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Word Wars I and II Fuel Ventura City Hall Turmoil

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With council members flinging curses and cookies around their chambers and the city manager accusing a gadfly of sexually harassing a secretary, Ventura City Hall has been less than peaceful lately.

A long-smoldering feud between Mayor Richard Francis and Councilman Jim Monahan flared during this week’s council meeting when Monahan shouted, “Shut your damn mouth” after Francis cut him off.

And City Manager John Baker says one of his female employees was the subject of a sexual remark by council critic Ray Russum, who has denied making such a remark and told Baker in a letter, “Shut your lying mouth.”

Baker said he and Russum, who has threatened a lawsuit over the allegation, are planning to meet next week to discuss the alleged remark.

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In the case of Francis and Monahan, many council members said they are hoping that the static between the two will simply die away on its own.

The two have often sparred when Monahan, an unabashedly pro-business councilman, has found himself on the losing side of 6-1 votes in a council dominated by slow-growth members.

But Monahan’s and Francis’ ideological differences escalated into a sniping match Monday as the council discussed the status of beach volleyball courts at the foot of Seaward Avenue that were bulldozed last year for a state dune-reclamation project.

When Monahan asked City Manager Baker to describe plans to replace the courts, Councilman Gary Tuttle offered to explain.

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Francis gave Tuttle the floor.

Monahan protested, “I addressed the question to Mr. Baker.”

But Francis said, “I’ll control who speaks, but Mr. Tuttle, you’re a council member, you get priority over the city manager.”

When Tuttle began explaining that the city is planning to discuss the project soon with state parks officials and the Coastal Commission, Monahan stalked into the anteroom behind council chambers.

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There, he angrily upset a tray of cookies, Monahan said.

Monahan retook his seat. Tuttle finished speaking.

“I appreciate the fact that you actually did something rather than just bitch about it,” Francis told Tuttle in a remark that he later admitted was a dig at Monahan.

As he spoke, Monahan blurted, “Would you shut your damn mouth and let me ask a question?”

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Monahan, a former mayor of Ventura, explained his anger Wednesday.

“He would not let the city manager answer my question,” Monahan said. “I couldn’t believe it, the audience couldn’t believe it. . . . They’ve got me outnumbered six to one, and it seems as though when I bring up a subject matter they want to shove it right down my throat.”

But Francis said, “This is not a fight between me and Jim, Jim has purposely alienated the whole council.”

Francis said that two sessions 18 months ago with consultants on professional courtesy, which cost the city $7,000, have failed to temper Monahan’s personality.

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“It’s his political objective to discredit this council and if he has to do it in a kamikaze fashion, that’s what he’s going to do,” Francis said. “I think it really comes down to a matter of self-control for Mr. Monahan on a number of personal fronts.”

Other council members lamented the bad light that the officials’ tiff casts on the council.

“I was embarrassed and I’m sure that most of the council was, and I think that a lot of people watching it were embarrassed,” Councilman John McWherter said.

“I’m very disappointed in the conduct that has taken place, the foul language and everything else, and it’s certainly not something I hope continues,” Tuttle said. “I think that for the last two years, Monahan’s goal has been to disrupt the council wherever possible because he feels that by making us look bad there will be changes in the next election.”

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Monahan shrugged off that charge. “I think that we’re always going to have clashes on certain subjects that you disagree on,” he said. “I don’t think that you’re supposed to sit there and bite your tongue if you disagree.”

Meanwhile, council critic Russum said he does not know what he said to offend the secretary working for Baker. Baker has refused to name the city employee or repeat the remark Russum allegedly made to her.

“The only thing I could think of,” Russum said, “was I said, ‘You’re a beautiful young woman.’ ” He said he told a friend accompanying him, “In that dress, she looks just like my wife when she was that age.”

But Baker said that Russum made a specific reference to a part of the woman’s anatomy, and that he plans to tell Russum next week why the woman was offended.

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