New City Club Provides Forum for Civic Discourse

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – This fall’s series of lectures will serve as a “beta test” for the new City Club of the Mahoning Valley to help plan what form it takes.

An offshoot of the City Club of Cleveland, the local City Club will launch with a Sept. 21 panel, Economic Development in the Mahoning Valley, the first of four programs planned this year, club leaders announced Tuesday.

The initiative had its genesis about a year ago, says planning committee member Timothy Francisco, English professor at Youngstown State University and director of YSU’s Center for Working-Class Studies.

Francisco and Phil Kidd — owner of Youngstown Nation, founder of Defend Youngstown and associate director of Youngstown CityScape – attended the National Institute for Civil Discourse Conference in Columbus, the YSU professor recalled. Seated with a “broad spectrum” of individuals from other Ohio cities representing philanthropy, business, politics and media, they noticed that many of the important connections and alliances, at least in the Cleveland area, had a common affiliation with the City Club of Cleveland.

“We were very impressed with that Cleveland contingent and the way they were talking about moving their city forward and revitalizing it,” Francisco said. Upon returning home, they pondered the possibility of establishing a local City Club, an initiative the Cleveland organization was “willing and anxious” to assist, he said.

Three other members of the planning committee – Hunter Morrison, senior fellow in urban studies at Cleveland State University; Gary Sexton, director of WYSU-FM; and Terrence Cloonan, president of the Stambaugh Auditorium board of directors – joined Francisco for a press event announcing the City Club.

Other members include Kidd; Dan Moulthrop, CEO of the City Club of Cleveland; Sarah Lowry, Northeast Ohio regional representative for U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; and Alyssa Lenhoff-Briggs, CEO of Alyssa J. Briggs & Associates.

The organizers launched the endeavor because they noticed “something about the ways in which many organizations in the Valley are coalescing with new energy and new ideas” and felt a forum for civic and public discourse was “imperative” for the region to advance, Francisco said.

“Probably the most unique feature of the City Club of Cleveland and the City Club of the Mahoning Valley is while the formats include moderated panels and even speeches, there’s always ample time for questions from the audience,” he added. “Any citizen of any stripe can ask questions of our guests.”

With Youngstown CityScape acting as the fiscal agent, the committee secured a donation of just under $5,000 for “sort of a beta test” or “series pilot” for the program, he said.

The first program’s focus on economic development reflects what is happening in the Mahoning Valley today and local concerns, Morrison said.

“Clearly it’s an issue in the upcoming election – jobs, economic development, prosperity and how to get there,” Francisco continued. “It’s on people’s minds. This allows us to get further into the details of what really is going on, what are the choices, what are the issues and what do we do about it.”

Affiliating with Cleveland’s established City Club allows the local initiative to avoid duplicating a lot of infrastructure and planning, Francisco said.

“The City Club of Cleveland is nationally recognized as a leader in civic engagement and civil discourse on a host of issues,” he continued.

The affiliation brings “a great deal” to the local initiative, Morrison affirmed.

“It brings a long history of how to do this but it also brings information and assistance in the mechanics of setting up an organization, how do you run it, how do you staff it, how do you raise funds for it,” he said. “The City Club started very modestly 100 years ago and has grown into a very respected civic institution, so we need to learn from that experience and apply that here.

“It allows us to move up the learning curve a whole lot faster than we would if we started from scratch.”

September’s economic development panel will be headlined by Jay Williams, assistant secretary for economic development in the U.S. Department of Commerce. The following month will feature a panel on Ohio presidential politics featuring statewide political reporters. In November, Marilyn Geewax, senior business editor for National Public Radio and a Valley native, will discuss the potential impact of the newly elected president’s platform on the local and national economies.

In addition to the announced programs for September, October and November, the committee hopes to stage a forum on public education. Following the pilot series, the organizers will assess what worked and what the organization’s governing structure needs city to be, and move forward on that basis, Francisco said.

“We may replicate the City Club of Cleveland structure or we may need to modify that for a smaller scale and something that’s more manageable here in the Mahoning Valley,” he continued. It will be structured as a not-for-profit organization, he said.

The Sept. 21 program, which will take place at Stambaugh Auditorium, will begin with dinner at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at the auditorium website or by calling the box office at 330 259 0555.

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