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Be Heard at Friday Forums

Friday Forums will spark county dialogue



Jim Wood

Regular readers know this column’s tag line: “That’s my point of view. What’s yours?” I believe many people in Marin want to know what others in the county are thinking. It may surprise you, but I’m referring to those who hold key positions, like the general manager of our water district, a county supervisor, or the head of a group wanting to build workforce housing. Based on my experience, they truly want to know what you’re thinking. They want feedback.

However, except for formally convened (and often laborious) official meetings, I don’t sense much civic dialogue occurring within the county. There are few places where the so-called movers and shakers can interact with the ones they hope to move and shake—and vice versa. There are not enough opportunities wherein you can personally talk with a city mayor, an organic farmer or rancher, or the CEO of a successful enterprise, be it commercial or nonprofit.

A new group named Friday Forums hopes to change that. Put together by a number of Marin citizens, including Gary Tobin, Elissa Giambastiani and Bonnie Nixon Gardiner, Friday Forums will be a monthly opportunity for members of the public to connect on matters of local concern. (Full disclosure: I am also one of the founders, but the group has no other connection to Marin Magazine.) There is no political or commercial agenda. The mood will be upbeat, inquisitive and community oriented. Anyone wanting to attack, accuse or rant in any way won’t feel welcome. If Friday Forums has a mantra, it’s this: “to learn about—and discuss—Marin’s countywide issues.”

In order to work out kinks, Friday Forums has held a few dry runs in front of limited, word-of-mouth-driven audiences. Those gatherings dealt with last June’s primary election, Marin General Hospital and Marin Clean Energy (all three speakers will reappear in the future). Now the concept is ready to play to a wider Marin audience.

Scheduled Friday Forum appearances include Dr. Tom Peters, president and CEO of the Marin Community Foundation (September 19), San Rafael Mayor Al Boro speaking on the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit, aka SMART (October 31), and Fairfax resident Susan Kennedy, chief of staff to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, discussing state issues pertinent to Marin (November 21). Others soon to be scheduled include Marin Municipal Water District General Manager Paul Helliker, Marin IJ political columnist Dick Spotswood, and Marin Health Care District CEO Lee Domanico.

Friday Forums will meet at noon on a Friday of each month for 90 minutes—half an hour for lunch, same for the speaker, and 30 minutes more for discussion between speaker and those attending. Due to its central location, the luncheons will be held at Jason’s in the Drake’s Landing Office Park near the Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Highway 101 interchange in Greenbrae. The fee is $40, which covers lunch and the expense of an independent administrator informing members of upcoming meetings, tallying responses and coordinating with the restaurant.

Anyone who attends a Friday Forum is considered a member. Members of the media are welcome, but remarks made at meetings are off the record. If you promise to attend (via e-mail) but fail to do so without canceling at least 48 hours in advance, you’ll be charged the $40.

If Friday Forums interest you and you are ready to commit to the September 19 luncheon discussion with Dr. Tom Peters of the Marin Community Foundation, e-mail your response to friday.forums@gmail.com. Attendance is limited to the first 100 people who respond. You will be notified by September 2 if you were among the first 100. Meeting reminders will be emailed on September 12. All e-mail responses will be retained so you can be notified of future meetings (and Friday Forums won’t use your e-mail address for any other reason). If demand justifies it, additional meetings will be arranged.

Marin County can use a more involved, two-way personal approach in addressing its countywide issues. That’s my point of view. What’s yours?

E-mail jwood@marinmagazine.com.

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