Guide to Public Hearings
This guide summarizes the hearing examiner process. Only an informal helpful guide, it has no legal weight. Instead, hearings are governed by constitutional principles, state law, King County Code Chapter 20.22, other codes, and the hearing examiner rules of procedure. Questions are invited. Contact us at (206) 477-0860 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The hearing examiner is appointed by the county council to hold hearings to receive evidence, testimony, and argument, determine the pertinent facts, apply the law, and issue determinations. The examiner works for the county council, not for the executive branch agencies that appear in front of the examiner.
Types of Hearings
The examiner holds two types of public hearings: appeals and applications. (Sometimes a proceeding involves both an application and an appeal.)
For certain county agency actions, such as code enforcement citations or animal control notices of violation, a person unhappy with the agency's decision may appeal to the examiner. The examiner then holds an appeal hearing. The opportunity for the general public input is limited; usually, only witnesses called by the parties may testify. See "Intervention" below.
In contrast, for applications such as subdivision approvals or public benefit tax assessments, the examiner holds a hearing in every case, whether an appeal is filed or not. The general public is afforded the opportunity to provide comments, offer testimony, and ask questions.
Initiating a Hearing
For public hearings on applications, the process begins when the reviewing agency informs the examiner that the application is ready for consideration and issues a notice of hearing.
Conversely, for appeal hearings, the process begins with someone filing an appeal with the agency that made the disputed decision. Strict filing and information requirements apply:
- In most instances, the agency must receive your statement of appeal and also your appeal fee (if an appeal fee is required, see below) within twenty-four (24) calendar days of the agency issuing its decision. Check the decision you are appealing and the county code (especially KCC 20.22.070 and .080) to ensure you understand the deadline in your case, and/or contact the examiner's office.
- The fee for most appeals is $250, with KCC Chapter 27.50 appeals at $50. However, there is no fee for appealing enforcement or penalty actions under KCC title 6 (business licenses), title 11 (animal control), or title 23 (code enforcement).
- Your statement of appeal must:
A. Either include a copy of the decision you are appealing or list the agency issuing the decision, agency file number, date of decision, and (if applicable) the applicant's name and property location.
B. Describe your interest in the matter and the specific reasons why you think the decision or decision-making process is wrong, why it should be reversed or modified, and how it harms or adversely affects you or your property. Typical reasons include the impact it will cause, the laws or policies it conflicts with, and significant issues it fails to address.
C. Describe the outcome you seek, such as reversing the decision, remanding to the agency for reconsideration, or changing permit conditions.
Failure to include that information in a timely appeal statement may subject your appeal to dismissal without getting to the merits.
Mediation may be available. To initiate mediation, make a written request early in the process. Mediation rules are available on the examiner's website.
Prohibited Ex Parte Contacts; Appearance of FairnessMost examiner hearings are quasi-judicial. While you may contact the examiner's office with procedural questions, you may only contact the examiner him or herself through a written submittal addressed to all parties in the case, or at the public hearing itself. The examiner’s administrative staff screens 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 is prohibited.
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. A person with reasonable grounds to believe that an examiner or a councilmember might be influenced by any factor outside the hearing record should promptly bring that concern to the attention of the pertinent official.
Notice of Hearings
For applications, notice is typically given by newspaper advertising and by mailing to the parties, nearby property owners, as well as to interested persons who have been asked to be notified about a particular case. For appeals, notice is typically mailed to parties and interested persons. Notice requirements may vary by case.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" normally include the applicant, appellant, and responsible county agency. A person with substantial property interest in the proceeding, or who is likely to be directly physically affected by the proceed, or who shows that participating as a party would be in the public interest, may submit a petition to the examiner requesting "intervenor" status. If the examiner grants the petition, the intervenor may present evidence and argument at the hearing, and may be accorded procedural rights such as conducting pre-hearing discovery, cross examining witnesses, and being heard on scheduling matters and other motions.
Pre-Hearing Conferences and Discovery
The examiner may schedule a pre-hearing conference for complex matters. 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, the notice of hearing the examiner sends to parties and interested persons typically specifies the deadline for requesting a pre-hearing conference.
To make hearings more efficient and to reduce the likelihood of surprise at the hearing, the parties are required to exchange certain information ("discovery") before the hearing. The examiner's pre-hearing order typically spells this out.
Staff Reports and Files
The responsible agency maintains a file for each application or appeal. These files are public records. Interested persons may arrange with the agency to review the file before the hearing. Two weeks before the hearing, the agency submits to the examiner and to the parties a report analyzing the issues. Interested persons may ask the agency for a copy.
Order of Proceedings
The order of proceedings varies by case type. For most applications, an agency introduces the matter, but the applicant is the first to put on full evidence and testimony, followed by other parties and interested persons. For most enforcement appeals, an agency puts on its full evidence and testimony, with the appellant and any other party responding. For other types of appeals (such as land use permits), the agency introduces the matter, with the appellant putting on her full evidence and testimony, followed by the agency and any other party responding. For all case types, party rebuttal is allowed, and we often close with final argument. See Examiner Rules of Procedure XI.A.
How to Participate
All testimony must be under oath or affirmation. When you first speak, spell your last name and give your mailing address. Restate your name each time you speak.
The most effective testimony and argument explains how a specific law or policy applies to the case. State directly and succinctly what you wish to present. Question and answer format is permitted, but is not necessary. You may use notes, written statements, and visual aids. If you simply agree with testimony previously presented, a statement of that effect is sufficient, or you may elaborate.
Arrange for audiovisual or other presentation aids several days in advance of the hearing. At the hearing, provide duplicate copies of photographs, tapes, CDs, DVDs, etc., to other parties and to the examiner. Any PowerPoint or similar presentation must be accompanied by printed paper copies of each panel/image presented. Bring one copy for yourself, one for each party, one for the examiner's use, and one for the official case record.
Exhibits 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 any procedural questions. 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.
Within ten business days of the hearing's close, the examiner customarily transmits to the parties and known interested persons a final determination. That determination includes findings of fact based upon evidence in the hearing record and conclusions drawn from those findings.
Appeals from Examiner Recommendations or Decisions
The examiner's determination usually includes appeal information. However, it is an appellant's responsibility to determine the exact requirements for filing an appeal. Failure to timely meet those requirements precludes an appeal from being considered. Additional facts (new information) normally cannot be presented at the appeal stage.
Send us an email to request a hardcopy version of the Hearings Guide.
The hearing examiner bases decisions on adopted King County codes and policies, state statutes, regulations, and appellate court decisions. To participate effectively in a hearing, it often helps to become familiar with the laws and policies that govern the decision-making process.
King County Agencies
These King County agencies are frequently the responsible county agency for proposals or appeals considered by the hearing examiner:
Department of Permitting and Environmental Review
General (206) 296-6600
Code Enforcement (206) 296-6680
Public Health - Environmental Health Division
Department of Transportation - Road Services Division
For contact information for any county agency or personnel, call King County Information at (206) 291-0100 or 1-800-325-6165 or check www.kingcounty.gov.