A governing body can only take official action as a body. Directions made by a single member have no legal standing. Different types of actions are available to the board/council to use for different purposes. The most commonly used types of action are ordinance, resolution, motion and regulation. The specific type of action used may be determined by a statutory mandate or by the written or unwritten policy of the governing body.
An ordinance is a local law of general or permanent nature. As a local law, an ordinance stands until it is amended or repealed by another ordinance enacted by a later board/council. Penalties, which can be enforced in court, may be attached for failure to obey ordinances. Various sections in the codes and pertinent general legislation require adoption of an ordinance for specific actions.
Procedures for adopting ordinances are more complex, involving the expense of advertising and recording in a permanent manner. Some municipalities are tempted to bypass these procedures by adopting resolutions instead of ordinances., but if they wish their actions to have permanent effect and be enforceable with penalties, they cannot shortcut the ordinance adoption procedures.
A resolution is an official statement of the will of the governing body. It lacks the permanent nature and enforce ability of an ordinance. Resolutions are particularly useful for actions of temporary nature, particularly those governing municipal activities, such as adopting budgets (except where ordinances are required), governing investments, setting salary schedules and awarding contracts. These actions are not intended to be permanent and do not require penalties for enforcement.
Some confusion exists over when to use ordinances or resolutions. Some code provisions specifically require an ordinance. Other laws state either ordinance or resolution. The governing body, with the help of its solicitor, should carefully consider the nature of its action and be aware that most municipalities err on the side of using a resolution when they should enact an ordinance.
A motion is the method of submitting issues to the board/council for formal deliberation and decision. All ordinances and resolutions are submitted by motion. Motions are also used to determine the will of the governing body on any issues presented to it. A motion is a parliamentary tool, not a legislative form. If an action of a permanent nature is desired, the motion should propose or amend an ordinance, resolution or regulation, wince these are recorded in distinct places.There have been cases in which a motion was used to take action, then forgotten by the governing body.
Taken from the DCED Governor’s Center for Local Government Services Manual for Municipal Secretaries 5th edition, October 2004