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Can We Improve the Humble City Agenda?

Agendas aren’t fun. The language is legalistic and a full packet can run over a thousand pages with supporting materials.

A typical stack of local government agendas

A typical stack of local government agendas

As a reminder, this is what just the title of one piece of local legislation looks like:

A RESOLUTION OF THE BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF THE OMNI REDEVELOPMENT DISTRICT COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY (“CRA”) AUTHORIZING THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TO NEGOTIATE AND EXECUTE A NON-BINDING MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING (“MOU”) WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, A BODY CORPORATE AND POLITIC EXISTING UNDER THE LAWS OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA (“SCHOOL BOARD”), IN A FORM ACCEPTABLE TO THE GENERAL COUNSEL, IN ORDER TO FACILITATE THE CRA’S RESPONSIBILITY TO DIMINISH SLUM AND BLIGHT WITHIN ITS BOUNDARIES, SPECIFICALLY BY COLLABORATING WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD REGARDING A MIXED-USE DEVELOPMENT PROJECT INCLUSIVE OF AFFORDABLE AND WORKFORCE HOUSING, A COMMERCIAL AND/OR RETAIL COMPONENT, THE EXPANSION OF THE IPREP SCHOOL TO BE LOCATED AT 150 NORTHEAST 19TH STREET, MIAMI, FLORIDA, THE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PARKING SOLUTION IN THE SURROUNDING AREA, AND FURTHER ENHANCEMENTS TO THE PHILLIS WHEATLEY SCHOOL PROPERTY LOCATED AT 1934 NORTHWEST 1ST COURT, 1801 NORTHWEST 1ST PLACE, AND 1942 NORTHWEST 1ST COURT, MIAMI, FLORIDA, AS MORE PARTICULARLY DESCRIBED IN THE MOU.

While these dense titles are difficult to read, they do typically serve a purpose; namely, they can offer incredibly precise details about what the legislation is meant to do.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. In fact, some local governments have a simple way around the dense legalese.

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That’s a sample ordinance from a Town of Bay Harbor Islands agenda. What makes it notable is the highlighted text. It’s a “mini-summary” explaining what the ordinance is supposed to do, without resorting to legalese. In this case, the ordinance is meant to replace the existing flood damage sections of the Town’s code with language that complies with the state’s new standards.

The City of Miami offers these plainly worded explanations as well, but only in the agendas for the Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board. Even then, it’s only in the PDF-version of those agendas. Here’s an example: 

City of Miami Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board Agenda (PDF version)

City of Miami Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board Agenda (PDF version)

Below the resolution’s title you have a short description of what’s going on. The City Manager is asking the Planning, Zoning & Appeals Board to endorse what could ultimately become a new part of the city’s code concerning affordable housing.

It’s a simple way to improve access to public documents. Hopefully, the practice will become more widespread.

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