Improving the City Legislative Process

Best practices and considerations in improving the city legislative process


Prepared By: Stephanie Zamora

Request Summary: An inquiry was made regarding the legislative process for city ordinances for mid-size cities. The organization wants insight as to how much time an ordinance should take to be drafted, and if there are any practices or processes that cities should implement to ensure that those ordinances are drafted more quickly.  They would also like to know if there are any methods to a tracking process and communication between city attorneys and city commissioners. 

Executive Summary & Analysis (Key Points) 

Stephanie Zamora conducted interviews with local government managers in Arizona to gain an understanding of any standardized timelines or communication processes in place when creating ordinances. The consensus from two local managers is that they have no set time boundaries for creating ordinances because the timeline of completion depends on the complexity of the issue at hand. External tools and suggestions are also provided below.  

Research Findings 

Jeff Kulaga, a city manager with 20+ years of experience in professional local government management in Arizona provided practical insight. Gina Montes, Assistant City Manager of Avondale, AZ also offered insights.  

Time it takes to complete an ordinance:   

“A good ordinance will need the time to get input from all impacted parties and try to find an appropriate balance and allow time for everyone to have a fair shot at input. If the [organization] is seeking a static amount of time,” that may not be plausible, says Mr. Kulaga. “It all depends on the magnitude of the ordinance impact. It depends on the subject matter and the impact to the jurisdiction.” Mr. Kulaga adds that while revising existing ordinances can be done with a short turnaround, ordinances dealing with larger legal matters will be more involved. 

Example: “10 – 15 years ago or more, Tempe attempted to outlaw sidewalk sitting on Mill Ave.  Business owners complained that the homeless and quasi homeless were deterring customers, then homeless advocates got involved and this opened a can of worms.” This demonstrates the compounding layers that need to be addressed given the severity of the issue at hand. “The priority should be:  community engagement, participation and input by those impacted.  A brisk process may alienate people, then you have to address the matter all over again.  Engagement, involvement take precedent [over speed].”  

Ms. Montes shares that she is not familiar with standard cycle times or best practices either. “Ordinances can vary greatly in terms of complexity, depending on the matter being legislated, which would make it difficult to have a standard expectation.”  

If turnaround is a priority for the organization, they may want to consider adopting resolutions which “In most instances, resolutions go into effect immediately, generally need not be published (see note below), and can be adopted by a majority of the membership present, assuming there is a quorum.” (Municipal Research and Services Center, 2020).  

Methods for tracking process and communication between city attorneys and city commissioners:  

“Status reports at public meetings, weekly / monthly reports, and an agreed to communication process that also allows the public to understand what is going on.” reports Mr. Kulaga. “Many cities have tracking systems for items that are being prepared for Council action,” states Ms. Montes. 

State Scape provides third-party tracking services for governmental organizations. They explain what tracking is, what kind of organizations benefit from tracking, and their specialized services:  

They provide their ideal process for ordinances here as well: 

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