Role The Hearing Examiner's serves in a role similar to that of a judge. The Hearing Examiner ensures that parties receive proper due process; and issues final decisions on some land use applications and makes recommendations to the City Council on others. In the case of code enforcement hearings, the Hearing Examiner determines whether a violation occurred and if so what monetary penalties are accessed.
The position of the Administrative Hearing Examiner shall review and interpret land use regulations, conduct hearings, make decisions and recommendations on land use applications, hear administrative appeals on permits, decisions or determination made by city officials, and review and hear other matters as provided for in the Bremerton Municipal Code and other ordinances.
The City Council created the hearing examiner system in November 2001 to ensure that fair and impartial decisions are made on project permits that are quasijudicial in manner and administrative decisions by city departments. Additionally, the Hearing Examiner provides judgment on code enforcement actions.
The Hearing Examiner serves as a city official on quasijudicial matters. Quasijudicial generally relates to a specific site, might involve a public hearing, usually affects specific parties and includes evidence for or against the proposal. These types of decisions are different than legislative actions, such as adopting new zoning ordinances, which tend to affect a much wider area and involve many more people.
Planning matters involving legislative action go through the City Planning Commission and require City Council approval.
Quasijudicial decisions, as a matter of law, require constitutional guarantees of due process. When the city fails to follow proper due process, exposure can occur to court orders requiring payment of monetary damages to the applicant. In Washington State, proper due process includes the following:
Appearance of fairness by the decision maker (Chapter 42.36 RCW)
Proper notice of the hearing
A proper hearing process
A complete record
A decision or recommendation based on the record that meets legal requirements
The Public's Role in Quasijudicial Actions
Anyone interested in the outcome of project approval process has a right to be heard. You can present oral and/or provide written testimony for or against the proposal. Public testimony ensures that a complete record is available for a decision. When providing testimony, it is very important to present facts because facts are the foundation for issuing a decision. The decision must meet the legal criteria, which comes from applying city's ordinances and state statutes. If the legal criteria are satisfied, the decision must be to approve, even if popular opinion is contrary. If the criteria are not satisfied, the decision must be not to approve.
Prohibited Ex Parte Contacts
Because the Hearing Examiner hearings are quasijudicial, all persons are prohibited from contacting the examiner outside the public hearing for the purpose of influencing a decision. Any contacts made, must be publicly disclosed at the hearing. Similarly, contacting a member of the City Council for the purpose of influencing a decision on a quasijudicial action before them can lead to disqualifying that council member from the decision. If a person believes that ex parte communications have occurred, it should promptly be brought to the attention of the affected official.