Ordinances are written laws adopted by the municipal governing authority that serve as permanent, enforceable laws (unless amended or repealed through the adoption of a new ordinance). Your city’s local charter will provide additional details on how your ordinances are specifically adopted. Keep in mind that state and federal laws supersede any conflicting city ordinances.
Common examples of ordinances include:
- Rezoning of property
- Annexation of property
- Text amendments to local zoning or land development regulations
- Alcohol regulations
- Public safety regulations
View sample ordinances on the Municipal Code Corporation website and on the Georgia Municipal Association website.
Ordinances may be given various readings similar to how federal and state legislatures pass laws. Please check your city charter to determine how an ordinance must be adopted in your city, specifically paying attention to the number of readings required and the types of meetings at which such readings must take place. Also note that some ordinances, such as "home rule" amendments to the city charter and zoning changes have state law governing the ordinance approval procedure.
- First reading: The draft ordinance is read aloud at a council meeting for the first time before discussion.
- Second reading: The ordinance is read again after the governing body makes revisions based on discussion. Further discussion and amendments may still take place after this reading.
Some ordinances require a public hearing for the first and second readings before adopted by council (such as budget or zoning ordinances). Many cities require a second reading before they pass.
For any special ordinance procedures, refer to any guidance and outlines listed in your city charter. Some cities also adopt ordinances that specifically outline the procedures and format for passing ordinances.
For requirements about giving notice of a proposed ordinance, follow any provisions in your city charter. Some cities may post a proposed or approved ordinance on their website for public access and viewing if it significantly impacts the community.
The following is quoted directly from the “Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers.” Refer to this handbook for additional details about ordinances.
“Although state law does not dictate a required format for a municipal ordinance, it is important to review a city’s charter and previously adopted ordinances for provisions that may include requirements for inclusion in a municipal ordinance or resolution. However, there are some basic elements to a well-drafted ordinance that may allow a municipality to avoid challenges to the validity and meaning of its enactments:
- The “title” provides an identifying name for the ordinance or resolution.
- The “preamble” briefly explains the purpose of the ordinance and the objectives sought to be accomplished by it. This may be quite lengthy and include findings of fact for certain types of ordinances such as those regulating adult entertainment.
- The “enactment clause” formally declares the passing or adoption of an ordinance and identifies the enacting legislative body (i.e., the city council).
- The “definition section” defines any words or phrases that have special meaning in the ordinance.
- The “body” is the basic act itself, organized and divided into identifiable sections.
- The “severability clause” stipulates that if any portion of the ordinance is held invalid, the remaining provisions continue in full force and effect.
- The “repealer clause” abolishes previous ordinances that the municipal governing authority no longer wishes to be operative. A repealer clause that specifically identifies provisions to be abolished is far preferable to a general clause simply stating that “all conflicting enactments are hereby repealed.” The latter type can lead to confusion concerning which ordinances, or parts thereof, have been repealed. Additionally, an “equal dignity” rule governing the repeal or amendment of municipal ordinances exists in Georgia. This means that generally an ordinance must be repealed or amended by no less than another ordinance.
- The “effective date” specifies the date on which the ordinance becomes effective.”
The single most effective way to have a well-drafted ordinance that will help the municipality avoid challenges to the validity and meaning of the ordinance is to have the city attorney involved and reviewing the ordinance before it is approved.
Amendments to Ordinances
A governing body may change an ordinance only by adopting an ordinance amendment (which should reference the ordinance to be amended). Follow the same procedures as you would when normally adopting an ordinance as found in the city charter or through a procedural ordinance.
Repealing an Ordinance
If governing body members seek to repeal an ordinance, seek guidance from your city manager or city attorney. Typically, a city repeals an ordinance in the form of an amendment that adds new verbiage to the original ordinance.
Once adopted and numbered for reference, ordinances should be maintained in an ordinance book for permanent keeping. State law requires the codification of ordinances and any resolutions that have the force and effect of law. This codification of ordinances is a compilation of all municipal ordinances arranged in a logical order, with a table of contents and an index. Cities with a population of 5,000 or less have the option of compiling rather than codifying their ordinances and resolutions. At a minimum, compile by date and include an index. Otherwise, you have freedom in how you decide to compile this information. Although cities are not required to maintain online versions of the city code, if your city does have the city code online the city should be sure to update the online version of the code along with the official code book.
View sample city code books on the Municipal Code Corporation website.
A resolution deals with matters of special or temporary character. It formally expresses the governing body’s opinion or will adopted by an official vote and resulting in a separate document that goes beyond simply recording an action taken by Council in the minutes. Resolutions are confined to one subject and record official administrative actions not supported by the city’s charter or Code of Ordinances.
While resolutions are recorded in a separate document, you will also document and number (if required) resolutions in the Council Meeting Minutes as an official action performed by the Council.
Unlike ordinances, resolutions may not be required to have a first or second reading. Resolutions can be a motion on record and are generally passed by a majority vote of the council without any advance notification.
Processing a Resolution
When creating the resolution document, use the following guidance for structure and completeness.
- Number Sequence: Begin by abbreviating the type of resolution followed by the calendar year adopted and then the sequential number. For example, AR2014-01.
- Title: Provide the reader with an idea of the subject matter. Make the title short and specific. The title should appear in all caps and in a bold print font style.
- Whereas Clauses: Provide background information about the resolution to clarify its need and purpose. Note that Whereas Clauses are not enforceable by law. Each clause will begin with “WHEREAS” followed by information that addresses some or all of the following questions:
- Who does the resolution affect?
- What is the resolution about?
- What is the best way to accomplish the desired result?
- Where will the resolution happen or occur?
- Why is it needed?
- Enacting Clauses: These clauses state the specific action approved upon adoption of the resolution. Enacting Clauses appear as:
- “BE IT RESOLVED”
- “NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED”
- “BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED”
Tips on Drafting Resolutions
While these tips are not required, they will help you create consistent, quality resolution documents.
- Create a short title specific enough to distinguish it from other resolutions with similar titles.
- Create short, direct sentences to enhance clarity.
- Limit your language to statements that support the purpose of the resolution.
- Show dollar amounts numerically.
- If a funding consideration is part of the resolution, reference the account number or attach a Cost Allocation Form.
- Use consistent wording and formatting throughout the document.
- Proofread the resolution to resolve any discrepancies and correct grammatical and typographical errors.
- Certify the resolution (if required).
Effective/Adoption Date of the Resolution
Unless otherwise noted in the resolution, the effective date is the date when the resolution was adopted. Every resolution should contain the following statement: “Adopted this _____ day of ____________________________” above the signature lines. The Clerk’s Office is responsible for inserting the date into this sentence.
Approved resolutions may require the signature of each Council Member who casts a favorable vote. The Council’s signature lines appear in the order of succession. Make a notation on the signature line for all denials and/or abstentions. Under normal circumstances, obtain signatures during and/or immediately after the Council Meeting. Other times, you may just need to note the vote count, have the resolution signed by the Mayor, and then attest the document. Who signs the resolution is a decision to be made at the local, municipal level and may be dictated by the city charter or adopted rules and procedures.
If the resolution references attachments and/or exhibits, it’s preferable that the referenced document(s) are in the possession of the City Clerk prior to the Council Meeting. If there are several attachments and/or exhibits, sequentially number them in the footer of each page (in a centered position). File all attachments and/or exhibits with the original resolution.
Resolutions with Multiple Pages
We recommend limiting resolutions to one page. If multiple pages are necessary, number each page in the footer of each page (in the centered position). Do not adjust the margins on additional pages. (One page resolutions do not require numbering.)
Publish resolutions similar to how you would publish an ordinance only if the resolution has the full force and effect of law.
Compile resolutions in a book with a date sequence and an index for easy retrieval.
A proclamation is issued by an elected or appointed government official to commemorate a specific day or event. It can honor a specific individual, group, or cause. It may originate in the city or as the result of an individual or group advocating on behalf of a cause. The mayor may hold proclamation signings at different times in order to accommodate pictures and press releases. Proclamation signings may also be held at council meetings.
If the city receives a large number of requests for issuing proclamations, you may want to create a formal written policy that outlines the city’s request process and that helps gather information for the proclamation.
Mayors are also often asked to write welcome letters, condolence letters, appreciation letters, and other kinds of ceremonial documents. Prepare these documents with elegance in mind.
Sample Policy: Requesting Ceremonial Documents
Proclamations and letters are ceremonial documents signed by the mayor and issued for public awareness, charitable events, arts and cultural celebrations, and other special honors.
All requests for ceremonial documents must be submitted in writing and will go through a review and approval process. Requests can be submitted via email or U.S. mail. To ensure efficient processing, the manager's office asks that requests be made at least four weeks in advance of the date the document is needed. Please allow at least ten business days for response.
A letter of greeting or congratulations will be issued for conferences, conventions and seminars, or a significant anniversary, birthday, reunion, or event. When submitting requests for a letter, be sure to include any other pertinent information.
National Adopt a Dog Month Proclamation
Whereas, October is National Adopt a Dog Month, and citizens of OurTown should look to shelters and animal rescues to adopt their new best friend; and
Whereas, the SuperRescue group is dedicated to saving the unwanted animals of OurTown through foster families, spay/ neuter programs and adoption events; and
Whereas, 4,385 unwanted dogs and cats were euthanized last year in OurTown; and
Whereas, the City of OurTown is committed to ending overpopulation within our borders; and
Whereas, adoption and spay/ neuter are the keys to ending overpopulation;
Now, Therefore, I, Tom J. DoGooder, Mayor of OurTown, do hereby proclaim the month of October, 2006 as
Adopt a Dog Month
in the city of OurTown, and urge citizens to adopt a new best friend and save the life of a homeless animal.
Signed October 1, 2006
Tom J. DoGooder
Sample Certified Resolution