Municipal Clerks deserve a “golden source” which is a definitive, authoritative, and non-derivative source location for all ordinances, amending ordinances, bill amendments, resolutions, templates, and history of who proposed what language at what time.
In Praise of the Municipal Clerk
The role of the Municipal Clerk is to act as a careful custodian and steward of municipal records, including all laws, ordinances, amendments, and resolutions. They are often the person who drafts legal language before it is reviewed by a municipal attorney. Regardless if they draft the language or not, they are responsible for maintaining all records of any legislation that is proposed and approved.
This is a historically important role —past, present, and future— because they create and guard first-hand documents which tell the history of law for a specific community. In American society it is the law that creates stability, peace, and progress. America is a nation of laws and the municipal clerk is charged to maintain the law.
While the Municipal Clerk is accountable for maintaining the law, this is just one of many responsibilities. At Xcential, we believe this role as custodian and steward of the law is one of the most significant.
The eminent political scientist, Professor William Bennett Munro, writing in one of the first textbooks on municipal administration (1934), stated:
“No other office in municipal service has so many contracts. It serves the mayor, the city council, the city manager (when there is one), and all administrative departments without exception. All of them call upon it, almost daily, for some service or information. Its work is not spectacular, but it demands versatility, alertness, accuracy, and no end of patience. The public does not realize how many loose ends of city administration this office pulls together.”
Nearly 100 years later, this remains true.
Municipal Law in the United States
“The local government is the most important unit of government in the United States.” – Alexis de Tocqueville
Municipal law is the law that is created and enforced by local governments, such as cities and counties. It is important to the way American culture operates because it allows communities to address their unique needs and concerns. For example, municipal law can be used to regulate land use, zoning, business licensing, and public safety.
One of the key features of American municipal law is that it is decentralized. This means that each community has the power to create and enforce its own laws. This decentralization allows communities to tailor their laws to their specific needs and priorities. For example, a rural community may have different zoning laws than a large city.
Another important feature of American municipal law is that it is responsive to the needs of the community. This means that municipal laws can be changed relatively quickly to reflect the changing needs of the community. For example, a city may change its zoning laws to allow for the development of new businesses or housing.
American municipal law plays an important role in shaping the way that our communities look and feel. It can be used to promote economic development, protect the environment, and improve the quality of life for residents.
As journalist and writer Jane Jacobs said, “A city is not a chess game; it is a living organism.”
A Golden Source
A “golden source” is a definitive or authoritative source of information for a particular matter. It is the single source of truth (non-derivative) that all other sources must be reconciled with. Golden sources are important because they help to ensure that everyone has the same understanding of the information and that decisions are made based on accurate and up-to-date data.
Here are some basic definitions of a golden source:
- A single source of truth for all data related to a particular entity or topic.
- A definitive source of information that is used to resolve conflicts or discrepancies in other sources.
- A reliable and authoritative source of information that is used to make decisions and inform actions.
- A trusted source of information that is used to ensure compliance with regulations and standards.
Golden sources are important because they help to:
- Improve data quality and consistency.
- Reduce errors and discrepancies.
- Enable better decision-making.
- Facilitate collaboration and communication.
- Ensure compliance with regulations and standards.
Golden sources can be found in a variety of settings, including businesses, government agencies, and educational institutions. For example, a business might use a golden source to manage its customer data, product data, or financial data. A government agency might use a golden source to manage its citizen data, property data, or tax data. An educational institution might use a golden source to manage its student data, course data, or employee data.
Golden Source has history. In many cases it is history!
Emperor Justinian responded to the needs of citizens by consolidating the Code Justinian. The Roman Empire had been divided into East and West, which led its legal system to diverge and evolve independently. Laws had become complex and in conflict with one another. A simple, modernized and consolidated set of laws would help maintain order and bring back stability. Proper enforcement relied on a simple set of laws that were easy to understand and enforce.
The original version of the Justinian Code was known as the Codex Justinianus and was completed in 534 AD. From there scribes carefully copied the Code for distribution across the Empire. Citizens knew the Code was authentic because of official seals, used an official script (or font), and was distributed through official channels. Citizens could consult with government officials for interpretation and confirmation.
The original version of the Codex Justinianus was written in Latin. It was distributed throughout the Roman Empire and used by lawyers, judges, and government officials to resolve legal disputes and to make decisions.
But the Codex Justinianus was the ‘golden source” of law for its time. It is considered to have influenced the development of law in the West. Modern examples include the Magna Carta and the United States Constitution.
Today golden sources exist for many non-legal professions.
The financial industry designates a golden source of transaction and account data. Even marketing agencies and software companies designate a golden source for data which is non-derivative, accessible, and required for decision makers.
Golden Source for Municipal Law
There is a golden source of municipal law within reach today. It requires Municipal Clerks to implement careful processes which can be aided by the right technology.
Xcential Legislative Technologies has been creating systems for over 20 years to help lawmakers and clerks to steward law at the federal and state levels. LegisWeb brings that same care and simplicity to municipalities.
Here are some critical traits of a golden source of municipal law:
- Complete – All ordinances, amendments, and resolutions with who proposed what and what was approved
- Accurate – Most recent changes; prior to codification and consolidation
- Consistent – Single-source of templates for simplicity, accuracy, and efficiency
- Accessible – Councilors, Attorneys, Deputies, and other authorized roles use the same source; controlled access
- Trustworthy – Know all changes, control access, and ensure reliability to ensure ordinances are consistent and non-redundant in form
When these traits are present we have a single-source of truth.
Best practices and workflows are useful in defining access and getting work accomplished in a collaborative and often chaotic environment. Having that single-source of truth that is reliable and always authoritative will bring simplicity and calm. This is important when the real, even historical, work is in crafting what the law will look like in the days and years to come.
Often municipal attorneys will rely on the public version of the code, post-codification. But they may or may not know this is unreliable if there have been related amendments passed. A golden source doesn’t wait for codification, because neither does law. But with a golden source, the municipal attorney will have confidence in pulling the right information.
There are several important records and tools that belong in your golden source for municipal law:
- Codified ordinances: Codified ordinances are ordinances that have been compiled and organized into a single document, known as a municipal code. The municipal code is typically organized by topic, such as zoning, business regulations, and public safety.
- Non-codified ordinances: Non-codified ordinances are ordinances that have not been included in the municipal code. These ordinances may be less frequently used or may be specific to a particular neighborhood or project.
- Resolutions: Resolutions are formal expressions of the will of the municipal council on a particular matter. Resolutions can be used to declare policy, make appointments, or approve contracts.
- Amendments: Amendments are changes to existing ordinances or resolutions. Amendments can be made to clarify the language of an ordinance or resolution, to update it to reflect changes in state or federal law, or to add new provisions.
- Templates and other documents used to ensure proper execution of the above.
- Historical records around the creation of the above. For example, which city council member proposed a bill or which person inserted what language to be voted upon.
Municipal resolutions may come and go over time, but they are important historical documents that reflect what is important to your community. They also deserve a permanent home. Securing them in a golden source provides a singular, authoritative source for generations to come.
Imagine going to a single location for all ordinances, amending ordinances, bill amendments, resolutions, templates, and a history of who proposed what language at what time. We can create efficiency and simplicity in the bill writing process as we spread the confidence of the golden source.
Creating a golden source is not complicated but it does require intentional effort to build and maintain it – as municipal clerks know well. Xcential believes every careful custodian and steward of municipal records deserves a golden source.
We transform the drafting, amending, publishing and codification of legislation, regulations and other critical government documents from antiquated 19th and 20th century technology – pencils, paper, word processors and PDFs – into the machine-processable, cloud-ready and digitally efficient platform required by today’s government counsel and citizens.
Our products enable greater efficiency, collaboration and transparency in the creation of content at the core of government.
LegisWeb is a software product to create a true golden source for municipal law.