By Myrna Trauntvein
The duties of a codifier were of concern to Mona City Council members at the last council meeting. Molli Graham, council member, during that meeting, said she objected to the “nickel and dime” charges of Sterling Codifiers Inc, who codified Mona’s ordinances. Rob S. Rollins, President of Sterling Codifiers Inc, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, addressed Mona City Council via speaker phone which allowed council members to ask questions as well as hear replies. Sterling Codifiers is in its third generation as a family-owned company with Rollins and his wife, Jill, as current owners. They have been responsible for codification for cities as diverse as Salt Lake City and Nephi. A municipal code is a systematic organization of local legislation by subject matter, from the general to the specific. “I’ll turn the time over to the council to ask their questions,” said Greg Newton, mayor. Katrina Long, council member, asked why there were discrepancies with state law in the codification because she understood that was part of the duty of Sterling. For example, at a recent training by the ULCT (Utah League of Cities and Towns), they were instructed that “may” should not be used in code but should be replaced by “shall” or “must.” Now if the city corrects that wording, it will cost $50 per page to redo the ordinances that contain that word. She said the city paid a lot for the city’s ordinances to be codified in the first place and now were going to have to pay more to have them fixed. During the initial codification process, said Rollins, many questions were asked by his company. The industry standard of codification is focused on local government consulting. “A multitude of those questions were left unanswered,” he said. If the codifiers were told to leave something alone, they did. He said that it sounded as though Long were frustrated. Long said that she would have thought that Sterling would have known to keep the ordinances current with the requirements of the state legislature. Though the company acts as a quasi-assistant to the municipal attorney, performing routine site checks, editing checks and comparisons to state and federal law, it is just another set of eyes. Ultimately, the city attorney is responsible for knowing the law and for writing ordinances for the city that meet legal requirements. “Who reviewed the city codes?” asked Rollins. “Whoever did it had excellent penmanship.” The council went through the various ordinances at work sessions, said Newton. In the three years that it had taken to put together the code book, Rollins said, the council could have directed Sterling to make changes the council and their attorney thought important. “Why was that not done?” he asked. “That is my question to you.” “We expected some level of expertise from you,” said Long. Most cities use their attorney, not their codifier, for that legal expertise, he said. Codification of the city code requires that all current ordinances on a given subject are contained in one portion of the code, such as a chapter or section. The administration of the regulations and the penalties are set out clearly within that portion of the code. Furthermore, codification is a method of good government. With the erosion of sovereign immunity, municipalities are now facing multitudes of civil rights lawsuits. It is more important than ever that the municipality have up-to-date, clearly written, accessible laws. “Show us the value of our dollar,” said Jeff Hearty, city council member. “Let us know what we are buying.” Codification helps to deter the municipal legislative body from enacting redundant or inconsistent new ordinances and lets the council view the body of law as a whole and note any gaps in coverage which may need legislation. It also allows full code searching with results synchronized to the table of contents. A recent group homes ordinance, which the city attorney had prepared, said Rollins, needed some work. He said that there were references to statutes that didn’t exist. Of the five ordinances the city had recently passed, only one did not have errors, he said. He had done his job and used his expertise to correct errors. “I was unclear on the fees (charged by Sterling),” said Graham. “I was curious as to how we could make a (simple) change to an ordinance without paying fees.” Rollins said that he was a professional and was curious as to why the council did not think he should be paid as such. The city would not expect any other professional to do a job for free. A doctor would be paid for services. “I am getting tired of this,” he said. “I am not a fan of Sterling Codifiers,” said Graham. “I think you are very combative.” She said he also had not returned some of her telephone calls. Rollins disagreed because, he said, it was his policy to always return calls as soon as he was able. He had a question of his own, he said. He was curious as to why Shannon Ellsworth, representing Rural Community, would bash his company as had been done when she attended the last meeting and suggested that small rural communities probably didn’t need his codification services and could get the on-line codification for less. “Do you want me to proceed with the group home ordinance codification?” asked Rollins. “I feel scrutinized.” “I think we need a cooling off period for awhile,” said Newton. However, he did ask that Rollins send him his draft of the group home ordinance he was working on with notes of where Rollins saw problems. The city would then return the ordinance to the attorney for revision. “I understand its urgency,” said Rollins. After clearing with Rollins, the council had a few more comments. “I guess we have to pay two people to keep our ordinances up-to-date,” said Graham. “We have to pay an attorney and a codifier.” She asked if the city could use the ULCT for help with the ordinances. They are members of that organization. “You would still have to pay them,” said Newton. In order to follow and enforce local ordinances, people must be able to efficiently access and reference them. Codification is the way municipalities make it easy for people to find and read the laws they are expected to follow. Codification is the process of organizing and recording all permanent ordinances adopted by the governing body into a code book in which the laws are arranged by subject matter. This book (the “municipal code”) gives each ordinance a permanent identifying number and usually includes a table of contents and index, so people can easily look up the law on any particular topic.