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# Codification & Supplementation

The Basics of Ordinance Drafting

Follow these basics to help you draft an ordinance from start to finish

Authored by Civic Plus Logo

CivicPlus

February 1, 2022
10 min

Drafting local government ordinances can sometimes be a challenge. It’s important for the ordinance to be clear and concise and should be tailored to your community’s needs. Many times, a new ordinance comes to life from your local government council meetings that require a change to be made to your community’s codebook. From there, you draft an ordinance and gain approval from your council to amend the code as needed. We’ve compiled our list of basics to help you draft an ordinance from start to finish.

Do your research

  • Determine the purpose of the ordinance and how it should be applied
  • Research other local governments’ codes to see if they’ve adopted similar legislation
  • Consult with your attorney to determine specific constitutional and/or state laws that supersede or amend the language of your ordinance

Write Your Ordinance 

  • Check your code to see how up-to-date it is.  Have there been any amendments since your code was last updated? If your ordinance is amending the current code language, you want to be sure you’re using the most up-to-date version
  • Create an outline as a checklist for your ordinance. You can include a preamble, summary, and articles with their specific sections
    • Remember to arrange sections from the general to the specific; from the all-inclusive to the exclusive.  Have an organizing principle behind what you do—temporal, procedural, spatial, numerical, or alphabetical.  Choose which organization principle fits the material.  For example, a business license article might be organized primarily along the procedural lines for obtaining the license—prerequisites for the license holder and the business, exceptions, license issuance, renewal, then revocation
  • Follow your community’s codebook style that was established during the original codification. The code has a consistent style throughout in order to turn it into a cohesive volume of law that is easy for the public to use. Familiarize yourself with the style of your code. Don’t know your code’s style?  Ask the folks at Municode—they’ll be happy to help
  • Check for grammar and consistent punctuation
    • Note: The preferred punctuation for every entry in a list is a period—not a comma or a semicolon
  • Once you have a draft created, get feedback from your local government’s attorney as early as possible
  • Take the final ordinance to your council for necessary revisions and approval

Tips on Drafting Your Ordinance

  • When writing your ordinance, use clear directions. Showing deleted language as struck through and added language as underlined is very easy to follow; using ALL CAPS is not recommended. Another way to indicate that amendments are being made is to use language such as “amended to read as follows.” When you state, “amended to read as follows,” or “repealed and reenacted to read as follows,” it’s important to include the entire section of the code to be amended by the ordinance
  • Whenever possible, amend specific sections of your code.  Use the index and the code comparative table to locate existing material regarding your subject.  Recite the language of the section as you want it to appear in the code.  If you say, “Amended to read as follows,” be sure to include everything you want the section to say; do not assume that an outside party will know that you intended to keep paragraph (c) if you amend (a) and (b) without repeating the language of (c)
  • Use the present tense and third-party singular
  • When using definitions, arrange the terms alphabetically but do not number them (if you assign subsection numbers or paragraph letters to individual items, then your internal references to those subsections may become inaccurate when those items are renumbered/relettered)
  • Avoid making specific references to sections; when possible, reference only the first section of a chapter.  For instance, “sign regulations are covered under Section 2.04.010 et seq.” instead of, “See paragraph (a)(1) of section 2.04.010 for regulations concerning wall signs in residential districts”
  • Number or caption all illustrations
  • Do not give instructions to globally add or replace terms unless you are absolutely sure how they will be worded; that’s how local governments end up with “barking dogs and cats”

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