine the requirements for filing an appeal. Failure to timely file an appeal and to pay the required appeal fee precludes the appeal from being considered.
When an appeal to the county council is authorized, the notice of appeal, together with the required appeal fee, must be received by the clerk of the council at Room 1025 of the King County Courthouse before 4:30 p.m. on the fourteenth day following the date of the examiner’s report, or the appeal cannot be accepted for consideration. (If the fourteenth day is a day on which the office of the clerk is not open for business, the next succeeding business day is the last day for filing.) An appeal statement also must be filed. See King County Code section 20.24.220 for specific requirements. Please note that additional facts (new information) normally cannot be presented as part of an appeal.
Most administrative appeal decisions by the hearing examiner are subject to appeal directly to superior court.