City Council Jargon Too Confusing

I covered a city council meeting in the beginning of November. I was confused. It seemed like every other was spoken in German, and I don’t know a lick of German. Chances are, you’ve been in this situation. Chances are, you got the “jist” of the meeting, which isn’t the most convenient understanding.

One page of an agenda for the city council of Newark, NJ. Courtesy of

Some cities have even taken up posting a “jargon buster” on their website to clear up some of the chaos found in city council agendas. Unfortunately, East Lansing has yet to define their confusing words.

According to, The Local Government Association of the UK came up with a list of 100 banned words that “public bodies should not use if they want to communicate effectively.” Some words on the list seemed right to banned, (such as “can do culture”) others (such as “welcome”) were seemingly odd to be banned. Other countries, including New Zealand, have also posted their own list of banned words, according to

I put together my own personal list of words that I saw frequently in the East Lansing agenda. I also put some words in that I thought a bit confusing.

Governance: It’s basically the use of authority.

Tested for soundness: It means they made sure it’s working OK, or that it will work OK.

Ordinance: We see this word a lot, but it just means a law or rule.

Commission: Some authority was granted to some people.

Public Hearing: It’s when people can state their opinion to the council. The council has to first say if they even want to hear the public’s opinion, then they listen. People can directly speak to the council, or send in letters.

Rezone: It basically changes a certain area (a defined neighborhood, for example) so that different things can happen, or be built there.

Consent agenda: It’s a bundle of items that needs to be voted on, without discussion.

Initiative:  Your right to present a new bill to legislature.

Parker Wilson


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