IF YOU WANT to study the District's regulations for, let us say, the installation of air conditioning systems, you have to go to the office of licenses and permits. If you wish to review city election procedures, you have to visit the Board of Elections office. And if you wish to learn what's required to become an ambulance driver, you have to seek out fire department headquarters. All this is by way of saying that the city's municipal code - the totality of the city's rules and regulations - isn't collected together in any one place - despite a 1975 city law stipulating that it should have been available at any public library and Advisory Neighborhood Commission office 16 months ago.
The municipal code includes acts of law promulgated by the city council and those regulations governing the conduct of every city agency. Properly compiled, it would tell you where the law or rule originated and from what statutory authority it was derived.This compilation would be primarily for the public's convenience and education. Instead of having to journey from office to office seeking different parts of the code or having to consult an attorney, a citizen should be able simply to drop by a public library and take the volume off the shelf.
A decade ago Congress passed a law requiring the city to compile and index its rules and regulations, some of which hadn't been updated in years. In 1974 Congress passed another law, which mandated publication of the code by mid-1975, but that order slipped from view in the general commotion occasioned by the Home Rule Act. Then, in 1975, the new city council passed a law requiring publication of the code by March 1976. Mayor Washington was to submit the proposed code in January of that year.
When the Mayor did submit a 7,000-page document, the council found several glaring omissions, such as the rules for the school system, the public library, the Department of Human Resources and the zoning commission. In addition, the private firm that had compiled the document said it couldn't vouch for the document's accuracy. The council sent the document back to the mayor for the necessary work and set a new deadline of September 1976. That extended deadline, as well as the four following it, were missed. A spokesman for the mayor says the latest deadline - June 28 - will also be missed because of the "complexity and sheer volume" of the task. Thus, a task that originally was to have taken six months now may take, according to city officials, at least two - and possibly - four years.
Now, we would concede that codifying the city's rules is a complex and tedious task. But it still is a task that the law says has to be done. We find it, frankly, too depressing even to attempt to explain why it hasn't been done by now. What we can tell you is that help may be on the way from the city council, which last month approved legislation creating a 15-member codification advisory committee of lawyers and laymen. The idea was to put political pressure on the mayor. Meanwhile, the council's judiciary committee has proposed an independent codification office that would completely take over the task. Although the unit's creation would mean starting almost from the beginning, in light of the mayor's performance to date there may be no other way to finish this important piece of work.