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

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • January 2, 2024

Local governance involves a complex mix of rules, regulations, and decisions that shape the day-to-day lives of residents. At the heart of municipal decision-making are two key instruments: city ordinances and city resolutions. While the terms may seem similar, they serve distinct purposes in the functioning of a city council. 

Read on to learn more about the key differences between city ordinances and resolutions, and discover how government meeting software empowers city councils to work more efficiently while enhancing transparency.

What is a City Ordinance?

City ordinances are local laws and regulations that are established by a city government and enforced by local law enforcement. City ordinances play an important role because they’re designed to maintain order, protect citizens, and allow communities to thrive. Ordinances can vary based on the city’s needs, priorities, and challenges.

Examples of ordinances may include restrictions on the possession of firearms; solid waste and recycling ordinances that mandate methods of disposal; and business licensing ordinances that establish requirements for obtaining licenses and permits. Ordinances cover a broad range of topics and anytime an ordinance is passed or amended, it must go through specific city council meeting procedures

Related: What Does a City Council Member Do?

The Structure of a City Ordinance

Because city ordinances become local laws, the structure must remain clear, concise, and consistent. Every city has its own process for adopting city ordinances. A city clerk or representative will assign the ordinance a number and notify the city council and the public. A standard format generally includes the following:

  • The ordinance topic.
  • An introductory section that includes the purpose and background of the proposed plan.
  • A “body” that consists of specific rules and regulations detailing what is allowed or prohibited.
  • A penalties and enforcement section that outlines penalties if the ordinance is violated.
  • An effective date for when the ordinance takes effect.
  • Provisions for repealing or amending an ordinance in the future.
  • Signatures and time stamps for when city officials, such as the mayor and city manager, approve the ordinance.

During meetings, city councils often leverage  government meeting software to streamline communication, enhance transparency, and ensure accountability for citizens.

What is a City Resolution?

A city resolution is an official expression of a decision, opinion, or policy made by a city council. Resolutions are often used to address matters of a non-legislative or temporary nature, and they serve as a formal means for a city council to communicate its stance or intention on a specific issue.

Examples of a city resolution include policies in support of environmental sustainability, diversity, and inclusion (DEI); in-memoriam resolutions to pay tribute to prominent individuals; and budget resolutions pertaining to a city’s financial matters and allocation of funds for various purposes.

The Structure of a City Resolution

Although usually ranked below an ordinance, a city resolution must follow a similar formality when it comes to implementation. A general structure of a city resolution includes the following:

  • A number assigned by the clerk to indicate when it will be addressed.
  • A sponsor or initiator, including contact information.
  • Titles clearly stating the purpose or subject matter.
  • A preamble which provides background information and context for the resolution.
  • “Whereas” clauses to give more context to the situation and provide examples of why a resolution is needed.
  • Signatures and time stamps for when city officials approve the resolution.

How eScribe Powers Effective City Council

The primary duty of councils, city administrators, and other government agencies is to serve as the legislative and policy-making body for a city. City ordinances and resolutions are two critical components for enacting policies and fostering the development of local municipalities.

Advanced meeting software, such as eScribe, helps city councils improve board effectiveness, streamline operations, and enhance transparency. Core platform features include:

  • Meeting Manager: Seamlessly capture key meeting items in digital format, including minutes, roll call, action items, quorum, speaker requests, and more
  • Meeting Minutes: The software automatically takes meeting minutes, eliminating the need for manual note taking.
  • Reporting and Workflow: Centralize information for upcoming projects and gain a bird’s-eye view of timelines and action items.
  • Collaboration Tools: Cloud functionality enables users to collaborate and communicate from anywhere. 

By streamlining workflows, automating processes, and promoting collaboration, eScribe saves time and resources while enhancing public accountability.

To see how eScribe helps city government’s thrive, check out the City of Greensboro case study.