Ordinances & Resolutions FAQ 5

What are the basic procedures for initiation of a charter ordinance by a municipal governing body and adoption?

Section 66.0101, which is the Home Rule Enabling Act, specifies two general procedures for the adoption or amendment of a city or village charter: the enactment of a charter ordinance or the holding of a charter convention. See secs. 66.0101(2) and 66.0101(9). The charter convention is rarely used.

Adoption of a charter ordinance begins with its drafting. A charter ordinance must be entitled "Charter Ordinance" or it must clearly indicate that it is such an ordinance. Sec. 66.0101(2)(a); State ex rel. Oaks v. Brown, 211 Wis. 571, 249 N.W. 50 (1933). Additionally, a charter ordinance must specify the provisions of the charter amended or repealed. Sec. 66.0101(2)(b); Grambling v. City of Wauwatosa, 44 Wis.2d 634, 171 N.W.2d 897 (1969). The League has a number of examples of various types of charter ordinances available upon request.

A charter ordinance initiated by a municipal governing body may be adopted by the governing body or submitted to the electorate for adoption.

A charter ordinance initiated by and adopted by a municipal governing body needs a two-thirds vote of the members-elect of the city council or village board to be valid. Sec. 66.0101(2)(a). However, a charter ordinance is not effective until sixty days after its passage and publication. If within the sixty days a petition signed by electors of the municipality equal to not less than seven percent of the votes cast for governor in the last general election is filed with the municipal clerk, then the charter ordinance must be submitted to a referendum and approved by a majority of the electors that vote on the question before becoming effective. Sec. 66.0101(5).

In addition, the governing body may, after adoption, submit the charter ordinance to a referendum without waiting for a petition by the electors. The charter ordinance would then become effective when approved by a majority of the electors that vote. A governing body can also simply decide, by a majority vote, to submit a charter ordinance to a referendum, without an initiative petition requiring them to do so and without adoption of the charter ordinance by the governing body. The charter ordinance would then become effective when approved by a majority of the electors voting. Sec. 66.0101(7).

A charter ordinance initiated by the municipal governing body for adoption at a referendum requires only a majority vote of the members-elect of the city council or village board. Such ordinance would be submitted to a referendum vote for adoption and would be effective if approved by a majority of the electors voting.

A charter ordinance must be published as a class 1 notice. The municipal clerk must also record an adopted charter ordinance in a permanent book kept for that purpose, with a statement of the manner of its adoption. The municipal clerk must also file a certified copy of the charter ordinance with the secretary of state who, in turn, is required to keep and publish a list of charter ordinances arranged in alphabetical order by municipality. Sec. 66.0101(3).

Additional information on charter ordinances is in the League's Handbook for Wisconsin Municipal Officials, pages 159-161 of the 2002 edition.