Appendix 1: Glossary

Bill: a legislative proposal to make a new law. A bill generally summarizes the policy behind the law and its intended impact. A sponsor (usually an elected official) formally introduces legislation to a governing body as a bill (e.g., a city council member would introduce a bill to the city council).

Law: a piece of legislation that has been approved and, where required, signed by an executive (e.g., the mayor, governor, or president).

Legislation: a law or set of laws made by the legislative branch of government at any level (e.g., Congress, city council). Local legislation includes ordinances and resolutions.

Ordinance: a law or piece of legislation adopted by a municipal governing body (e.g., city council, board of supervisors). An ordinance has the same impact as a law but only applies within municipal limits.

Policy: a decision made by a governing body (e.g., city council) stating a governing principle or course of action. Policy is the general umbrella term for legislation, budgets, regulations, etc.

Preemption: the doctrine that describes who prevails when laws at different levels of government are in conflict. Legal authority generally flows from federal to state to local, allowing higher levels of government to set a floor that lower levels cannot undermine. For example, neither states nor local governments can have a minimum wage lower than the one set by the federal government, but some jurisdictions have enacted higher minimum wages. In some cases, a state will prohibit a local government from enacting legislation above the floor, which is a form of state preemption. For example, the state of Alabama prohibited the city of Mobile from raising the minimum wage above the level set by the state. Well over half the states preempt local jurisdictions from enacting certain housing laws. Commonly preempted housing laws are rent control, inclusionary zoning, and “source of income” laws (which prohibits landlord from discriminating against people with Section 8 vouchers or other forms of government housing aid). For more information, see the Local Solutions Support Center.

Regulation: a rule or administrative law issued by an agency or department that is not voted on by the legislative branch but has force of law and can include penalties for violations (e.g., air quality standards issued by the state or Federal EPA).

Resolution: a statement of intention, belief, or opinion passed by a legislative body. Resolutions generally have a more limited impact and duration than ordinances as they can be passed or changed at any time by a vote of a governing body. A resolution does not require executive approval, although a joint resolution does require executive approval and is basically a bill.

Rule: a determination or procedure created by an agency to fill a gap in legislation. Rules explain how to implement, interpret, apply, or enforce specific laws.

Statute: a law enacted at the state or federal level.

Appendix 2: Decision Makers Glossary

Elected Officials: the people we vote into office: mayors, city council members, county supervisors, etc. They are often the most powerful people we interact with in the public sector. Their powers depend on the specific position they hold and the laws of their jurisdiction, but generally they are responsible for:

  • drafting and passing ordinances and resolutions
  • appointing people to city positions and committees
  • preparing and passing budgets

Remember that you will need multiple elected officials to vote in your favor if you are trying to get a policy passed or changed. One strong champion may be all you need to get started, but ultimately you will need a majority.

Appointees: people chosen, usually by the mayor, to lead specific agencies, commissions, task forces, steering committees, administrative positions, etc. In some cases, their appointments will need to be confirmed by the city council or other decision making body. Though appointees hold public positions and serve the public good, they are hired and can be fired by the people who appointed them, so they are most likely going to reflect their interests. There are many types of political appointments, but the ones that are most important for community development practitioners are:

  • planning commissioners
  • heads of agencies and departments such as housing, planning, and economic development
  • special task forces or councils that make recommendations for or review decisions related to community development

Agency/programmatic staff: people hired by city, county, and regional governments to run their day-to-day operations. Agency staff often remain across administrations, so they’re the ones with deep institutional knowledge who move work forward, including during administration changes and political upheavals. Agency staff can be critical to the success of community development efforts because they are responsible for things like:

  • approving permits
  • writing regulations
  • creating reports (especially important if you are trying to make a case or understand outcomes of a particular initiative)
  • drafting budgets
  • implementing policies and programs
  • spending resources
  • collecting and managing data
  • coordinating resources, staffing, data, and priorities across agencies

Agency and programmatic staff are often the most accessible and knowledgeable public sector decision makers. They can be especially important if the change you need does not require passing a new policy. Understanding the way an important agency works or identifying a specific decision maker within an agency to support your issue can save you time and effort, including helping you make change without having to get a policy passed.

However, staffers face political constraints that can affect your work. For instance, they can make decisions about how public policies are implemented but they may not be able to change a policy. They have some leeway over what issues they prioritize, but they are often beholden to an administration’s priorities. From a community development perspective, two of their most important roles are coordinating resources (e.g., staff, money, land) and implementing policies and programs.

Over the last few decades, resources have been stripped away from the public sector. Limited staffing and funding can mean that important initiatives fall down the priority list. Maintaining a good relationship with agency staff, working with them to accomplish shared goals, and even directly investing in staff positions or agency programs where possible (for instance, if you have access to grant funds) can help move your work forward.

Advisory Boards and Commissions: groups that provide input and direction on specific issues. Advisory boards and commissions are the broadest category of public sector decision makers. They can be permanent or temporary, have formal decision making power or play an advisory role, and be self-selected, appointed, or in limited cases, elected. Certain types of commissions, such as planning commissions, are found everywhere, but communities can have a wide range of commissions, task forces, and advisory boards for all kinds of issues.

Whether or not you need to engage with a board or commission about your issue will depend on the type of issue you are dealing with, whether the board or commission is a decision maker or adviser, and whether you have supporters or opponents there. Because some boards and commissions have community representation, you may be eligible to sit on a board or commission that’s connected to your interest area.