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I'm working on a site to help Chicagoans understand what their city council is doing. As part of that effort, I would like to roll up the many different types of legislation into a handful of comprehensible bins.

I know that cities often delegate different tasks to their councils, but are there any sources or examples of taxonomies of municipal legislation?

Here is what I have so far (The prefixing number is the number of pieces of legislation of this type in the previous month):

Ward Matters

Residents

  • 212 Handicapped Parking Permit
  • 18 Senior citizen sewer refund
  • 2 Condo Refuse Claim (if you are a condo owner occupier, you can ask the city to refund you your cost for disposing of refuse)
  • 15 Residential permit parking

Local Business Permits and Privileges

  • 161 Sidewalk cafe permit
  • 146 Grant of privilege in public way (needed for sidewalk cafes, awnings, or canopies)
  • 63 Awnings permit
  • 25 Sign permits
  • 15 Canopy permit
  • 24 Physical barrier exemption (if a commercial driveway could connect to an alleyway, the property owner would have to build a barrier to prevent that... unless they get an exemption from the council)

Land Use

  • 33 Zoning Reclassification
  • 13 Liquor and Package Store Restrictions (the municipal code has a section that lists areas where new liquor licenses cannot be issued)

Local Economic Development

  • 1 Tax Incentives (businesses can get various tax incentives with the support of the council)
  • 1 Tax Increment Financing, (these are special taxing districts)
  • 4 Special Service Area, (these are too)

Church and Non-Profits

  • 4 Free Permits or License (aldermen can request that various fees be waved, usually this is just for churches and non profits)
  • 1 Tag Day Permits (in order to get on the street and solicit money, you need a permit)

Parking

  • 4 Parking Meters (installing, relocating and removing meters)
  • 56 Loading/Standing/Tow Zone
  • 8 Parking Restrictions

Traffic

  • 1 Traffic Direction
  • 12 Traffic signs and signals
  • 3 Vehicle Weight Limitation

Festivals

??

  • 2 Historical Landmark

Small Claims

  • 9 Damage to property claim
  • 131 Damage to vehicle claim
  • 6 Settlement of Claims
  • 3 Excessive water rate claim (if you think that the city has messed up your water bill, you can make a claim)

Honorifics

  • 59 Honorific (congratulations, condolences, etc)
  • 7 Honorary street (honorary street names)

City Wide Issues

Settlement Agreements

Business

  • 2 Vacation of Public Street (the city basically gives a street to a property holder)
  • 5 Acquisition, Sale, and Conveyance of Property (buying, selling, and otherwise transferring property)
  • 1 Easement Agreement
  • 1 Lease agreement
  • 2 Intergovernmental Agreement

Appointment

Budget

Municipal Code

  • As a municipal elected official with a library degree, I would think that you'd need to build something more complex than a simple categorization for it to be useful. For instance, festival/special event legistation might impact traffic, parking, permits and economic development. – Joe May 14 '13 at 13:12
  • And one place that I would suspect might have something -- I saw a talk a few years ago by someone at the Government Printing Office, about how they had to parse the laws that were passed to determine how they affected the budget and taxes ... they might have some sort of taxonomy. (I want to say it was at the 2010 DCC, and the presentation was An outcome-centric approach to metadata collection, use and display in a large OAIS repository by Kate Zwaard – Joe May 14 '13 at 13:15
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    Also found a list of legal ontologies, but many of them seem to be for AI reading of the laws, not for categorizing/classifying the laws. I did find a 2006 paper by Emily Sherwin, Legal Taxonomy, which talks about different ways to build a taxonomy to classify laws for 'judicial decisionmaking'. A 2012 paper by Tiscornia & Sagri suggests that the term of art may be Legal Thesauri. – Joe May 14 '13 at 14:13
  • These are great links. This suggests we don't want an exclusive categorization. – fgregg May 14 '13 at 16:45
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    @Joe, as a municipal elected official, could you suggest high level categories that seem relevant to you. You made a start of it with: "traffic, parking, permits and economic development" – fgregg May 14 '13 at 16:53
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I may have a bad case of hammer-seeks-nail, as I'm currently working fairly full time on a federal legislative markup system with CATO called Deepbills that tags federal legislation in a way that tracks what code it modifies. But here's my thought, based on my experience with how that works combined with my years of poring through the DC code:

Rather than a system that applies a (possibly) subjective classification to the proposed legislation based on reading, what about instead using a system of classification/tagging against the existing code and then tracking what the proposed legislation modifies? The organization of the Chicago municipal code already provides a very loose taxonomy of sorts:

  • TITLE 1 GENERAL PROVISIONS
  • TITLE 2 CITY GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATION
  • TITLE 3 REVENUE AND FINANCE
  • TITLE 4 BUSINESSES, OCCUPATIONS AND CONSUMER PROTECTION
  • TITLE 5 HOUSING AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
  • TITLE 6 RESERVED
  • TITLE 7 HEALTH AND SAFETY
  • TITLE 8 OFFENSES AFFECTING PUBLIC PEACE, MORALS AND WELFARE
  • TITLE 9 VEHICLES, TRAFFIC AND RAIL TRANSPORTATION
  • TITLE 10 STREETS, PUBLIC WAYS, PARKS, AIRPORTS AND HARBORS
  • TITLE 11 UTILITIES AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
  • TITLE 12 RESERVED
  • TITLE 13 BUILDINGS AND CONSTRUCTION
  • TITLE 14 RESERVED*
  • TITLE 15 FIRE PREVENTION
  • TITLE 16 LAND USE
  • TITLE 17 CHICAGO ZONING ORDINANCE
  • TITLE 18 BUILDING INFRASTRUCTURE

Certain sections are related to certain issues and may be very specific if you drill down. Titles 16 & 17 relate specifically to land use and zoning. If you look at 16-18 it regards open space, 16-18-40 is the related fee schedule and 16-18-120 specifies the Paulina Street Corridor and outlines where exactly it is.

So any proposed legislation which referenced 16-18 could be land-use related and classified as of interest to anyone doing new development or renovation (but not replacement); referencing 16-18-40 indicates that it's cost relevant. Similar logic works for many other sections -- 9-52 is bicycles.

The advantages of this as a taxonomic basis is that you'll make your classification something that could more easily be done via machine. It's somewhat limited, but a second level of taxonomy or tagging done against the code could provide a more flexible alert system. Anything modifying title 9 is transportation, 9-52 is bicycles, 9-68-020 is residential parking permits. 9-68-022 is one of several Wrigley areas which is firmly defined.

By using a looser initial taxonomy and then applying attributes to code sections you could even use a geographic area definition in an automated way. Given an address XYZ you can then see when it falls within areas impacted by legislation: if it falls within the area described by 9-68-022 then you know any modifications to that section would impact that person.

That example is probably more specific than you care about, but the same would apply to any broader neighborhood definitions.

  • This is a good idea, however most Chicago ordinances do not amend the municipal code, for example this ordinance for a Handicapped Parking Restriction: chicago.legistar.com/… – fgregg May 14 '13 at 16:43
  • An excelent point -- any municipalities that have a 'codified' law will have some sort of structure like you describe. You could use those subject headings from multiple cities / counties / states to try to build a taxonomy from there. – Joe May 14 '13 at 16:51
  • My problem is not identifying the most fined-grained categories. I already can do that automatically. I'm trying to find ways of grouping the smaller categories in ways that make sense to rather casual citizens. – fgregg May 14 '13 at 16:55
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    I guess when I think taxonomy I'm imagining something more focused on classification to a desired level of granularity than I am a vocabulary that makes best sense to the average citizen. Not that they have to be exclusive, of course. I guess my though is that a more gross categorization with support for tagging makes more sense with regards to most government business than strict categorization. Unless you're prepared for a lot of multiple categorization - the above example would be both transit and accessibility and perhaps commercial issues, depending on that location. – Don May 14 '13 at 20:58

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