A Trip Through Democracy: My Visit to the County Commission

Last night I made a rare venture into the mire and muck of governmental decision-making, heading downtown to the Bernalillo County Commissioner’s meeting. Now usually I would no more go to the NORAD-bunkerish bowels of One Civic Plaza than I would attend a Pampered Chef kitchen party led by Rachael Ray (see story below). But there I was, holding my political nose and wallowing deep in the sausage-factory of democracy.

Being the typical American patriot, I usually only attend such meetings when they directly affect my life, and last night was no exception. Namely, the Commissioners were deciding whether to overturn a County Planning Commission decision to put the kibosh on a 54-acre South Valley (SV) shopping center next to the brand-spanking new Walmart Superstore at Rio Bravo and Coors Blvd. A Walmart store that I live approximately 800 yards from as the crow flies, separated by a large, beautiful alfalfa farm that is a Winter hotel for large groups of cranes and geese. So this Winter I will get to look out my back yard and see the cranes taking off at sunrise with this lousy, stinkin’ Walmart Superstore in the background. Sunset returns to alfalfa base for the birds will be in front of the glittering parking lots lights of said stinkin’, lousy Walmart Superstore.

Basically, the Commissioner’s vote last night determined whether I would soon get the additional visual treat of having a Lowe’s Home Improvement crammed next to the Walmart Superstore. Never mind that these same stores exist a bit up the road at Coors just past I-40 (okay, it’s a Home Depot there) or that the other, West, side of Coors Blvd. is already designated open space….a group of developers has determined that we gotta have more, more, more and there’s just gonna be a bunch of meetings, appeals, re-appeals, more meetings and further appeals until they get what they want.

So anyway, last night I and about 125 folks who don’t like the idea pack in with about 30-40 folks who really, really want there to be a Lowe’s Home Improvement and get to hear from lawyers and a few citizens on both sides about how either this idea is the single greatest idea since the Tennesse Valley Authority & Lousiana Purchase rolled up in one, or is the most wicked idea since the Walmart Superstore was built. I realize one might detect a bias in my analogies there, a trend I fear will continue.

And there was bias all around for sure. Bias and little red name tag looking things that said “I Support the Marketplace at Anderson Farms” from the pro-development side (Farms? If it’s a farm, it sure as hell ain’t gonna have a giant concrete strip mall on it, right?) as well as large photos-on-a-stick of gas prices at the Diamond Shamrock, illustrating that we in the SV have to drive large distances to get our Home Improvement supplies (upwards of about 8 miles one way…OH MY GOD!!!!) Anti-development forces showed photos of flooding at the Walmart, long traffic lines on adjacent streets from what growth we already have, and laughed inappropriately at the County Commissioners when they said things like “Of course we don’t want to do things like the City”.

A few highlights from the festivities:

  • The pro-development citizen’s group has a 23-year old disabled man speak about how the new shopping center will make it possible for him to shop at Lowe’s Home Improvement as he cannot drive. I don’t know where this ranked in all-time misuse/abuse of disabled people talking at public meetings, but it had to be at least somewhere near Top Ten.
  • The anti-development group leader brandishes and reads a letter from Isleta Pueblo Governor Robert Benavides, which drives the developer’s lead attorney in a rabid frenzy of attempts to strike the letter as “heresay”. Besides the almost palpable mouth-foaming of the attorney is the fact she carries about 300 lbs. of unwieldy documents along with her as she goes to the mic. Waddling is a good term here.
  • Commissioner Teresa Cordova, the SV Commissioner, comes off looking incredibly professional and thorough, citing examples of why the development is inadequately planned while at the same time earnestly telling the pro-development folks that she agrees that the SV really needs economic development.
  • The best thing about living in the SV is that we just do things a bit differently down here. We don’t have any traditional-looking politician type leadership, so instead even what leaders we have exude an eccentric bent reminiscent of folks who keep strange sculptures in our front yards and shoot guns off the back porch while reading The Iliad. Damn refreshing.
  • At least one developer rep. makes a statement about “I can’t tell you, Commissioners, how many residents told me personally that they have to drive to Los Lunas to do this kind of shopping”. The words “Los Lunas” are said with the same sneer one uses when saying things like “Christian Heavy Metal” or “blog entry”.

Plenty of interesting tidbits for a partisan observer or deep-in-the-SV resident, but I understand if anyone living north of Bridge/Gibson has already fallen to sleep or changed the blog channel…but for those who’ve stuck it out this long there’s a bit more. Specifically, the vote.

So, Cordova makes a reasoned explanation of why she’s voting to defeat the appeal, the other Commissioner’s ask a few questions, the audience laughs at the Commissioners inappropriately from time to time, and the moment comes for a motion/vote. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then things go a little hairy. First, Commission Chairperson Alan Armijo, who’s done a pretty good job of running the timed debate (at least when he’s not hobnobbing with folks around the chamber) kinda violates rule #4 for Parliamentary Procedure folks (and I should know…I was Parliamentary Procedure “President” for my FFA competition team back in 9th grade…really): He doesn’t formally read the motion before the vote.

Then the vote happens. Now from the rather slow-pitch softball questions to developers from Commissioner Tim Cummings and others it appears this vote is gonna be close. No way to tell at all which way it’s gonna go. Tension. Rising. Then in about 2.2 seconds, Armijo says “all in favor” and some voices are heard. “All opposed” and no voices are heard. A few seconds go by and the vote sinks in to the crowd. We Won! Yeah! Rejoicing! (of course I refer to the anti-development folks here). The crowd on both sides starts for the exits.

Then Commissioner Michael Brasher looks up to the exultantly leaving anti-development folks and asks something like “I’m sorry, what did I just vote for?” I paraphrase, but I do not kid…Brasher is confused about whether he voted for or against the development. The smiling faces on the exiting anti-development folks leaves him feeling more confused.

Now part of the problem is that Armijo didn’t read the motion before the vote. Also, the motion was confusing…running something like “To deny the appeal of the developers and uphold the decision of the County Planning Commission”…still, you don’t vote on something you don’t understand. That was rule #1 back at the FFA Parliamentary Procedure competition.

Obviously, Brasher meant to vote against the motion and for the development. Now at times like this it’s hard not to remember that this is the same Michael Brasher who forgot the filing deadline for ABQ City Council, missed the deadline and had to run as a write-in. Frankly, it’s a little tough to resist making some rather pointed judgements as to the general sharpness level of Commissioner Brasher. So instead I’ll just focus on how Goddamn funny it was to see Brasher try to Parliamentarize himself out of the predicament.

Basically, he had to talk the other Commissioners into letting another vote take place “reconsideration”, an attempt that required a motion and a second. Brasher motioned, and what followed was about the funniest five seconds of silence in recorded Parliamentary history. Then Chairperson Armijo had to tell Brasher that there was no second.

It made walking out the door that much more enjoyable. So enjoyable that I barely noticed the pro-development folks walking alongside me muttering about the “idiots” who would oppose such a project. I have to say that maybe for the first time I actually enjoyed attending of these shindigs. Of course, by far the biggest reason is that I got the decision I wanted. Still, it had other pluses, including learning that my County Commissioner is probably the smartest one of the bunch (at least we absolutely know she’s not the least smart), I got to relive memories of my days of High School Parliamentary Procedure, and there were moments of humor better than just about any Daily Show or Conan bit..better, as Homer Simpson would say, because they were true.

I don’t know as I’ll ever attend another one of these things ever again, but the chances are just a bit better than they were before last night.

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One thought on “A Trip Through Democracy: My Visit to the County Commission

  1. I know Commissioner Micheal Brasher personnally and he is by no means a stupid person. It is easy at a meeting to have things confused or a motion not properly represented by one in charge so a person may not understand what was just voted for. everyone makes a mistake and Brasher obviously couldnt hear the motion, orsomthing of the sort. However, this man is by no means an idiot and i thik portraying him as a dumb person in this written piece was wrong, and rude. If the man didnt make a deadline for city council position and had to go as a write in, so beit, Most of us do not know his reason for not making that deadline, but I can tell you he is a bussy person and Im sure he did the best he could. Im sure you dont know his reason for not making the deadline either, do you? Give this man a break, he is by no means a fool. Only human. -Thanks

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