Municipal Code Corporation, the leader in local government codification services, will celebrate its 60th year in the business in March of 2011. In the interview that follows, Lawton Langford, President and Chief Executive Officer, highlights ways in which the industry has changed – and how changes in the industry have affected the business of local governments.

MuniNet: How would you describe the changes in the industry over the past few decades?

Langford: In the 60 years that Municipal Code Corporation has been in business, the intellectual side of codification has remained rather constant. The cognitive work of our attorneys, editors, proofreaders and indexers is similar to what they were doing when I started with the business over twenty five years ago.

What has changed dramatically, however, is the delivery of information, as well as, the speed with which it is delivered. Fifteen years ago, we were a traditional publishing company. Today, we are a high-tech, web-based company capable of disseminating information in any media our clients desire. On a daily basis, we integrate our content with a powerful search engine to make it more readily accessible to the end user. In addition, we have a robust, highly trained Information Technology department that works to  support a wide variety of file formats, including .PDF, .DOC, HTML, .RTF, mobile-friendly applications, and all methods of delivery, including CD-ROMs, flash drives, FTP and, of course, online via the web. Over the past few years in particular, we’ve seen the industry becoming more web-based. Approximately 80 percent of our 3,500 local government clients provide online access to their code of ordinances thus providing their citizens with the best, most up to date information possible.

However, reiterating the most valuable part of our job, it is important to note that while content delivery has become more technology-based, the substantive part of the process still involves the cognitive abilities of a human being who can transform data into information.

MuniNet: You make a distinction between “data” and “information” … can you explain the difference?

Langford: In a nutshell, data is raw, while information is organized, processed and interpreted so that it can become meaningful for the end user. When a local government passes a new ordinance, it needs to be “codified,” which is the process that determines proper placement of the ordinance in the Code, makes it stylistically consistent with other Code sections, and includes a comparison with other ordinances that may conflict.

MuniNet: What other roles does a human being play in the process?

Langford: We have a staff of professionals – including nine attorneys and thirty editors – who conduct research to make sure no conflicts exist between newly enacted ordinances and existing laws. We refer to this process as “de-confliction.” There is a hierarchy in America’s governmental structure under which laws can be created, and local governments are at the bottom of this hierarchy. For example, no local government can create an ordinance declaring murder a crime because murder is a state-level offense. I call this concept “the Four Bodies of Law.” They include Federal Law (Constitution, Statutes & Regulations), State Law (Constitution, Statutes & Regulations), Judicial Law (cases that interpret the Constitution, Laws & Regulations, and set precedence for others to follow) and Local Law (Charters, Ordinances and Regulations). If a conflict exists between a local Ordinance or Regulation and any other Body of Law, the local law generally must be conformed to the higher authority.

In addition, every ten to twenty years, we suggest local governments review their existing ordinances to make sure that no insidious conflicts have developed. Case in point: Florida cities used to be authorized by state law to have municipal courts, and many of our clients passed ordinances establishing such courts. But the state legislature repealed that authority rendering those ordinances invalid, and making a portion of the Code of Ordinances also invalid.

MuniNet: Do you think that the ability to post codes online has been a productivity tool for local governments?

Langford: Definitely. By posting this information online, local governments can reach a far wider audience, in less time and at a lower cost than when they depended on distributing print copies of their codes and supplements. These days, local government clerks probably get fewer phone calls from citizens looking for a particular ordinance. At the same time, increased access to information has led to more educated citizens, which, in turn, can result in more inquiries about specific details of an ordinance. Greater citizen involvement might be considered a tangential benefit, as educated citizens tend to be more engaged in their local government.

About the Expert:

Lawton Langford is President and CEO of Municipal Code Corporation (MCC). MCC is the nation’s leading codifier of local government ordinances, and serves more than 3,500 cities and counties in all 50 states. Mr. Langford also serves as Managing Director of MCCi, LLC, a subsidiary of MCC that offers document and agenda management technology to its local government client base.

Mr. Langford graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major in Economics and Business Administration. His post-graduate degrees include a Juris Doctor from the Florida State University College of Law and a Masters of Business Administration from the Florida State University College of Business. He is currently a member of the Florida Bar.