Telford v. Thurston County Board of Commissioners was a case before the Washington Court of Appeals, Second Division in 1999 concerning private agencies subject to public records act.
This case established a four prong test for determining if a private agency fell under the Washington Public Records Act. The test is balancing test, with all factors being considered and no factors being required. The four factors are:
"(1) whether the entity performs a governmental function;
(2) the level of government funding;
(3) the extent of government involvement or regulation; and
(4) whether the entity was created by government."
- The Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) unofficially began in 1906 as a loose organization for cooperation amongst counties. In 1939 the legislature passed laws enabling WSAC to be the official organization for county cooperation and permitted WSAC to collect funds from the counties for reimbursement for services provided.
- In 1980, WSAC incorporated itself as a non-profit corporation with the mission of organizing cooperation amongst the counties and requiring that all counties be dues paying members of the organization.
- Washington State Association of County Officials (WACO) was organized first in the 19950's with the legislature acknowledging them in 1959, with legislation which was very similar to WSAC.
- WACO became a nonprofit in 1961 with the goal of improving cooperation among counties through monies collected from county dues.
- The vast majority of WSAC and WACO funds are collected from public funds through county dues. The boards of directors of both agencies are completely controlled by county public officials. Until 1977 the employees of WSAC and WACO were participants in the states retirement pension plan and at the time of trial many still were.
- In 1996 Paul Telford filed a suit against the Thurston County Board of Commissioners, the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC), and the Washington State Association of County Officials (WACO). Telford sought to bring the organizations under the Public Disclosure Act and to prevent future use of public funds for political campaigns.
- The trial court ruled in favor of Telford and determined that the organizations were in fact public bodies. The decision was appealed.
Ruling of the court
The trial court ruled in favor of Telford and determined that the agencies in question were in fact public bodies based on a functional equivalence test.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial court. The court, relying on the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision in Board of Trustees of Woodstock Academy v. FOIC, referenced a four part functional equivalence test. The test involves "(1) whether the entity performs a governmental function; (2) the level of government funding; (3) the extent of government involvement or regulation; and (4) whether the entity was created by government." The court also went on to reference the six factor test established by the Oregon Supreme Court in Marks v. McKenzie High School Fact Finding Team which included in its list of factors: "(1) the performance of governmental functions by the entity; (2) the presence of substantial government control over the entity's day-to-day operations; (3) the authority of the entity to make and implement decisions; (4) the nature of the government's financial involvement with the entity; (5) the existence of a federal charter; and (6) the status of the entity's employees." However, the court felt that the four factor Connecticut test was more appropriate and thus adopted it as the standard for Washington. Using this four function test the court first established that the function of WACO and WSAC was a governmental function and thus met that prong of the test. The court went on to reject the argument that the funds received by WACO and WSAC are in exchange for goods and services, citing Weston v. Carolina Research and Development Foundation, because the funds are received prior to services being rendered and the funds are not involved in a specific service but the general intention of the organizations. The court also found that because WACO and WSAC were entirely composed of governmental entities, it was in fact controlled by a public body. Finally the court established that, though the organizations were not originally created by legislation, they were in fact created by the counties and were therefor created by a public entity. Upon balancing these four factors, the court determined that the entities in quesiton were in fact public bodies because they met four of the four criteria.