Bar News - June 18, 2014
Municipal & Governmental Law: Finding New Hampshire Municipal Ordinances in the Digital Age
By: Susan Drisko Zago
Municipal codes for several New Hampshire towns and cities are available online through commercial publishing companies.
Municipal Law affects many details of day to day life for residents of towns and cities such as how land is used, how children are educated, and how roads are constructed and maintained. Access to town ordinances is vital for residents’ due process and effective participation in local government. In the past, however, finding these documents meant traveling to the Town Clerk’s office during business hours and reading through printed books and binders, often without a master index.
More Research Resources
If you’d like to learn more about New Hampshire municipal law or municipal law in general, please refer to the following resources:
• New Hampshire Municipal Association, www.nhmunicipal.org
- A nonprofit organization that provides a variety of resources for municipalities.
• New Hampshire Practice, Local Government Law by Peter Loughlin in three volumes (13, 14, 14A), LexisNexis – The “go to guide” for New Hampshire municipal law.
• The Law of Municipal Corporations by Eugene McQuillan in 30 volumes, West Publishing – The definitive work that provides an overarching understanding of all aspects of municipal corporate law.
• Matthews Municipal Ordinances by Thomas Matthews and Byron Matthews in 10 volumes, West Publishing - Most used for guidance in drafting municipal ordinances.
Today, several electronic tools make accessing town ordinances convenient and easy for lawyers and residents alike. This shift in accessibility is partly due to the growth of the Internet, but also is linked to the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law (NH RSA 91-A), which governs access to public records in the state.
The Right-to-Know Law guarantees public access to governmental records, including town ordinances, which if created in electronic form should be retained in electronic form (NH RSA 91-A:4 (IIIA)) and are often published on town websites. Some towns, with more expansive ordinances, have collaborated with commercial publishers to create and maintain subject-accessible codes. These publishers include Municipal Code Corporation’s MuniCode, General Code’s eCode360 and American Legal Publishing. They offer free access to their municipal clients’ codes through their websites as well as offer a paid version that is more robust.
Municipal Code Corporation
MuniCode publishes the municipal codes of Claremont, Concord, Keene and Meredith. A researcher can browse or search each municipality’s ordinances. From the MuniCode home page, select “Browse the Library” to select a state and navigate to the appropriate municipality. The site supports searching by keyword or performing an advanced search with Boolean (and/or/and not) or proximity (/5, /10). See the “search tips” link in the site’s search bar for a full chart of examples.
MuniCode also enables researchers to view past versions of municipal codes using a drop-down menu on the left of each page.
General Code’s eCode360
General Code publishes the municipal ordinances of Bedford, Derry, Franklin, Hudson, Lebanon, Merrimack, Nashua, Raymond and Wolfeboro. This publisher uses its own, custom-developed platform. Browsing and keyword-searching is available, as are advanced search and the ability to search by chapter.
Advanced searching in this system requires strict adherence to capitalization and punctuation. The “help” button provides a chart of search connectors and examples. A nice feature of eCode360 is the easy-access button for “New Laws” published since the last compilation. The date of the most recent code adoption is displayed at the top of each town’s page. The platform also provides an alphabetical index that visitors can browse.
American Legal Publishing
American Legal Publishing publishes Manchester’s ordinances. This company also provides options to browse, quick search or advanced search. Once you navigate to the city’s code, the advanced search feature is available via the “Search” link while the “Quick Search” box is at the top of the page. Parallel References to the RSA, 1970 Code and when ordinances were passed are helpful and easy to find in the expandable outline.
While the commercial publishers provide an easy-to-use product, customized to each town’s needs, the cost may be out of reach for smaller towns. Smaller towns usually publish their ordinances as a large portable document file (PDF) on their websites or separately post them by town office or board.
These electronic storage methods make it quick and easy to access town ordinances, but there may be a delay before new ordinances are published. Contact the Town Clerk for any ordinances passed since the last publishing.
Susan Drisko Zago is director of the Law Library at UNH School of Law in Concord, NH. This article is part of a series by members of the New Hampshire Association of Law Librarians to provide law practitioners with practical information on legal research.