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$3,500 Session Teaches Council About Courtesy : Ventura: Officials get a refresher course in communication after bickering at meetings.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After a $3,500 session with a communications specialist, the seven members of the Ventura City Council say they now have the tools to learn how to address each other with proper courtesy.

“Exchanging information is an intellectual act of love,” consultant Arch Lustberg told the council members, who were gathered in a conference room at the Holiday Inn Thursday night for the session.

“When you are made intellectual love to, you like the person who’s talking to you, and you get his message,” Lustberg told them, as he began blowing kisses toward the council members.

The city leaders were impressed.

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“I was intrigued,” Mayor Richard Francis said. “Communications is my background, but it’s always interesting how another top professional approaches the problem. There are a lot of basics that one forgets, and this turned out to be a refresher course in those basics.”

Councilman Todd Collart was even more enthusiastic.

“He gave us tools to improve our communications,” he said. “I hope it will end the fighting, but that ultimately depends on each individual council member.”

Deputy Mayor Don Villeneuve agreed, adding that just as important as the new techniques learned was the fact that all seven council members showed up for the lesson.

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That, said Villeneuve, means they are all committed to improving their interpersonal relationships.

Even Councilman Jim Monahan, who initially was skeptical, changed his mind after Thursday’s counseling session.

“It was worth it; Lustberg had some good pointers,” Monahan said.

The city’s governing body in recent months had seen its effectiveness blunted and its popularity plummet because of bickering among its members and occasional sharp-tongued comments by council members to public speakers.

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Most of the council members’ public fighting has centered around growth issues, with exchanges between Monahan, who is pro-growth, and his slow-growth colleagues, especially Villeneuve and Francis, that at times have resembled verbal brawls.

Francis said Lustberg, who was hired for one session with city department heads as part of ongoing training to improve their effectiveness, was asked to also address the council because its members had received numerous phone complaints about their behavior.

On Thursday, Lustberg began his presentation by attempting to provoke the ire of the council members in a series of tough interviews, lacing his questions with rude interruptions as the council members attempted to talk.

The council members didn’t lose their cool in this exercise----as they sometimes do when similar questions are posed to them during council meetings.

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“Why do you think no one has your experience and no one is worth a bean next to Jim Monahan?” Monahan was asked.

“Because it’s true,” the councilman answered as his face lit up with a smile.

“You’re a full-time attorney besides being the mayor. So who’s getting shortchanged?” Francis was asked.

“My wife,” Francis answered with a grin as his colleagues broke out in applause.

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After the grilling, and in keeping with his theme that “in the 1990s, unfortunately style is more important than substance,” Lustberg proceeded to give the council members tips on how to sit, how to stand, what to do with their hands and where to look when being addressed.

They were also told to pause and think before they speak, and to address potentially damaging questions with positive responses instead of defensive denials.

“I know the techniques I teach can be dangerous because they train people to lie effectively,” Lustberg said after the meeting, when asked whether his training would deter the council members from being outspoken and spontaneous.

“I always tell my audiences to be honest, and I can’t be responsible for what they do with my training.”

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