Mayor Sam Adams sits next to Portland Copwatchs Dan Handelman.
  • Mayor Sam Adams sits next to Portland Copwatch's Dan Handelman.
Last night, I made my way over to Portland State's student-union building for the much-ballyhooed, city-council-led town hall on whether Portland ought to rejoin the federal government's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

By way of background: Portland, as you may or may not remember, decided not to embed its officers with the group in 2005, after eight years of doing so, because of political and civil liberties concerns. We're the only major city in America to have done so, working instead with the feds on a case-by-case basis. And now, after the Pioneer Square bomb plot, people like Dan Saltzman and Mayor Sam Adams and Police Chief Mike Reese want to revisit that decision. (Click here and/or here for way more detail on how Oregon's civil liberties laws stack up with what the feds can do.)

And, as you might expect, cue the outrage! Close to 200 people showed up to ask questions or raise some serious beef about the FBI and what many see as its spotty civil rights record. They also had harsh words for the Portland Police Bureau, which has had its own issues with spying on people like, oh, peace activists (Every time someone thundered off a charge like that, Adams had to scold the crowd for clapping—a big no-no according to the night's ground rules.)

Said one speaker: "I think Portland went on record in opposing this intrusion, and I would hope they would continue to take a clear moral stand against this thing and for local control of what happens in this city."

There were highlights: Randy Leonard, as he and the mayor walked wireless microphones around the room early on, made sure Brandon Mayfield got up to speak. The infamous example of what happened Mayfield, the Portland-area lawyer falsely held by the FBI in connection with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, has been repeatedly invoked by the JTTF's critics.

"We don't have our police violating our statutes and our constitution. That's what we gain by not being there," he said. "Let the federal government do what they need to do, and let's keep Portland weird."

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Brandon Mayfield, left, with Tim Crail of Amanda Fritzs office.
  • Brandon Mayfield, left, with Tim Crail of Amanda Fritz's office.
Ellen Osoinach of the city attorney's office also prepared a slide show with bare-bones JTTF facts (the slide show is supposed to go up, eventually I guess, on the mayor's JTTF Web site). And the presentation mentioned something interesting: The city's last few agreements with the FBI specifically forbade its officers from violating state law. (Which is good, but only if someone who ran afoul of that rule was held accountable.)

Eventually, 97 people (according to Amanda Fritz) stuck around for lots of sharing in small groups—the kind of thing where someone holding a bright marker writes down everything the group says on giant sheets of paper, before "reporting out" on the most significant ideas when the larger group reconvenes. (I know this is supposed to be a good thing, but I just shot a little bit of stomach acid into my mouth after writing all that.)

The big three, as I saw it from stalking what was a room mostly dominated by activists: We don't trust the FBI. We don't trust the police. And we really want to know what would be different the next time someone is involved in a terrorism plot.

My big question is this: Is a meeting like this really going to make a difference when it comes to a vote, now expected in February? The business community, through the Portland Business Alliance's "Citizens Crime Commission," is pushing heavily for the city to rejoin. And that's no small consideration.

Curiously last night, and I think sending the wrong symbolic message, Saltzman, Leonard, and Nick Fish all split once the small discussions got started. Maybe they'll peruse the notes, destined to be transcribed and posted online, or maybe not.

I asked the mayor if that bothered him, and the short answer was no. "It's why we taped the meeting, and it's why we're posting the notes," he said. "I'm really glad they were here."