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An Introduction to Codification

published April 27, 2017

You may ask why codification is necessary.

On a practical basis, determining the status of an ordinance is difficult unless ordinances are codified. If the amending provisions are not inserted in their proper positions and obsolete ordinances are not removed from the books, this forces the custodian of the records (or an enforcement official) to go back to the original minute books. An alternative is to keep copies of amending ordinances with the ordinances that they amend, but this requires the user to look at two or more documents simultaneously and hold their differences in mind--a skill that not many people have. Another alternative is a comprehensive index and tables, but keeping them up-to-date is a time-consuming chore. Still, without a separate volume of the valid ordinances, must return to the original minute books time after time.

Conducting municipal business without a code is equal to making a plow out of two-by-fours every spring when a farmer needs to plant a field. Not only does he have to do the work each time, he must create his tools from scratch each time. It works, but it's very inefficient.

A code that is well-arranged, well-edited, easy to read and up-to-date is a cost-effective management tool for government. It eliminates many chores that are a strain on staff members that are already pushed to the limit of their capacity by reduced budgets and increased tasks. In this regard, undergoing codification is much like buying a piece of time-saving equipment. Just the physical convenience of having all the relevant material in one binder with tabs for the major sections is a time-saver. City officials find that judges prefer a certified professionally edited, typeset, and printed page for court purposes. Having a fresh pair of eyes look at what you have done is invaluable.

Finally, a badly arranged volume forces you to recodify sooner, and thereby undergo more expense. A well-thought-out classification and numbering system can prolong the useful life of a volume by years.

So how do you judge a codification? A codification should have a preface that explains how to use the book, a table of contents, text printed in an easy-to-read format, the location of ordinances included in the code, and an index. A superior codification includes cross references to related provisions within the code, state law references to relevant state law, charter references if the municipality has a charter and explanatory editor's notes where necessary for clarity. A truly outstanding code will be edited both for consistency with state law and internal consistency, both of ideas and format, and arranged to anticipate growth.

After the code is compiled, the ancillary benefits of the code come too. You can get the code on the Internet; get it in PDF, Word or HTML. You can update the code (print and electronic); post the ordinances in between supplements; receive reprints of separate chapters of the code; and even provide outside purchasers copies of the code; and there you have it--a short course in codification.

Steffanie Rasmussen lives in Tallahassee, Florida, and holds a Master’s degree in Business Psychology from Kansas State University. As an organizational leader at Municode, Steffanie has been educating clients, citizens, and municipal staff about the codification process for the last six years. Her professional experience and knowledge regarding municipal code publishing make her a key resource for anyone interested in code development and maintenance. Steffanie can be reached at steff@municode.com.