Mayor: Ordinance updating will be 'eat-an-elephant' process for city

·4 min read

Jul. 3—Tahlequah officials have ideas in mind for dealing with outdated ordinances, and steps have already been taken to clean up the city codes.

Mayor Sue Catron began the conversation about 18 months ago, and she said she wasn't sure if elected officials were doing everything they were supposed to be doing, according to what the city ordinances state.

Catron told councilors they have immediate supervision of and responsibility for the animal control officer. All four councilors weren't aware of that until Catron brought it up.

"The ordinances are full of things that got assigned that aren't being dealt with any longer," said Catron.

Ward 3 Councilor Stephen Highers had suggested the possibility of hiring a deputy court clerk, who would be housed under City Clerk DeAnna Hammons' purview.

Catron said if the council prefers to enforce the ordinances, rather than go through the process of updating and amending them, a deputy court clerk would be a "viable, albeit expensive solution."

"This would have to be a permanent, full-time position as the selling of permits and licenses requires being accessible to the public during working hours. Our city clerk does not keep regular office hours, so this individual would shoulder that responsibility," said the mayor.

However, Catron's preference would be to identify changes that have "organically" happened within the city's internal processes, and update the codes to reflect those.

General Code, out of Texas, is working on codification to check for conflicts in the ordinances. Catron said the codification will help with knowing what to amend.

"Yes, the codification by General Code is much more easily searched and reviewed. Unlike our previous online code of ordinances, it is possible with General Code to type in the words 'City Clerk' or 'Police Chief' and have all instances of those words returned," she said.

A group was formed years ago to begin cleaning up the codes. However, nothing ever came of it, and Catron said creating a group to assist with changes would be a good start.

"However, I do not believe an effective review could be accomplished without the involvement of the departments that are being affected. For instance, [if] the ordinance to be reviewed has to do with street cuts, a group of local residents would certainly have thoughts about the process. But an effective ordinance could not [be] drafted without input from the street department, from [the Tahlequah Public Works Authority], from our finance department, and from whichever entity is currently selling the street cut permits," said Catron.

The mayor added it would require a coordinated, joint effort.

Ordinances are routinely amended through council action. Catron said anytime there is a zoning or fees change, new committees are created, or a new law is enacted or changed, the city does publish the proposed changes and holds two public hearings before the City Council votes.

Planning and Zoning Director Taylor Tannehill said he and the Planning Commission have been updating zoning codes since February. Tannehill said they will begin working on the subdivision regulations once the zoning ordinance is completed.

"The comprehensive plan was adopted at the beginning of the year with a number of goals and objectives," said Tannehill. "A large portion of those goals and objectives can be met with an update to the zoning ordinance and the subdivision regulations; the two documents are key to implementing the comprehensive plan."

Tannehill said the updates are the next step in the long-range planning process.

The mayor said cleaning up the codes is an "eat-an-elephant" process, in terms of how long it could take to complete.

"I would think the only viable way to accomplish the task is to take a chapter of the Code of Ordinances and identify all the modifications that should be proposed in that section, then draft updated language. All ordinance changes require publication and two public hearings before acceptance by the council. Once updated by council, the city clerk would have the online codification updated," said Catron.

Tannehill said there isn't a strict rule on how often or when changes to the code should be made.

"Best practice might be to pay special attention during the state legislative sessions to identify laws that may impact municipal government functions. The same goes for state initiatives and referendums, as well as court cases," he said.

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