Res­ig­na­tions leave Ta­coma City Club at a cross­roads

The News Tribune - - Nation & World - BY MATT DRISCOLL [email protected]­new­stri­bune.com

For­get, for a mo­ment, the drama.

There cer­tainly was some when Ron­nie Bush abruptly re­signed this week as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of City Club Ta­coma. On Face­book, Bush cited “hos­tile work­ing con­di­tions, in a way I’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced in my 40-plus years of em­ploy­ment.”

In her sur­prise res­ig­na­tion — “ef­fec­tively im­me­di­ately,” she wrote — Bush went on to re­veal that her as­sis­tant, Es­ther Day, along with City Club Pres­i­dent David Ol­son and board mem­ber Liz Bur­ris also were step­ping down.

That’s a lot of change at the top, in very short order. While it might be tempt­ing to stop and gawk at what could un­der­stand­ably be per­ceived as the sud­den wreck­age of a well-known lo­cal civic in­sti­tu­tion, there are a few worth­while ques­tions to pon­der.

Does City Club have fu­ture? If so, what should it be?

On both fronts, it prob­a­bly de­pends, but here’s hop­ing the or­ga­ni­za­tion finds a way to move for­ward.

Ad­mit­tedly, I’m about as warm on the cur­rent ver­sion of City Club as the chicken lunches the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s noon­time pro­grams of­ten fea­ture. I rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of what City Club tries to do and the thought­ful, in­formed com­mu­nity di­a­logue it strives to cre­ate. But ac­tu­ally at­tend­ing its func­tions has usu­ally struck me as some­thing bet­ter fit for ag­ing North End boomers and glad-hand­ing politi­cians (at least at elec­tion time).

That’s to say noth­ing of the pro­grams them­selves. City Club events have been cri­tiqued as one-sided af­fairs, pro-busi­ness pep ral­lies or painfully lack­ing in di­ver­sity.

Some of these crit­i­cisms are war­ranted. Oth­ers likely have been overblown — at least slightly. But they haven’t come com­pletely out of left field, and — to­gether — shed light on the host of chal­lenges City Club faces if it’s to main­tain rele- vance while the land­scape of civic di­a­logue in Ta­coma evolves around it.

Kristin Ang — a lo­cal at­tor­ney and 2017 can­di­date for the Port of Ta­coma Com­mis­sion (she lost to Don Meyer in a fairly close con­test) — has served on the

City Club board since last year. With the de­par­ture of board pres­i­dent David Olsen, Ang finds her­self fill­ing the im­por­tant role on an in­terim ba­sis of un­spec­i­fied length.

She, too, has heard the cri­tiques. But Ang, a 40-year-old Filipino Amer­i­can who iden­ti­fies as LGBTQ , is adamant about City Club’s abil­ity to con­tinue to serve an im­por­tant and unique role in the com­mu­nity.

Repeatedly ref­er­enc­ing City Club’s motto — “open minds em­brac­ing the fu­ture” — Ang

de­scribes City Club as stri­dently non­par­ti­san, open to “con­ser­va­tives, pro­gres­sives,” and most of all “civic-minded peo­ple with good will.”

With this guid­ing prin­ci­ple in mind, Ang be­lieves City Club has a pur­pose worth pur­su­ing in Ta­coma.

“We know that dur­ing this time where we see a lot of hos­til­ity and highly par­ti­san rhetoric on tele­vi­sion, that there needs to be this place … where a com­mu­nity can still gather, lis­ten to the best in­for­ma­tion and civilly dis­cuss the is­sues,” Ang said.

“We want to in­clude all the voices in our commu- nity, and lis­ten to them,” she con­tin­ued. “Ta­coma has it all. We are on that cusp of leap­ing into the fu­ture, and we need to make these de­ci­sions, and have the best in­for­ma­tion pos­si­ble.”

For what it’s worth, that’s not an al­to­gether dif­fer­ent de­sire than the one that orig­i­nally gave rise to City Club.

Formed in 1984 by Lilly War­nick and Pa­tri­cia Lantz, City Club was “pat­terned,” as its web­site ex­plains, after sim­i­lar civic en­deav­ors across the coun­try, par­tic­u­larly in Seat­tle and Port­land.

Through monthly meet- ings, City Club’s mission is to “pro­vide a non­par­ti­san fo­rum that brings peo­ple to­gether to ex­plore is­sues and ideas af­fect­ing the South Sound com­mu­nity.”

It’s a no­ble en­deavor, cer­tainly, but it’s also nat­u­ral to won­der whether City Club — with its out­dated long lunches and evening pro­grams — is po­si­tioned to con­tinue un­der­tak­ing it.

For what a new form of civic di­a­logue in Ta­coma might look like, one need look no farther than the lineup of com­mu­ni­ty­minded pod­casts pro­duced by Chan­nel 253 or the reg­u­lar Adult Civics

Happy Hour events hosted by Lin­coln High School’s Nate Bowling.

Bowling, along with his ed­u­ca­tional du­ties, has carved out a dis­tin­guished voice on a wide ar­ray civic is­sues. In do­ing so, he’s demon­strated an abil­ity to use the plat­form he’s cre­ated to push a num­ber of im­por­tant com­mu­nity con­ver­sa­tions for­ward.

While the pod­casts and Adult Civics Happy Hour tend to at­tract a younger, en­gaged au­di­ence that’s prob­a­bly best de­scribed as vary­ing shades of pro­gres­sive, the model they all rely on isn’t par­ti­san by na­ture, and the re­sult typ­i­cally feels a lot fresher than what City Club has his­tor­i­cally pro­vided.

These new av­enues for civic di­a­logue are also far more di­verse — both in sub­ject mat­ter and in the voices they bring to the ta­ble — with a flex­i­ble reach that’s able to break down the in­sti­tu­tional bar­ri­ers that of­ten pre­vent peo­ple from par­tic­i­pat­ing.

So, is it pos­si­ble that a nearly four-decade old in­sti­tu­tion like City Club could learn a few things from the new kids on the block? Could the or­ga­ni­za­tion broaden its sphere, di­ver­sify its ranks and in­ject new voices onto its pan­els?

Could this be the key to City Club’s sur­vival, or — tak­ing the threat of in­sti­tu­tional death off the ta­ble — at least its con­tin­ued rel­e­vance?

It seems worth a shot, be­cause — for all its cur­rent short­com­ings — there’s still an un­de­ni­able value in what an or­ga­ni­za­tion like City Club can pro­vide.

For her part, Ang talks of City Club’s po­ten­tial for bridging the gen­er­a­tional gap, while putting an em­pha­sis on the need to tap into “the en­ergy and ideas” of all cor­ners of the city.

“City Club was started dur­ing a time of re­nais­sance in Ta­coma, and I feel like we’re at a sim­i­lar point in his­tory,” Ang says.

“Change is in­evitable. If you’re em­brac­ing the fu­ture, you em­brace change.”

That feels like a good place to start.

Matt Driscoll: 253-597-8657, @matts­driscoll

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