In our first Civics 101 story we took a look at how to make your voice heard at a commission meeting or public hearing. And in that piece we took a quick look at the differences between ordinances and resolutions. Well, we wanted to dig a little deeper into ordinances in this story to give you a better sense of how they go from proposals to laws — and how you can interact with that process.
The process can be pretty straightforward but often isn’t. And it can involve a lot of wonky language that isn’t always easy to navigate. Here’s what you need to know.
First up, what’s an ordinance?
Florida Statute defines them as “an official legislative action of a governing body, which action is a regulation of a general and permanent nature and enforceable as a local law.” So basically they’re an official law that goes on the books and changes something formally in the city’s charter — essentially that municipality’s guiding rulebook.
Ordinances are the kinds of things that are enforced by the city, its staff, code enforcement officers, and police, among others, depending on the law. For example, the strict enforcement of building codes in a city like Coral Gables or fines being issued if a business uses banned plastic products.
So how is that different from a resolution?
State statute clarifies this by saying resolutions are an “expression of a governing body concerning matters of administration, an expression of a temporary character, or a provision for the disposition of a particular item of the administrative business of the governing body.”
Note the lack of “legislative” or “official” in there. Resolutions usually aren’t binding and don’t usually require forceful action with any real penalties.
Examples include a resolution directing staff to study whether the county can afford to install bike lanes or a declaration saying that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in a given city or town.
While those things will be included in press releases and staff members may study how possible or affordable it is to install bike lanes, there’s nothing legally binding about that request.
So how does an ordinance get to a meeting agenda?
While those previously mentioned resolutions to study something or explore what a city can afford to do aren’t formal, they can lead to laws or policy changes. And in many cases those discussions will happen at a committee or advisory board level before reaching an official agenda.
Sometimes it’s a proposed change to a zoning law for a development or it could be an ordinance impacting a historic structure. Those decisions will often come before the city or county’s planning and zoning board, a historic preservation board, or a committee with a similar name or structure.
The board or committee members will then make recommendations to staff and/or to the commission before an item is placed on an agenda. Those recommendations can include potential changes to a proposed development and usually a favorable or negative recommendation about a project.
From there, that municipality’s staff works to place the item on the agenda.
So if you’re really looking to learn about an ordinance, or what developments could be happening in your city, be sure to check what’s happening on those local boards.
At the county level, there are also community councils that decide on local zoning matters. You can find more info on them here.
Got it, so it goes to the agenda and then is approved or denied. What next?
If it’s denied, that’s generally the end of the road for a project or proposal, and a developer or city staff has to go back to the drawing board to bring back a similar proposal.
If an item is approved, then it goes into effect ten days after the meeting where it was approved or on a date that’s set in the language of the ordinance or resolution.