Locating North Carolina Municipal Ordinances

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North Carolina towns and cities have been appearing in the news a lot lately. After the expiration of House Bill 142 in December, municipalities have begun passing their own nondiscrimination measures. This blog post will clarify the difference between ordinances and statutes, help you locate ordinances, and describe how to stay current with local ordinance news.

House Bill 142 / SL 2017-4 specifically provided that “No local government in this State may enact or amend an ordinance regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until December 1, 2020. With the expiration of this provision, though, cities and counties within the state have begun passing their own measures. Chapel Hill (in addition to Durham, Greensboro, Carrboro, and Hillsborough) has passed its own anti-bias ordinance.

Municipal Ordinances – What Are They?

But let’s step back for a bit. What’s the difference between an ordinance and a statute? States are made up of counties that are made up of communities: cities, towns, and other types of area designations. A county might only have one city or may be made of multiple. Orange County, NC, for example, is primarily comprised of the city of Chapel Hill, the town of Carrboro, and the town of Hillsborough. The county also includes other townships and unincorporated communities.

Individual towns and cities can pass ordinances that apply to their areas and counties can pass ordinances governing the area included in their county. Finally, states can pass statutes governing the area in their state. With HB 142 and other statutes, the state legislature prevented local governments from passing ordinances addressing “private employment practices or regulating public accommodations.” With this restriction lifted, municipalities have begun to pass their own non-discrimination ordinances, but where can they be found?

Locating Ordinances

To find ordinances, your best bet is to check the local government website. For example, Chapel Hill makes its ordinances available at their Code of Ordinances. The site pulls Chapel Hill-specific ordinances from Municode and can be searched using the search bar or through the Index. As it is pulled from an outside source, the site also includes a warning that the Code of Ordinances “may not reflect the most current legislation adopted by the Municipality.” Unlike Chapel Hill, Carrboro, for example, provides their ordinances directly through the Carrboro Town Code. The Code is organized by chapter and consists of individual PDFs. Searchers may use the main search bar at the top right to search the Town Code.

While some municipalities will link outside of their own sites to sites like Municode, some will provide their ordinances directly. Some will also provide agendas, minutes, video, and/or audio from their meetings in addition to other documents that might be relevant to an ordinance search. The UNC School of Government has a full list of North Carolina counties and their official websites. The site also provides a list of North Carolina cities, towns, and villages, their corresponding counties, and their official websites. Researchers can check the list for the municipality they are searching for, then go directly to the official government site. They may also use the larger list to determine which county a particular municipality belongs to and check neighboring regions and counties.

The North Carolina Municode Library also has a collection of ordinances from North Carolina municipalities. Searchers can locate their desired municipality then search the ordinances directly.Alternatively,there is a search bar and users can switch between municipalities. Municode also provides access to other documents such as minutes, agendas, resolutions, forms, and permits where available and includes information regarding the currency of the documents presented. American Legal Publishing Company (AmLegal) also provides North Carolina ordinances although fewer than Municode. The site provides links to the official website of the municipality and clearly states the currency of the ordinances presented. The site does warn, however, that the documents presented “may not reflect the most current legislation adopted by the Municipality” and advises the user to check with the Municipality directly for information regarding the official version. Searchers can also find ordinances on Lexis+ North Carolina Municipal Codes, but a subscription is required.This collection provides some historical ordinances but does not go back more than a few years. The site provides the currency of the ordinances presented and possesses the same search functionality as the rest of Lexis+.

Staying Updated...

With so many changes happening so quickly, the best way to stay updated is to follow local news. They will typically report on major changes to legislation at the local level. Individual local government websites also typically report on ordinances that have recently been passed and may alert you to future legislation being considered and how to get involved. 

The UNC School of Government provides a selected list of information feeds which will allow searchers to receive updates based on a limited set of topics that may interest them.In addition, there are non-profits that monitor local North Carolina news and report on recent developments. These include the NC League of Municipalities, the National Association of Counties (which allows users to search local counties), and Coates' Canons. Coates’ Canons is a UNC School of Government blog that discusses NC local government law. A larger list local government law resources is available at the School of Government's website

If you are ever in need of help locating a resource, the Law Library is here! The Law Library offers support in a variety of ways including consultations through email at lawref@unc.edu, by phone at 919-962-1194, or by chat at https://library.law.unc.edu (Click “Questions”).


Posted by Kerri-Ann Yanique Rowe on Mon. February 15, 2021 2:00 PM
Categories: Uncategorized


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