This post is based on a Twitter thread I wrote recently.
The Los Angeles City Council uses the Council File Management System, or CMFS, to keep track of every matter pending before them. This is terrible software. There are so many things wrong with it, the worst of which is that the search function is completely broken. I’ve been told by more than one Council District staffer that they also find the CMFS search function to be useless, so I’m probably not imagining it.
The City is famous for making it difficult or impossible for the public to access information, and I have no doubt that if they didn’t purposely design the CMFS to prevent people from finding stuff, at least they’re not fixing it because they rely1 on its brokenness.2 It’s broken, but it’s what we have if we want to keep track of what the Council is up to, and we certainly do want to. This post is about how to discover pending matters that interest you and keep track of them through the entire process.
The first step is to use the City’s subscription page to sign up for information. The method I’m describing here requires you to subscribe to two of the items, which are motions and new council items, called referrals. Also, why not just subscribe to everything while you’re there? It all turns out to be interesting!3 Also, remember to pay attention to whether you start receiving these items. The subscription page used to only work with Internet Explorer on Windows even though it pretended it was working with other browsers or operating systems. I don’t know if this is still true, but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Motions are made by Councilmembers during meetings of the full Council. That’s supposed to be Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, but it’s beginning to look like the COVID-linked Friday cancellations are permanent. In any case, on meeting days the Members file motions. In the afternoon or sometimes the next day the Clerk emails a PDF of the day’s motions to subscribers. Here’s an example of a recent one and you can find a few more here on Archive.Org.4
Now, suppose you come across a motion that interests you. For the sake of illustration, let’s assume it’s this idiotic motion by Paul Koretz, pictured nearby.5When motions come out they don’t yet have an open file in the CFMS, which is where the Referral Sheet enters the story! Usually the day after a motion, but occasionally later that same day, the Clerk puts out the Referral Sheet, which shows all Council Files created that day.
When it comes out, look through it to find the new motions you’re interested in. Here’s the Referral Sheet for September 8, 2020, which is the day Koretz entered the motion. And as you can see from the picture nearby, there’s the new Council File number, which is 20-1132, and it’s a link to the new Council File! Click on it, of course! And when you get there click the envelope icon (see picture nearby) to subscribe to the file. When you do that you’ll have the option to subscribe to all supplementals. Always choose this.6
And once you’ve subscribed the Clerk will email you every weekday at 8 PM with an update on all your CFMS subscriptions. Every time the file changes, gets on an agenda, public comment is submitted, or anything else at all, you’ll be notified! And then you know when it’s time to yell at the electeds!
Also, as a final note, motions are not the only way matters get put before the Council. Pretty much every City Department, and certainly every elected official, can initiate a Council File. Like e.g. the City Attorney does this when they need to discuss pending legal matters with the Council, or the Mayor does when he needs money for something or permission to spend some money. These don’t start as motions but they do end as Council Files, and each and every one of them appears on that Referral Sheet the day the File is created. And that is the whole story on that!
- “Rely” is probably too weak of a word. They revel in it, take unseemly pleasure in it, think about it late at night to comfort them in their lonely despair, and so on. The last item is my wishful thinking only.
- If this sounds paranoid to you you might spend a month or two trying to get e.g. LAPD to fulfill a simple request under the public records act. I’ve been doing this for six years now and there’s really no other explanation for their obstructionist antics.
- Except for the Journal/Actions thing. I have not ever understood what that’s for. Please feel free to explain in the comments if you understand this!
- I wouldn’t be surprised if the City published these on a website somewhere but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t. I just don’t know.
- Who is an important guy to watch, because, like his colleagues, he’s up to one damn thing after another.
- Because they often but not always file strongly related items as supplementals. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things this way.