Organization to honor founder with its inaugural Pat Glass Awards

MANATEE COUNTY — A decade ago, the Manatee Tiger Bay Club got its start with retired County Commissioner Pat Glass serving as its first moderator for monthly forums that often tackled difficult and controversial issues.

The organization, which now has about 175 members, intends to celebrate its 10th anniversary with an Inaugural Pat Glass Awards Dinner on Nov. 21.

Although Wikipedia.com claims the first Tiger Bay Club formed in Miami in 1964, the Florida-based clubs — all of which are independent of each other — tend to cite the original club as being founded in Tallahassee in 1971, with its first meeting hosted by then-Gov. Reubin Askew. Precisely how term "Tiger Bay" got chosen is unclear, especially since Tallahassee has no bayfront.

Since then, clubs have sprouted across the state including Sarasota Tiger Bay — which started in 1982, faltered and renewed itself in 1984 — and the South County club, which formed in 2007 and is based in Venice.

The Manatee club’s luncheons, depending on the topic, often attract capacity audiences. Panelists are chosen to express diverse and often conflicting views. Topics have included local elections, health care, affordable housing, same-sex marriage, animal welfare, growth and development — and an upcoming, sure to be lively discussion about immigration.

The organization takes a strictly non-partisan stance and its leadership includes Democrats, Republicans and local residents with no party affiliation. That, its members say, is precisely its appeal.

“My time as moderator was thrilling, as I believe Manatee Tiger Bay is one of the most meaningful clubs in the county,” Manatee County Commissioner Misty Servia said. “It was rewarding to know that our monthly discussions helped local leaders to form opinions on timely community issues. The advantage of a non-partisan club is that members can hear a balanced discussion on important topics and hopefully leave with a better understanding of the right way to tackle them to benefit our community.”

“I joined the Manatee Tiger Bay Club a few years ago because it was one of the very few meeting forums that covered different sides and viewpoints of issues facing our community,” said Steve Vernon, president of the Lakewood Ranch Republican Club, director of the Florida Citizens Alliance (a nonprofit promoting education reform) and a former candidate for the state Legislature. “The biggest strength of the club is its diversity of inclusion and it gives the people of Manatee a spectrum of perspectives.”

Ben Bakker, a real estate agent who served as president and moderator for a year, said he admires “the level of mutual respect given to all platforms and views in regards to sociopolitical topics that affect us all on a local level. It never got disrespectful or contentious. There are never any ‘Jerry Springer’ moments in Manatee Tiger Bay. Because it’s a room full of differing opinions that know how to have civil discourse and mutual respect. All with all the partisan vitriol we witness in government on a daily basis, it’s refreshing to know that our community knows how to have productive and respectful political discussions. It makes me proud of my hometown.”

At its upcoming anniversary dinner, the club intends to present its inaugural Pat Glass Awards — in honor of its founder and honorary board member - to area residents who are regarded as community leaders.

The recipients will be: Glass, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, State College of Florida President Carol Probstfeld, John and Amanda Horne of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Rick Yocum of the Humane Society of Manatee County, Manatee Community Foundation Executive Director Susie Bowie and Manatee Educational Television station manager Charles Clapsaddle.

Xtavia Bailey, the club’s current president, said the awards dinner will serve as “an introduction of a new chapter” as the organization goes into its second decade. “In the future we would like to possibly give out scholarships and encourage more young people to become engaged.”