One California town which put its ordinances on the Web was able to reassign three staff members from customer service, Langford said, because callers asking about local laws are redirected to the Internet.
Local governments which contribute codes to Municode, and which have Web pages themselves, are encouraged by Municipal Code Corp. to put a connecting link to local ordinances stored on the company's file server. This provides public access to the city's codes, as well as to ordinances in other jurisdictions.
Municipal Code Corp.'s main business is a codification service. It has done codes for over 2,500 municipalities in 48 states in its 45-year history. When city councils or boards of supervisors pass new ordinances, the text is sent to a company such as Municipal Code for "codification." Company attorneys research to ensure that the ordinance doesn't conflict with existing state law, the local charter and court decisions, among other things. The service is essentially administrative work which city attorney office lawyers don't have time to do themselves.
The company then publishes local government ordinances, which until recently were only available on paper. Municipal Code now gives customers several choices of how they would like to receive the product, including CD-ROM or Internet access.
The company doesn't profit directly by putting the codes online, Langford said. A key motivation for offering the codes for free is to react to the marketplace, he said. The publishing business is being pushed to provide electronic service. The company is expanding beyond its traditional print medium because many of its customers are already on the Web. "Local governments are a leader in embracing technology, and we want to be responsive to our clientele."
The Web page has other features, including a gateway to a municipal attorney listserv complete with an ordinance of the month. Early this year there were about 100 participants, and Langford said he expects the number to grow. To make the discourse more valuable to participants, he said the company tries to keep attorneys who may be preparing to challenge a city ordinance -- a local counsel's adversary -- off the service.
Municipal attorneys can use the listserv to communicate with colleagues in other jurisdictions. Enacted ordinances can be exchanged, and strategies for defending city actions in court can be collected.
But the ordinance database remains the headline attraction, and the value of the Web page to local governments will continue to grow as more jurisdictions put their ordinances online. "Jurisdictions see it as a way to get [ordinances] on the Web," said Langford. "It provides them with exposure."