IT WAS CURIOUS, to say the least. Portland City Council had called a town hall meeting January 13, presumably to sit back and listen while regular folks huddled over the biggest political question so far in 2011: whether we should reinsert our cops into a federal antiterrorism task force.
It was a question we thought we answered in 2005 when we pulled our officers out, only to watch it flare anew after the Pioneer Courthouse Square bomb plot in November.
And yet, not more than halfway through the meeting—before facilitators holding bright markers and giant sheets of paper could "report out" what people shared in cloying brainstorming sessions—most of the council had long since split.
The grinning and the nodding? That was left to Mayor Sam Adams and Commissioner Amanda Fritz. As for Commissioners Nick Fish, Dan Saltzman, and Randy Leonard? Adams told me afterward, diplomatically, that they were busy. And he assured me his colleagues care very much and that they would no doubt go online and read the notes and watch the video.
(Although... memo to the mayor's tech staff: Neither the video nor the notes were on the mayor's special page on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, mayorsamadams.com/jttf, as of Tuesday, January 18.)
Adams might be right. All three might be in their offices—maybe even right now!—catching up. And maybe the apparent symbolism really doesn't matter.
Me? I think it speaks volumes. And this is what it's saying: That whatever scores of people might say about the task force in public meetings—raising legitimate civil liberties concerns—it's those with the time and clout and money to buy face-to-face sitdowns who matter more.
Commissioners don't excuse themselves early when the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) or the US attorney or the FBI come calling. Especially the PBA, one of the city's top lobbying groups and most influential brokers of campaign cash.
The PBA has made its wish clear. The PBA submitted a stern letter to Adams, through its affiliate Citizens' Crime Commission, urging the city to rejoin.
City commissioners aren't tipping their hands yet. But only two more need to join Saltzman, the council's most vociferous backer, to make it so. Keep your eyes on Fish and Adams.
Fish, like Fritz, wasn't on the council back in 2005—but he's been working hard to court the PBA's cooperation on homelessness issues. And while Adams voted against the Joint Terrorism Task Force, revisiting the decision has been on his radar since he took over as police commissioner. Adams, of course, is all but certain to run for reelection in 2012. And if he does, he might need some cash.