Democracy is a strange and messy process. Plunging into it sometimes leaves me moved, amused, angry, and curious.
I went to last week’s City Council Meeting. I hoped to help rescue discussion of police accountability from the secret committee where Mayor Miyagashima has sent it to die. (Ken’s helped make some great changes over time, but killed others in their infancy.)
Public input, as usual, was mostly the Coalition for Conservatives in Action, berating councilors about rising crime and regarding some letter to NMSU regarding an unpopular and hate-producing speaker. (I lack facts to agree or disagree. I understand protecting the students from hatred, but I’m a pretty strong First Amendment guy. That’s another column.) It’s sometimes tough to distinguish honest anger about real problems from using a convenient way to attack the councilors.
Outside the meeting room, I told some of the conservatives I share their concern about crime, particularly recidivism, but think the Council the wrong target on some issues. Actions these folks demand would be tossed out by the U.S. Supreme Court. State constitutional bail rules bind Municipal Court. Recidivism? If a municipal judge has a mentally incompetent defendant, who can’t constitutionally be tried because s/he can’t assist the defense lawyer, the judge can send the defendant up to Las Vegas; but Las Vegas just says “Yep, incompetent,” and sends the Defendant back. The judge can’t try that Defendant, and can’t institutionalize the defendant to get the help s/he needs.
Sadly, I kept having to explain why I didn’t think abortion was baby-killing, and that sort of stuff.
Some folks (left or right) can’t suspend their political anger long enough to cooperate on matters we all agree need fixing. By contrast, when CCIA’s Juan Garcia called me one Sunday morning, I went to the site of some vandalism and wrote a column on the problem it symbolized. Juan didn’t bother reminding me that he thinks abortion is murder, and I didn’t waste time asking how the hell he could vote for Donald Trump. We saw a problem, sympathized with the victim, and wanted to improve the situation. We still do.
The Council considered a hotly-contested proposal for an apartment complex at 725 McClure, zoned for single-family homes. Planning and Zoning had declined to approve it, and the owner appealed.
John Vaccaro made a great argument for the landowner, noting that the project helped address standing problems such as infill development and more affordable housing. Justin Nations movingly argued the residents’ case, based on safety, inadequate road and infrastructure, and historic significance. I did not immediately know which way I’d vote, if I could.
Sincere citizens argued from their conflicting interests. No one was right or wrong in any clearly accessible way. I felt for the single-family homeowners, recalling how much I disliked the extra traffic Centennial High School caused – and dislike the willfully law-breaking black smoke from Tommy Graham’s old mortuary. But the developer was following some city principles, and, as one councilor said, multi-family homes, more energy-efficient, are the wave of our climate-altered future.
And we need places for workers and old folks with limited resources to live.
“This is a hard one,” two councilors commented. “It’s a really heavy decision,” one added. Finally they rejected the appeal 4-3, but several expressed mixed feelings.
Sitting there reminds me that much of a councilor’s work has little to do with the political spectrum.
Peter Goodman’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.