City Council Rashomon: One Observer’s View of Late Night Council TV

It wasn’t Kurosawa, at least in cinematographic composition and scope, but Albuquerque City Council performed something of a 20-minute videographed saga of its own this past Monday night, one which has stuck with this viewer as interesting on many levels and worthy of many interpretations, kinda like a Kurosawa film.

Not “Rashomon” by any means, but very much worth a still-shot deconstruction of the performance’s plot, meaning, and insights. It was also all about taxpayer money, which has a “grab” of it own. Let’s begin…

Our one-act starts at just past five hours deep through the long, long day’s journey into night that was Monday’s Council meeting, one that had already included plenty of highs, most notably universal consensus and public/expert support of the latest amendment to the Police Oversight Ordinance, and a beautiful bit of foreshadowing low in the form of Councilor Borrego’s reaction to Councilor Benton’s voting against full funding of a multi-generational center in Borrego’s District that would have included affordable housing for seniors.

In a terse reading that definitely reminded the viewer of Bette Davis in “All About Eve,” Councilor Borrego witheringly remarked that “I will support this (Councilor Benton’s proposed large authorization to a storm drain in his District) despite you voting against affordable housing in my District.”

With the resulting awkward silence responding from this remark echoing throughout the chamber, the scene was now set for 20 minutes of “Ran” meets Seven Nine Samurai.”

Go Bond DMD Streets Budget Options
Prologue: Any decent film saga has to have a prologue. Here’s one page (DMD Streets) of the multi-page breakdown of differences in 2019 General Obligation Bond proposed authorizations in versions from original DMD request to Mayor to “Council Committee Sub 1” to, finally, Councilor Jones “Floor Sub 2.” It is Councilor Jones Floor Sub that is eventually voted upon with amendments during the meeting.
pena asks sponsors
Right at the 5 hour, 1 minute mark, Councilor Peña formally proposes an amendment co-sponsored by Councilor’s Benton and Davis.


plopping borrego back on
After having asked her co-sponsors what they would like to do, and them throwing it right back at Peña, Council President Peña engages in an interesting bit of kabuki theater (i.e., parliamentary procedure) that makes it possible for the formerlly-thwarted multi-generational funding of Councilor Borrego to be resurrected via this new amendment.


council staff counsel navigating
Council staff and counsels, whose role in this drama is something similar to that of the slaughtered and otherwise mistreated villagers in any Kurosawa film, help Councilor Peña navigate.


councilor harris listing
Councilor Harris rather dismissively lists the sheer number of Obligation Bond authorization changes in this amendment, just as the wives tend to do when chastising their warrior husbands in “Yojimbo,” and other Kurosawa samurai films.


winter and following rules
Councilor Benton then inquires if rules have been properly followed, as this “amendment” is such a long list of changes that it’s actually more of a “floor sub.” Just as in any Japanese film, the language and cultural references very often require that Western viewers consult a dictionary or guide. Here’s one from Utah about amendments, floor subs, etc.


council staff on amend v floor sub decision
Another interlude in which our Greek Chorus abused villagers explain what has led to this so-called amendment being brought despite it not being included in the list of “floor subs” for consideration prior to the meeting (Note: This part was most like the boring bits of any Kurosawa film, but probably, like is the case of many Kurosawa films, was actually the most important part).


Jones read Penas amendment out loud
Somewhat like the funny samurai who breaks up the somber mood before the final battle, Councilor Jones (author of “Floor Sub #2” remember), reads aloud the entire list of changes requested in Councilor Peña’s “amendment.”


late GO Bond Amendment
And here is our Maltese Falcon, our MacGuffin: The list of changes proposed by this amendment, so fortunately displayed to the three folks in the Council audience and those watching online (and screen-grabbed here). From a Better Burque perspective, this amendment is very important, as it was the only one to propose increasing “ADA Sidewalk Improvements” from $400,000 (in this case to $1,000,000). In fact, this single line item is the only real reason this “film” retelling of the meeting is taking place here at BB, kinda like that one brief glance or expression from the unforgettably great Setsuko Hara in an Ozu film that explains the entire 2 hours and 30 minutes of fabulously methodical Japanese film making.


Councilor Harris and constituent confusion
Then, building tension, Council breaks into classic drama montage. In first in a series of quick cuts, Councilor Harris reports that he and constituents currently texting him are confused.


gibson criticizes cut
Second, Councilor Gibson notes and criticizes a proposed cut to fire services and cyber security spending. She uses words like “catastrophic” and “disaster.”


Benton notes lack of presence in packet
And third, completing that perfect number of narrative buildup, Councilor Benton points out that he was against the idea of making this a meeting-time announced amendment in the first place, and that it should have been a “floor sub” announced before the weekend. If Kurosawa had made a version of “Julius Caesar” instead of “Macbeth,” or “King Lear” in “Ran,” Councilor Benton’s role here would have been a little bit Cassius and a whole lotta Brutus.


pena withdraws and explains

Metaphorically struck by the three fellow samurai Councilors, Peña withdraws the amendment, noting that she had earlier decided to not even bring it to the floor. She adds that she ultimately decided to propose it only as means to seek salvation of Councilor Borrego’s multi-generational/affordable housing funding.


What an Kurosawan ending!

Committing the Council to 20 minutes of bureaucratic hue and cry in a vain attempt to save a fellow Councilor’s proposal! And with this defeat, other funding goes away in the wake of this tragedy, at least for now, such as added money toward ADA Sidewalk Improvements.

Surely, devoted Kurosawa fans can think of only one film and one scene that captures what went down at around 10:30 Monday night at Albuquerque Council Chambers. It is most certainly this:


While my overall observations of what went down in the wee hours of last Monday’s Council meeting might be just as mistaken or biased as the characters in “Rashomon” (it was that confusing), there was undoubtedly more than a bit of “Ikiru’s” wistful bureaucratic pathos in Councilor Peña’s close to the theatrics recapped above. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the feeling evoked still remains since first viewing the drama recapped here, just as does every viewing over the years of that dying almost-failed bureaucratic singing that mournful song while swinging in the snow of “his” park.

I don’t think Monday’s Council meeting fully matches Kurosawa. But it kinda does.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the eventual vote on Budget/Bonds was just another step in the marathon that will eventually lead to a public vote on the Bond package later this year. It’s truly impossible at present to say how much money Councilor Borrego’s multi-generational center or ADA Sidewalk Improvements will get in the final version going to voters.

Real life, especially politics,  doesn’t get Hollywood Tokyo endings.

2 thoughts on “City Council Rashomon: One Observer’s View of Late Night Council TV

  1. Biliruben: Thanks for passing this along. Fairly amazing these two posts of similar thinking hit the same day! I can’t spot which one came earlier, so I’ll claim Mountain Time Zone prior publishing timestamp, but hadn’t seen this until now. Liked the use of actual Kurosawa “subtitles”/meme; I really should learn how to do that. As for the Mayor of Seattle and current happenings o’ multi-modal travel, it might be more an occasion of “High and Low” than “Rashomon.” these days.


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