City Ordinance vs. City Code: What’s the Difference?

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • March 27, 2024

Navigating the intricacies of local governance requires an understanding of the legal frameworks cities use to maintain order and regulate various aspects of public life. Two essential components of this legal infrastructure are city ordinances and city codes. 

Read on to learn more about the distinctions between these two crucial elements, including their definitions, significance, and the key differences that set them apart. 

What is a City Ordinance?

City ordinances serve as specific laws or regulations enacted by a city council or other local legislative body, such as a county board of supervisors. These ordinances play a pivotal role in shaping the local legal landscape and addressing specific issues that concern the community. 

City ordinances cover a wide range of topics, including zoning regulations, noise control, public safety, and building codes. They serve as a means to address issues that may not be adequately covered by state or federal laws.

What is a City Code?

In contrast, a city code refers to a comprehensive set of laws that includes ordinances, regulations, and administrative rules. It serves as a compilation of all the rules and requirements established by local government authorities to manage various aspects of community life. City codes are often organized into different sections or chapters, each addressing specific areas, such as zoning, public safety, and land use.

City codes function as a centralized reference point, serving as a comprehensive repository that incorporates and organizes all ordinances into a unified document or database. This centralized approach streamlines accessibility, providing a single source for officials, legal professionals, and the public to access the entirety of local laws. 

Key Differences Between a City Ordinance and City Code

The key difference between a city ordinance and city code include:

  1. Legislative Level:
  • An ordinance is a specific law or regulation passed by a city council or other local legislative body.
  • A city code refers to a comprehensive set of laws, including ordinances, regulations, and administrative rules, organized systematically by subject matter.
  1. Scope and Coverage:
  • Ordinances tend to address specific and often singular issues or regulations.
  • City codes encompass a broader spectrum of laws and regulations, covering multiple areas such as zoning, building, health, and safety.
  1. Hierarchy and Structure:
  • Ordinances are part of the city code but exist as individual laws, often numbered or titled separately.
  • A city code organizes ordinances along with other regulations and rules into a structured and organized system, often divided into chapters or sections.
  1. Accessibility and Reference:
  • Ordinances can be standalone documents that are referenced within the broader code.
  • City codes serve as a centralized reference point, incorporating and organizing all ordinances and related laws into a single document or database.
  1. Amendment Process:
  • Modifying or adding ordinances typically involves the city council or legislative body passing new legislation or revising existing ones.
  • City codes are updated periodically to incorporate changes in ordinances, regulations, or laws, with amendments requiring extensive review and approval. 

eScribe Powers Effective City Councils

In the contemporary landscape of local governance, technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing the effectiveness of city council meeting procedures. One such tool is eScribe, a comprehensive meeting management solution purpose-built for the public sector.

In addition to its accessible pricing structure, eScribe empowers everyone from the city administrator to the city manager with the following features:

  • Meeting Manager: Collaborate, create, tweak, and share meeting materials from a one-stop digital platform.  
  • Meeting Minutes: Take minutes right within the software. Assign tasks, monitor attendance, and record meetings without hassles. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: The seamless approval and submission workflows help ensure you’ve included everyone, honoring the different ways stakeholders such as city clerks vs. city administrators work. 
  • Collaboration Tools: Give city council members the ability to search, download, and review the content of a virtual meeting securely from anywhere. 

Ultimately, ordinances address specific issues, while codes provide a comprehensive legal framework. The integration of software, such as eScribe, exemplifies the commitment to efficient and transparent governance, ensuring city councils operate at their full potential.

See the real-life impact eScribe has on local governments in the City of Greensboro case study.