Ordinance Equity Review Project


As a part of the City’s Continuous Improvement Portfolio for the fiscal year 2022-23, City leadership identified establishing a proactive review process for the Code of Ordinances using an equity lens as a top priority. In the summer of 2022, the Innovation Team was tasked with designing and piloting this process. 

In 2020, the I-Team worked with the Equity and Inclusion (E&I) Department to create an equitable budget review tool that now exists as a sustainable process. No such process exists in the same space for ordinance review. 

Two Durham employees look at the city ordinances

The City’s ordinances are the laws with which the municipality operates and act as the foundation of the governing body. There exists a tremendous legal, reputational, and financial risk to inequitable ordinances. The I-Team worked with the City Manager’s Office, The City Attorney’s Office, the Equity and Inclusion Department and the General Services Department to develop an equity analysis tool and ordinance review process.


This project had 4 primary goals: 

  1. Develop a process to review city ordinances using an equity lens 

  2. Design equity review tools 

  3. Test and evaluate the process and tools 

  4. Provide recommendations for future ordinance equity reviews



The I-Team first sought to identify existing structures and processes relating to equity review in municipalities and local organizations across the country. The team assessed a number of tools and frameworks that included policy process reviews, equity impact analyses, community engagement efforts and general racial equity tools used by city governments.

With this background information, the team then conducted a series of internal interviews to gauge the City of Durham’s existing processes. Interviews were held with the City Manager’s Office, City Attorney’s Office and the Equity and Inclusion Department to understand their roles in the ordinance review. The I-Team also spoke to representatives from the cities of Charlotte and Asheville to compare their equity review processes. 

From this point, the team gathered stakeholders and held a preliminary ideation session. The intention of this meeting was to integrate the potential collaborators, identify key considerations and barriers, and discuss next steps. The I-Team led the review group in a process mapping exercise which was refined into a final iteration of an ordinance equity review process map.

Prioritizer tool

The review team then worked on designing a method to prioritize ordinance articles for review. The team chose to analyze and categorize the ordinances based on articles, as there is too large a volume of individual ordinances. The group voted on factors that should be considered and created the first draft of a prioritizer tool. With user feedback, the team then developed a second draft of the tool before a final version was settled that focused on demand, impact and overall equity/equitable outcomes. The tool was designed to embed a measure of objectivity, consider social determinants of health, and be a simple and quick process for users.

Ordinance equity review prototype

With a mechanism to select articles in hand, the I-Team with E&I led the design and prototype of the Ordinance Equity Review Tool. E&I created a base for the tool similar to the Budget Equity Tool already in use with the City, hoping to incorporate a format departments were already familiar with. The team sought to design a process that was simple and comprehensive. 

The group ultimately constructed a tool composed of two parts: a department questionnaire and an overarching equity review form for the Equity Review Team. 

The department questionnaire is a Microsoft Form meant to be filled out by the department, or several departments, that administers the article of the ordinance in question. The questionnaire includes three main sections: Implementation and Accountability, Impact (both in Quantitative Data and Engagement) and Final Questions. These sections total over 20 questions and touch on administration, department specifics, Durham resident interactions, and general sentiments about the ordinance. 

The second part is split into four sections: Language, Implementation and Accountability, Impact, and Addressing Inequities Recommendations. This part of the tool has fewer questions but requires more in depth, qualitative responses. The Equity Review Team is meant to conduct independent research to inform the answers and analysis on this portion of the tool.  


The review team tested the prioritizer and review tools simultaneously. For the prioritizer test, the City Attorney’s Office chose 11 high-touch articles that would likely have equity impacts and provide variety in the departments that handle them. Teams from E&I and CAO were provided instructions for using the prioritizer, summaries of their assigned articles, and direct links to the Code of Ordinances for reference. 

A difference of perceived importance in the articles emerged from the test, demonstrating the importance of a tool to narrow the team’s focus. The testing also showed that the prioritizer tool can be a useful conversation starter for why particular articles standout to certain individuals and departments.

Prioritizer tool testing results

The workgroup decided to review Chapter 14, Article 3, “Sale of Lots and Columbarium Niches” (Code 1982, § 7-47; Ord. No. 11943, § 2, 4-3-2000). The article details how to administer the sale and purchase of cemetery lots and spaces for cremated remains in City-owned cemeteries. While this article wasn’t the highest on the prioritizer results, it was chosen as an ideal model for its brevity, uncomplicated content, and because it coincided with an existing review happening in General Services.

The department questionnaire was filled out by the Cemetery Division of General Services. Next, the workgroup split up the review tool questions according to subject matter expertise: the City Attorney’s Office handled ordinance language and model policies, E&I and the City Manager’s Office covered implementation/accountability and qualitative data, and the I-Team answered quantitative data questions. 

Through the analysis of all teams using the Ordinance Equity Review Tool, the workgroup concluded that several parts of the article could lead to inequitable outcomes. The article included exclusionary language that is not gender-neutral. The article creates barriers for low-income and historically marginalized communities by having high interest fees for installment payments, and by requiring purchases of the “deeds” for lots be in person with the City Clerk during business hours. The article also potentially leaves too much room for individual discretion, which can lead to discrimination.


After the testing of the tool, the I-Team gathered feedback from project stakeholders to inform recommendations for improvements to the equity review process. 

The team held two focus groups with departments that frequently interact with the City’s ordinances. The first focus group included representatives from Fire, Police, and Community Safety. The second focus group included representatives from City-County Planning, General Services, Finance, and Code Enforcement. Both groups appreciated the initiative of the tools and thought it was a useful and practical process. Both also noted a variety of potential improvements and suggestions. 

Deputy City Managers were updated throughout the project and also gave feedback. They similarly provided positive feedback and had suggestions for future iterations. Some highlighted resident education about ordinances and felt that the ordinances could be better accessible to the general public with plainer language. Others raised considerations about the varying practices individual departments have to create ordinances and how they might not align with one another. The main takeaway from follow-up conversations with the City Managers was that there needs to be clear and dedicated ownership over the review process. Moreover, clearly defined roles for both departments and the review team need to be established.

Evaluation of the overall process by the review team was the final step in this project. The review team was generally satisfied with the process created, and felt that the wide array of department representation yet with a limited number of personnel was important to the production of the group. They also underlined how beneficial documentation of the equity analysis would be. Generally, the workgroup thought that communication between the various departments and with City leadership could be improved to help streamline data collection and help others better understand the project.

Why It Matters

Durham’s Code of Ordinances is the backbone of the City’s governing principles and the general welfare of our residents. In considering something that is so fundamental to the City’s role, applying an equity lens is all the more important. Just in analyzing one of the shorter, more straightforward articles in the city’s ordinance, the team was able to identify a multitude of issues that could lead to inequitable outcomes. An equity lens ensures that the rules in place are inclusive, and that the processes that create them are thoughtful, beneficial and considerate of all residents.