Accessing the Code – your local laws
December 28, 2016
Whether you live in a NJ Borough, Township, or Village, your Governing Body is a creature of statute – their actions must be based on documented laws. These include Federal and State statutes AND local municipal laws – often referred to as the General Code of the Municipality – or, simply, the Code.
Let me begin with a little irony – two very different definitions of the word Code.
a systematic statement of a body of law; especially : one given statutory force.
a system of words, letters, figures, or other symbols substituted for other words, letters, etc., especially for the purposes of secrecy.
As someone who has spent many hours reviewing and implementing municipal laws, I have found both of these definitions to be factually and ironically correct.
So, how do you access your municipal Code?
Let’s assume you live in Allendale, NJ and want to view the Code of the Borough of Allendale. Here are your options:
- Visit the Records Custodian at the Allendale Borough Hall and ask to inspect the Code of the Borough of Allendale. You will be handed a fat three-ring binder with 700+ pages of local laws. The Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requires that this information be provided to you.
- Many municipalities now use the web site http://www.GeneralCode.com to offer their Code on-line. Some municipalities provide a link to their Code from their municipal web site. This on-line version is not required by law.
While the Code will be made available to you in paper or digital format, it may only be the first step in a long journey to find the laws that you are looking for.
A few considerations
- While municipalities regularly pass ordinances to adopt new laws and modify exiting laws, they may add these changes to the Code only once or twice a year. So, when requesting access to any Code, you must also ask for a list of recently adopted ordinances. An ordinance is a legislative tool that enable an addition/deletion/modification to the Code. If you want to purchase a copy of the Code, check with the Records Custodian for availability and price.
- When using the paper version of the Code, your ability to find what you are looking for is only as good as the Table of Contents or Index. Some are good, some are a mess. It’s always a good idea to ask the Municipal Staff for guidance here. Be advised that Staff may not be familiar with recent updates to the Code.
- It’s always a good idea to start your search by visiting the on-line version of the Code. GeneralCode.com provides a very simple SEARCH capability that can be very helpful. If you need to perform a multi-word or complex search, GeneralCode.com can be a challenge to use. Once you find what you are looking for, you can easily download or print desired pages.
Searching the Code – not for the beginner
As you review any municipal Code, you will find that it is not a consumer friendly resource. It is really a legal manual that was constructed by many Governing Bodies over many years with the help of many lawyers.
If you are a beginner, finding what you need is hard. I suggest asking someone from the respective municipal staff for help.
If you are a Power User, I recommend downloading the Code onto your PC and using the built-in Windows or OS X search feature to find what you are lookin for. This is a great option for searching the code – but it does require some PC skills.
Here they are
Finally, most residents have never seen the laws that manage their community. So, I have downloaded the Code of several nearby municipalities. Each can be viewed, downloaded, and printed. Enjoy!