October 30, 2003
The JTTF Oversight Amendment That Wasn't
As reported yesterday, City Council discussion of Portland's participation in the Joint Terrorism Task Force centered around the question of civilian oversight. Interestingly, it seems that the City Council just narrowly avoided taking up that question more directly.
"I was close to moving to amend the memorandum to be contingent upon oversight," said Commissioner Erik Sten today, "but couldn't quite read [Commissioner Leonard's] body language well enough. Afterward, he said he would have seconded the amendment, and I told him I would have done the same had he moved it."
"I was prepared to make a motion to require the Mayor have access to information on the [Portland Police Bureau's] activities within the JTTF as a condition of our participation," explained Commissioner Randy Leonard. "However, the Mayor said she would bring our involvement up again in three months so the Council could review whether she had been given the security clearance by the [Federal government] for the oversight I believe we need."
Some critics of the JTTF question that wait-and-see approach.
"I think that the members of Council have had a year to prepare for this hearing," said Dan Handleman of Portland Copwatch, "and have known that oversight is an issue for three years."
"Had Sten done a little homework," Handleman continued, "they could have had a concurrent ordinance in place to pass yesterday." Arguing that the City Council could have taken the matter up as a regular item and on a reasonable timeframe, rather than an emergency ordinance, Handleman added: "In other words, they had plenty of time to find out how to arrange for oversight."
Of course, there is also the question of how effective such a motion would have been at this particular time, introduced essentially out of nowhere in the midst of the renewal hearing.
"I'm not sure the amendment would have passed," said Sten. "Perhaps it was better to keep the Council united on a message that we want oversight rather than have that watered down by a losing amendment."
"In any case," Sten added, "we did make progress and there is movement that I can build on and perhaps get Portland back in the lead on making sense of these issues." And Commissioner Leonard, Sten's newfound ally in seeking oversight, said: "I want oversight and I am willing to take the necessary steps with Commissioner Sten to get there."
Again, we're left with a mixture of bad news and good news. It may very well be fair criticism to argue that concerned members of the City Council could have been working all year to prepare for an oversight amendment. On the other hand, now that the issue has been made central to the conversation, with active interest on the part of Council members expressed, at least the door is open to press them on it in the future.