First City Club Missoula gathering a success. More are planned

Garnering interest and finding a purpose were the main points on the agenda at the inaugural meeting for City Club Missoula on Friday.

“Many cities have city clubs,” said Russ Fletcher, founder of Montana Associated Technology Roundtable and one of the organizers for City Club Missoula.

“For Missoula, the city club can be a wonderful thing,” he said. “We hope that the city club will be a forum where we as citizens can openly discuss the big issues of the day in a non-partisan environment.”

The lunch meeting, which took place at Holiday Inn Parkside in downtown Missoula, brought nearly 80 participants.

“It’s a really nice mix of people here,” said Tom Bensen, executive director of Missoula Cultural Council, another organizer. “There are business people, people from the university, cultural people, and entrepreneurs.”

“I’m here mostly out of curiosity,” said David Irwin. “Missoula has its share of polarization, and if the city club can help reduce that, I want to be a part of it.”

Irwin co-owns several small businesses in the Missoula area, such as Sunburst Sensors, LLC, which manufactures chemical sensors, and Endless Summer, LLC, which sells greenhouse kits and lighting.

“We need a learning process to position ourselves for the future,” said Dr. Larry Swanson to an attentive audience. “Open discussion brings better leadership. The notion of the city club is to talk things over, to encourage discourse in an open forum.”

Swanson gave examples of various partnerships and forums across the state, such as Celebrate Billings, that are comparable to what City Club Missoula could become.

The idea of City Club Missoula sprung out of Missoula on the Move, an economic forum sponsored by the mayor’s office, the Center for the Rocky Mountain West, the University of Montana, Montana Community Development Corporation, Missoula County, and others.

“This principally came up as a way to communicate, not as a way to educate,” said Chief Administrative Officer Janet Stevens for the City of Missoula. “I hope this is an opportunity for us to start working together and learning from each other so we can make Missoula a better place for us all.”

Eugene, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Denver, and Cleveland have had active city clubs for several decades.

The clubs have proven successful at bringing interesting speakers, facilitating networking among community members, as well as encouraging dialogue, said Barbara Koostra from the podium. She envisioned the club to be financed by membership dues and sponsors.

After each speaker, the participants were encouraged to discuss their thoughts and ideas around the ten or so tables in the room.

“It’s hard to maintain autonomy if the industry helps with financing,” a concerned lawyer said.

“I think that’s a legitimate concern,” another agreed.
“Are we competing with local government, or are we augmenting government?” a nurse wanted to know.

“City Hall is for solving problems. City Club should create visions,” a business owner offered.

“So, it looks for pot holes before they develop?” the nurse said.

“Exactly. It’s an opportunity for learning in a common forum, and then go back and influence our other organizations.”

“It takes time to set up a club like this,” said President Steve Witz of St. Patrick Hospital afterwards. “We all heard legitimate concerns around our tables today, and that’s good. I’d like to see the city club being developed and I’d very much like to be a part of it.”

“I thought it was a good first meeting,” said former Rep. Pat Williams, now of the Center for the Rocky Mountain West. “The club still needs to figure out what it is and where it wants to go. Ideally, it will ultimately help Missoula define itself.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Holiday Inn Parkside in Missoula. For more information contact any of the members of the initial organizing committee:

Barbara Koostra [email protected]

Claire Olivier [email protected]

Tom Benson [email protected]

Sue Talbot [email protected]

Dan Kemmis [email protected]

Russ Fletcher [email protected]


Article by Eric Segalstad – (303) 775-0056 [email protected]

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