The commission and its staff are public servants. All files on formal commission cases are open for public review. All meetings are open and held at regularly scheduled times. The commission's library is open to the public.
The commission takes action on many of the matters that come before it at its regularly scheduled open meetings. These meetings are typically held the second, fourth, and fifth Thursdays of each month beginning at 9:30 a.m. Occasionally, due to scheduling conflicts, meetings are held at a different day or time.
Unlike most state agencies, the commission often functions as a quasi-judicial body. This means that, like a court of law, it rules on cases brought before it. At the commission, these cases are usually company requests for increased revenue, permission to build new plant, or change service policies. Like a court of law, the commission cannot simply rule out of hand. It must base its decisions on the evidence it collects, such as expert testimony, company records or data, statements from members of the public, and other information. The commissioners hold these formal, adjudicative hearings throughout Washington State.
Cases are conducted according to a strict procedure; with all parties given a chance to testify and cross-examine other parties. Major decisions are in written form, called an order and the affected companies are bound by law to follow them, though they may appeal through the court system. A hearing officer provided by the commission's Administrative Law Division conducts commission hearings.
The Washington State Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and commission rules govern how the commission conducts its adjudications (contested cases, for example, rate cases, formal complaints, etc.), rule making proceedings, and judicial appeal of commission decisions.
When the commission begins adjudication, the APA section on "ex parte communications" (RCW 34.05.455) is invoked. That provision prohibits the commissioners and the presiding administrative law judge from communicating, either directly or indirectly regarding any contested issue in the case, with any person who participates in the case on behalf of a party to the proceeding, for example, commission staff, Public Counsel, company representatives, and interveners. There is an exception for procedural matters such as scheduling.
The commission's rule (WAC 480-09-140) also applies to "ex parte" communications. That rule basically mirrors the statute, but makes it clearer that prohibition about discussions of issues extends to all of the commissioners' advisory team members and to any person on behalf of a party.