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Nancy Mccarthy of The Skanner
Published: 12 April 2006

When Portland Mayor Tom Potter sets up his "listening post" in Northeast Portland on Saturday, April 15, he might consider the name of the location: Reflections Coffeehouse & Talking Drum Bookstore.

Potter will do much reflecting and talking from 9 to 11:30 a.m. when he meets with 10 local residents for 10 minutes at a time in the coffeehouse, at 446 N.E. Killingsworth St.

And, because the coffeehouse is adjacent to the Portland Police Bureau's Northeast Precinct, he's bound to field a lot of questions about the recent troubles of Police Chief Derrick Foxworth, whom Potter put on paid administrative leave last Tuesday. Rosie Sizer, commander of the Southeast Precinct, is acting chief while accusations of sexual harassment against Foxworth are investigated.

The so-called "10-minute meetings" are Potter's way of becoming acquainted with residents of local neighborhoods and hearing about concerns — both personal and communitywide — said Carmen Rubio, the city's director of community affairs.

This will be his fourth neighborhood meeting: The others were held in St. Johns, Lents and Multnomah Village. He plans to be in an as yet undetermined location in outer Northeast Portland on May 6 and at the Pied Cow Coffeehouse, 3244 S.E. Belmont St., on June 24.

"Mayor Potter wants to give every Portlander the opportunity to have access to him," Rubio said. "It also gives an opportunity to folks who wouldn't be able to come to City Hall because they work or they aren't used to coming to City Hall. He wants to provide a variety of avenues for people to meet with him who wouldn't be able to otherwise."

So far, those visiting with the mayor have asked questions ranging from controversial to personal.

"Sometimes people just want to share their special viewpoint on city policies, or maybe they have a problem that can be addressed right away," Rubio said.

Accompanying Potter on his neighborhood forays are Jeremy Vankeuren — the city's "public advocate," who solves constituent problems — and a police officer who works in the neighborhood.

"At times, there are questions related to public safety, and it's wonderful to be able to say, 'Let me have you talk to the police officer in the community,' " Rubio said. "That's the wonderful thing about these meetings, and the mayor really likes them."

If the neighborhood has a hot issue brewing, representatives from some of the city's bureaus and the Office ofNeighborhood Involvement also might be there to answer questions immediately or take notes back to the office.

"Someone had a problem with a utility bill, and Jeremy was able to give him the names and phone numbers of people who could help him," Rubio said. "He takes his laptop with him to input issues that someone might bring up. Sometimes people come up with great ideas about community projects. It really runs the gamut."

If the conversation turns extremely serious or confidential, Potter may make arrangements to meet privately with the person later, Rubio said. But "we anticipate all kinds of issues coming to the table," she added. When asked what questions the mayor wouldn't answer, Rubio was stumped — she said she didn't know.

"He is a very grounded, fair and forthright person," she added. "If he is able to troubleshoot or check out some information for someone, he will do it."

Response to the mayor's neighborhood visits is good, Rubio said. People often arrive an hour early to get their time with the mayor. But Rubio doesn't put out the sign-up sheet until 8:30 a.m. It's first-come, first-served for those living in the neighborhood who want a face-to-face session with Potter, but everyone can complete comment forms, which Rubio promises that Potter reads. The forms also are available on the city of Portland's Web site, www.portlandonline.com/mayor.

Potter's interest in open conversation has extended into his own private blog, which also is available at the city of Portland Web site. Called "Mayor Potter's Perspective," the blog offers comments on local and national issues and responses from city employees and area residents.

Potter placed a statement about putting Foxworth on administrative leave on his blog, as well as a letter to James Hester, president of the District Council of Trade Unions, that discusses Hester's suggestion that the mayor's office investigate all grievances pending for AFSCME members assigned to the police bureau. Potter also scolded Hester for taking his opinions to the media before coming to him.

In another blog, Potter comments on the national immigration debate, asking the Oregon congressional delegation to oppose legislation supported by Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., that would make illegal immigrants felons and to support the Senate Judiciary Committee Bill that would enable immigrants eventually to become citizens.

Potter's efforts to create an open dialogue so far have drawn interest from many citizens, some who agree and others who offer different opinions. Some tell him, "You have made be proud to be a Portlander …" and others who say to him, "Wake up! How can you support … something that is illegal?"

But when Potter comes around to Northeast Portland on April 15, he may have other reasons to reflect. It is, after all, Tax Day (although taxes this year aren't due to the Internal Revenue Service until April 17).

No matter what people talk about, though, Gloria McMurtry, owner of the Reflections Coffeehouse & Talking Drum Bookstore, is happy he's coming.

"When the mayor asks to come to visit your business, you can't say no," she said. "He's welcome here; it's a community meeting place, and it's a good place to talk. Hopefully it will bring visibility to this place."

McMurtry has been thinking of a question of her own. Ever the business woman, her question probably won't have anything to do with Chief Foxworth or immigration.

"I think I might ask him something about economics and business," McMurtry said.

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