FOR THE PAST nine years, the District government has tried to collate the city's municipal code - those rules and regulations by which the government's laws are put into effect. It has failed badly, at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars and at considerable inconvenience to citizens who, for one reason or another, need to find out what a specific District law says. Those citizens inquiring about a particular rule or set of regulations can't stop in and review the code at their neighborhood public library or Advisory Neighborhood Commission office, as a 1975 city law said they should be able to do. They have to visit the particular agency's office in most instances, where, because of the code's haphazard compilation so far, they may or may not get a set of rules that are up to date. This week, however, the City Council received, from an advisory group, what we think is a good plan to get the job done - at last.
The plan calls for putting the rules into one comprehensive, current, loose-leaf volume, so it can be supplemented easily and also sold in sections. The task would be done by an administrator at city hall and a small staff including several lawyers. (The office now responsible for compiling the code has - you won't believe this - no lawyers on its staff.) Finally, the plan calls on the council itself to be careful in the future to make clear which of its enactments are laws and which are rules to carry out laws. Such care would make easier the compilation of both the District's muncipal code and its statutory code.
Those recommendations seem reasonable enough to us. The sorry history of the effort to collate the city's municipal code has been largely due to the task's not having been the direct responsibility of any official with clout. As a result, city agencies have been negligent and slipshod about updating and turning in their regulations. That situation isn't unique to the District. Maryland and Pennsylvania, for example, both experienced similar difficulties compiling their state codes - until they set up an office with the authority to make the agencies comply and with the personnel to make the rules uniform in format. The advisory commission says the price tag for the new office would be $150,000 annually. That does not seem an exorbitant price to pay to get government started on a necessary task - nine years late.