Legislative, Administrative, and Quasi-Judicial Actions
Actions to carry out the necessary functions of the City may take a variety of forms - from passing a new leash law, or issuing a permit or license, to considering a property owner’s development proposal. Depending on the nature of the action, different principles apply with respect to the proper interaction of public servants and other interested parties (citizens, applicants, etc.).
City Council often exercises its legislative authority by passing ordinances that have general applicability to the City as a whole, rather than to one person or property. Legislation may stem from the need for improvement in existing law, or from new or changing circumstances. Since legislative action often involves broad issues of public policy, legislators often speak ex parte (off the record or, literally, “one-sided”) with interested parties or citizens concerning the merits of a particular legislative proposal. Ex parte communications related to proposed legislation are an appropriate and vital part of the democratic process.
Issuing a license, in contrast, would be considered administrative. Usually accomplished by city staff, and without a public hearing, administrative actions may be thought of as the necessary, but often mundane, exercise of “crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.”
Finally, quasi-judicial actions constitute a third exercise of municipal responsibilities. Because quasi-judicial actions act upon specific individual interests (in contrast to the broad application of legislation), “due process” requires certain safeguards, including notice, a public hearing, an opportunity to be heard by decision-makers who are unbiased, and a decision based only upon applying the hearing evidence to criteria pre-established in the law. Many of the quasi-judicial hearings conducted by the City involve site-specific land-use matters, such as rezoning or a preliminary development plan. To ensure that these due process safeguards aren’t a sham, ex parte communications with the decision-makers in a quasi-judicial matter are strongly discouraged. While an interested party may communicate directly with city staff about a matter, the prohibition on direct communications between an interested party and the decision-makers protects both the integrity of the process and the interests and rights of all parties involved.