ONLY DAYS AFTER forcefully demanding a nearly immediate decision on whether Portland should rejoin a controversial FBI-led terrorism task force, City Commissioner Dan Saltzman—slapped around a little by his colleagues—found himself meekly walking backward on the issue.

And where did Saltzman wind up? Right where Mayor Sam Adams—increasingly his political rival—had been camped all along. In a release sent last Thursday, December 2, he bowed to Adams' call for a lengthy review of the thorny subject.

"Due to this fact and out of respect for my colleagues," Saltzman wrote, "I will not be filing a resolution for the December 8 council hearing."

So much for Saltzman's preemptive bid to claim the high ground on an issue where he lost badly in 2005. Instead, it's the mayor who finds himself squarely in the driver's seat.

By Monday, December 6, Adams' staff had already met in closed-door huddles with both the FBI and the ACLU of Oregon, which opposes any effort to rejoin the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

A "work plan" guiding the city's examination of the issue is expected by Friday, December 10. Adams' staffers, as well as the city attorney's office will lead the study, which could take months. It's meant to ask whether the FBI has mended its extra-judicial ways in the years since Portland became the first major city to refuse to embed its cops among the feds.

It's a good question—and the answer isn't intuitive, even after President Obama's ascendance.

David Fidanque of the ACLU told me after his meeting with Adams' people that he believes things have actually gotten worse. He says new FBI rules issued in late 2008—and so far unchallenged by the Obama administration—now permit "limitless surveillance of people based on their political, religious, and social activities," even without "evidence of wrongdoing."

That's the message Fidanque brought to city hall. I asked him whether Adams' people were receptive to that message—or if they might be using the study instead as cover to justify rejoining the task force. After all, that might be politically popular among those who control campaign purse strings come election time.

Fidanque's (slightly hopeful) reply: "It was clear to us that the mayor is going into this without any preconceived notions."

I'm still not sure it's a question worth asking. But if we must, let's hope we really are asking it honestly.