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Rotary Club Lunch Tab Becomes a Hot Potato at Beverly Hills Council Meeting

October 18, 1987|JOHN L. MITCHELL | Times Staff Writer

Who picks up the tab for lunch is not the kind of issue that normally makes the Beverly Hills City Council fighting mad.

However, the recent suggestion that the city foot the bill for a lunch to be given by the all-male Beverly Hills Rotary Club has some City Council members outraged.

The council balked when Councilman Robert K. Tanenbaum asked that the city pay for a $325 lunch for 25 French businessmen and their wives from the city's French sister city, Cannes. The delegation will be in Beverly Hills on Nov. 15.

"The Rotary Club? You want me to vote to pay for a lunch given by the Rotary Club?" said an outraged Councilwoman Donna Ellman during a council meeting last week.

Objected to Policy

"A sexist organization!" snapped Councilman Maxwell Salter. "How many women (members) do you have?"

Ellman and Salter took exception to the male-only policy at the Rotary Club, which the U. S. Supreme Court struck down in May. The justices ruled 7 to 0 that private groups whose activities are public and linked to business have no constitutional right to exclude women.

Tanenbaum, who also serves on the board of the Beverly Hills Rotary, said that the court's ruling was fortunate and added that "our club and others will be having women as members."

He said the luncheon was planned to reciprocate for a similar gathering held by the Cannes Rotary Club earlier this year, which Tanenbaum and Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury attended.

"The (French) delegation should be welcomed by their fellow business people in this community," he said.

Salter interjected: "I think you ought to make note that these are fellow businessmen, not fellow business people."

Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro said she supported the idea of the city paying for the luncheon.

"It is great for Beverly Hills that people from Cannes are coming to visit," she said. "This is exactly what we are after."

The heated exchange over the luncheon tab came after a series of equally volatile discussions involving Greystone Mansion and who would pay for a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored trip to Finland.

During an earlier study session, Tanenbaum and Salter tangled over the manner in which lease negotiations were being handled for the city-owned Greystone Mansion.

During one round, Tanenbaum called Salter "an intellectual and moral cretin." Salter said he would never hold a conversation with Tanenbaum unless a third person was present.

And before that, Tanenbaum successfully derailed a plan for the city to pay for Stansbury and his wife to take the trip to Finland, saying it would be an improper use of city funds.

During the discussion of the luncheon, Stansbury, himself a Rotary member, said he would not vote on the matter unless he got more information from the Rotary. "We have to get to the board and find out what the truth is," Stansbury said.

Tanenbaum reponded by accusing the mayor of trying to "impugn my integrity."

One Final Comment

There was a pause and the issue seemed to end there. Then Salter wanted one final word: "I just want to add one thing: As soon as the Rotary Club has it first female member, I will be delighted to participate in any activities with Rotary."

Tanenbaum said, "You wanted to be a member of the Rotary Club, but you were rejected. The Rotary Club does a lot of good. I think it is a cheap shot for someone to take on Rotary, particularly someone who wanted to get in and was rejected."

Then Stansbury jumped in: "You brought this up in public and on television when you are the one who rigged the membership committee that caused that. You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Tanenbaum countered: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Ben, as a Rotarian, to suggest that I have influenced the Rotarians of Beverly Hills, who are made up of stalwart members of the business community."

"They used to be good members of the community," Stansbury said.

"Well maybe you should withdraw yourself from the club and resign," Tanenbaum said.

With that, the council adjourned without deciding who would pay for the lunch.

Of the 107 members in the Beverly Hills Rotary Club, none are women, said Walther Puffer, the club's chairman. Puffer said he is seeking qualified women to become members.

"But you don't just join Rotary, you are invited," he said. "There are qualified women in the community who meet all the regulations set in the bylaws, and we will bring them in."

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