Most city councils (or comparable local legislative bodies) can take action in one of two ways: by ordinance or resolution.
Although this can vary community to community, typically a RESOLUTION is passed to express the opinion of the adopting body on some matter of a temporary or advisory nature (such as expressing its concern over the USA PATRIOT Act), or to handle administrative business. An ORDINANCE is passed to enact regulations of a general and permanent nature, enforceable as local law. An example of this would be to legally require the posting of a warning against USA PATRIOT Act Sec. 215 in your local libraries.
The vast majority of communities that have acted in opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act have passed resolutions, however a few communities have passed ordinances (see St. Paul’s or Minneapolis’s ordinances as examples).
Resolutions have two main parts: preambular clauses and operative clauses.
PREAMBULAR clauses, which typically start with the word “whereas,” give background information on why your community is passing its resolution. These clauses can refer to the following aspects:
OPERATIVE clauses, which typically start with “be it resolved” followed by an active, present tense verb (like “affirms” or “encourages”), call upon certain bodies to act. These clauses can contain the following aspects:
1. Build a Broad Coalition. Writing the resolution should not be the starting point.
2. Study legislative processes in your town or city.
3. Focus on using mandatory language (“shall” “must” “will”, etc.) versus discretionary language (“we encourage x body to…” “may”, etc.). Mandatory language helps to create a legally binding duty for the adopting body and those bodies it has jurisdiction over (such as local police departments). However, your resolution cannot have legally binding authority over other bodies that your adopting body does not have jurisdiction over, such as Congress or the President- for these bodies the resolution can only “urge” them to act. Like all legal language, the more specific you make the duty, the easier it will be to enforce.
4. Be textually accurate. In describing all laws and regulations, try to quote textual language or summarize directly from the textual language, citing the relevant section of the Act. Avoiding sweeping allegations or broad textual summaries will bring credibility and factual accuracy to your resolution and will also steer the discussion away from rhetoric towards meaningful discourse. Complete text of the USA PATRIOT Act
5. Allow for revisions. It is important to have some flexibility for compromises that may be necessary to pass the resolution in your legislative body.
6. Maintain your community network. As you may have to play watchdog to make sure the provisions or your resolution or ordinance are properly implemented, it is vital to keep your group connected and continuously informed. Additionally, as you probably know, new threats to our civil liberties arise all the time and keeping your network together will help your community address them in the future. Passing a resolution is just the first step towards protecting your civil rights and liberties.
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list. If your community has a tip that you think is important to include, please let us know.