Bylaws – to put on a website or not? What are the legal ramifications for Local Government?
July 31, 2009 at 11:34 pm #76967
Wondering if there are any other local government workers out there? Currently in my office we are having a debate as to whether or not bylaws (with disclaimers and listed as the unofficial version) should or should not appear on a local government’s website. Some argue that residents should only be able to search for the bylaw name and number and then have to come in to receive a copy of the bylaw (i.e., no actual information on what the bylaw says) while other believe that bylaws should be available online and availble for residents to interpret.
The concern for some is that the local government could face legal action from residents, if a bylaw is improperly interpreted and results in an action being taken on the part of the resident/landowner.
What I am wondering is in this day of “open government” …
1) how much information should be available to the public online?
2) does anyone know of best practices in relation to this or related topics?
3) realistically what is the risk to local government of adding these items, in their entirety, to their website?
Any ideas or thoughts would be most helpful 🙂
July 31, 2009 at 11:38 pm #76981
All of our bylaws are online and search-able by title, sadly we have duplicates and some old data. So my tip, make sure that all buy laws are posted in one spot, that they are referenced to always be the recent ones and please make sure they are text readable not image scans. We suffer from all of these problems and it’s a lot of work to fix.
August 4, 2009 at 1:41 pm #76979
August 4, 2009 at 2:10 pm #76977
It seems like a no-brainer — or a case of the bureaucracy overtaking common sense and the democratic process. The gov’t doesn’t own the bylaws and then allows citizens to see them when the gov’t decides. We are the gov’t, we fund the gov’t, we elect representatives to make decisions and create laws.
The public service doesn’t own the legislation — they serve the public. Making it difficult for citizens to see the actual legislation is poor service. Worse than that, having legislation that only lawyers can understand keeps citizens from fully participating in their gov’t and their democracy.
August 4, 2009 at 3:20 pm #76975
The City of Ottawa has a complete list of bylaws available and regularly updated on our website at: http://ottawa.ca/residents/bylaw/index_en.html
We do also include a few different disclaimers, including: “By-laws contained in this section have been prepared for reference purposes only. Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of this information, however it is not to be used in place of actual by-laws.”
The City has included a section on the website that explains some of the more common bylaws in easy to understand terms: http://ottawa.ca/residents/bylaw/common/index_en.html
Personally I believe that it’s good practice to make this information openly available to people, and likewise the accuracy and currency of the information needs to be a priority.
August 8, 2009 at 4:55 am #76973
Chris L. LatendresseParticipant
I’m currently looking at all the municipal websites in Ontario as part of a research project I’m doing for my degree. Almost all the websites i’ve looked at so far have By-Laws posted, along with Meeting Minutes and council decisions, Strategic Plans, Official Plans, Budgets, etc, etc. I think it is imperative in this era of Transparency and Accountability to publish all the information related to governance that is reasonable, within the law and regulatory requirements, and doesn’t present any privacy or security.
Have a look at this paper: Assessing the Quality of Municipal Government Websites. James K. Scott, State and Local Government Review, Volume 37, No 2 (2005), it might be relevant to your questions.
August 10, 2009 at 2:04 pm #76971
I work for the City of Toronto and open government has been been a big topic. Personally I feel that in order for the city to make changes toward better serving it’s community administration should be opened at all levels to effective public scrutiny and oversight.
Bylaws found on the city’s web site are presented with a disclaimer stating “…documents are provided electronically for information only and do not retain the exact structure of the original versions”. It goes on to recommend “readers should verify information before acting on it”.
The City Clerks office provides information about the city’s Bylaws. Throughout the the City’s web pages presenting the City of Toronto Municipal Code reference to the clerks office is made with contact information. The municipal code can be found at http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/municode/index.htm with a link to [email protected].
I’m not sure as to the risk involved if a Bylaw is improperly interpreted but I will certainly bring the question up at our new team meeting.
I’d love to here any comments,
August 14, 2009 at 4:41 pm #76969
Thanks everyone for your comments and links. All I can say is that … sound minds think alike!
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.