Municipal codes and ordinances can be hard to come by online. Here's a guide to available resources.
Many practitioners are perplexed that despite the explosion in legal information available on the Web, municipal ordinances are difficult to find for many communities. The good news is that many Illinois towns make their ordinances available online. The bad news is that too many municipal Web sites contain outdated information and are hard to use. This month we'll survey some of the sources available for finding Illinois municipal ordinances on the Internet.
The "official" municipal site
The obvious place to look for a municipality's ordinances is that municipality's official Web site. In some cases, however, what appears to be official is actually operated by the local Chamber of Commerce, or a local tourism board, or even just a local.
The uniform resource locator (URL) of the site also might not tell us what we need to know. For instance, while the Village of Barrington has an "official" U.S. city government URL at http://www.ci.barringtonil.us, many other Illinois municipal Web sites do not. In fact, in one list of Illinois municipalities with ordinances available online, the URLs of over 160 of the municipalities are in commercial (.com), non-profit organization (.org), or network (.net) domains, while fewer than 70 are .us and only three are .gov (i.e., the government domain that was until recently restricted to the federal government but has since been opened to state and local sites). Laurel Wendt, Illinois Legal Research Guide 58-68 (Buffalo: W.S. Hein 2d ed 2006).
Of course, a municipality's official site will usually be identified as such, perhaps with the word "official" displayed somewhere, or perhaps with the municipality's seal affixed to the page. In any event, using an Internet search engine is often the quickest way to get to a municipality's home page.
One excellent print resource for finding Illinois municipal ordinances online is Laurel Wendt's Illinois Legal Research Guide, cited above. Over 200 Illinois counties, townships, cities, and villages with online ordinances are listed, with their URL.
However, a caveat: despite the fact that the guide was recently published, it is likely that some of the URLs have already changed. Many state and local political divisions have been opting to change to the .gov domain (as the state of Illinois has already mostly, but not entirely, done).
Also, not every municipality in the list has its entire code available. For some, the most that can be found are the council minutes. For others, only particular code parts, such as the zoning code, are available.
There are a few compilers of municipal codes on the Web, where you can find many municipal codes in one place.
Municode. Municipal Code Corporation, or Municode, http://www.municode.com, is a long-time publisher of local government codes. Users can browse their online library to freely view the available codes. Multi-code searching is available for a $200 annual fee.
At the time of writing, 78 Illinois municipalities had codes available via Municode, including Aurora, Cook County, Peoria and Peoria County, Rockford, and Springfield. The front page of each code gives the user the currency of the code, usually expressed as Codified Through Ordinance No. XXX, Adopted Month, Day, Year. Thus, it's easy to determine how much updating needs to be done.
The codes are all viewed in "folio" view - that is, the screen is split into two frames, with the main code text in the larger frame and the table of contents in the left-hand frame for maneuvering through the code. Portable document format (PDF) versions of the codes are available for purchase.
Sterling Codifiers. Sterling Codifiers, http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com, is another longtime codifier of local ordinances. At the time of writing, 92 Illinois municipalities' codes were freely available on Sterling's Web site, including Du-Page County, Elgin, Kane County, Naperville, and Rock Island. Once again, individual codes are presented in "folio" view, and each code begins with a statement of currency, usually in this form: This code was last updated by ordinance XXX passed Month, Day, Year.
Comparing the two, despite the obvious difference in coverage, at both Web sites users can search within single codes. Sterling does not currently have a function for searching multiple codes at once.
Sterling's online ordinances contain a disclaimer, noting that the online version is differently formatted from the hard copy version.
Municode's online ordinances do not contain a similar disclaimer, and appear to be formatted (same text, for instance) as the print codes; however, the codes are not paginated, and each chapter of a code scrolls continuously until the end, so there is at least some disparity between the print and online editions.
Municipal Codes Web Library. An additional 13 Illinois municipalities have online ordinances available via the Municipal Codes Web Library by LexisNexis, http://municipalcodes.lexisnexis.com. As with the others, the most recent codified ordinance is identified, and searching within each individual code is available.
American Legal Publishing. Finally, American Legal Publishing, http://www.amlegal.com/library/il/index.shtml, hosts 37 Illinois municipal codes, including Chicago's. American Legal Publishing's site allows users to search across all available codes at once, including those of other states. It also provides the most advanced searching features. The codes on American Legal Publishing's site include a disclaimer similar to the one found on Sterling's. The currency of each code is noted.
It's probably best in most cases to use the online code found at one of the above sites, then check the municipality's own site to see if it includes recent ordinances that have not yet been codified. Unfortunately, for many small communities and even some large ones, you might need to make a trip to city hall or the public library to make sure your ordinance research is completely up to date.