Wait a Doggone Minute… Do We Need To Vote On This?

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Learning a trick or two about the difference between administrative and legislative decisions can keep potential problems on a tight leash.

If you work in local government, you’re probably used to wearing one, two… or what seems like 57 different hats all at once. As you go about holding your community together, with what seems like popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue, role delineation is frequently an area that starts to get fuzzy.  Especially when you’re more frantically focused on trying not to glue your fingers together.  

There’s an important distinction between decisions that are specifically legislative and those that are administrative. Many elected officials in local government commonly make mistakes regarding both at some point in their normal course of business. Understanding the line between administration and legislation is critical, as it will keep you from being put in time out by your jurisdiction’s attorney for mistakenly using super glue for Elmer’s glue. 

(For a thorough discussion on this topic, you’ll want to check out this free civiclinQ module. At a high level, however, here’s a way to remember the difference next time you’re on a walk).

Legislators Are Like Foxhounds

Legislators blaze the trail for the community. With the goals of their fellow residents in mind, they lead the way by passing laws to keep the community on the right path. They study issues and obstacles and keep an eye on the big picture. Wherever they go, the rest of the party follows. 

Legislative decisions are those made by elected representatives in the Town, City, or County Commission. These decisions must be made by official ordinance (resolutions when it’s fees or processes). Examples include changing the general plan, passing zoning laws, taxing residents, and approving the government’s budget. Under state law, legislative decisions, particularly those relating to land use, are subject to strict public notice, record-keeping, and voting procedures. 

Administrators Are Like Sheepdogs

Administrators run around and deal with the day-to-day struggles of keeping the wheel of government rolling in the right direction. Their job is to make sure that everyone stays together by enforcing, applying, and expounding on the laws set by the local legislature. They also put out plenty of fires. 

Unlike legislative decisions, administrative decisions can be made by any party that the legislative body appoints. This can include staff, the planning commission, heads of departments, and even the legislative body itself. Administrators can’t be as flexible as legislators, because they are limited by what the local laws say. But although the scope of these decisions is more narrow, the way administrative decisions are made is less restricted by state law. Examples of administrative decisions in land use include creating and accepting applications and issuing permits for subdivisions, building, businesses, and so forth. 

It’s A Dog-Eat-Dog World Out There 

And you don’t want to lose the next election because you held an unnecessary public hearing when the decision was administrative!

Throw us a bone and call the Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning, economic, and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be. 

Want to Learn More?

Check out our online training modules! Note: Rural Community Consultants is able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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