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Ventura Council Agrees to Try for Greater Efficiency, Less Acrimony : Government: Members vote to meet with a consultant to help streamline committee structure, eliminate divisiveness.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hoping to become a more efficient and less divisive group, the Ventura City Council agreed Monday to sit down with a consultant early next year to streamline its decision-making process.

The council voted 7 to 0 to attend a problem-solving workshop in January that will focus on how to modify the council’s committee structure, work better with city staff, and reach decisions without the acrimony that has dogged the seven-member panel during the last several years.

“I think some of the divisiveness of the council has been a result [of] processes [that] are not clear,” said City Manager Donna Landeros, who had recommended the workshop.

By agreeing to some ground rules and simplifying an often-cumbersome committee process, Landeros said, the council should be able to work together more effectively.

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“Are the committees looking at larger policy issues? Are we spending time on policy issues that staff should be handling?” Landeros asked before Monday’s meeting.

“I am not proposing the answers,” she said. “I am saying we need to pick a time . . . and talk about it then.”

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Although council members pointed to different areas that need to be addressed, they generally agreed that a workshop would be beneficial.

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“I don’t see it as problem-solving,” Councilwoman Rosa Lee Measures said. “I see it . . . as how effective we can be as a team of seven.”

After a report by Landeros and some discussion, council members agreed to meet with Ventura-based consultant Peter Brown on Jan. 20. The one-day session will cost less than $1,000, Landeros said.

In voting for the workshop, the council also agreed to hold off on appointing members to subcommittees until after the January session--a decision that outgoing Councilman Greg Carson cautioned could create a backlog of work.

“It is a heavy load for the council to take on,” he said. “Sometimes we do a better job of massaging issues before they come before the council.”

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Performance enhancement workshops are not new for the Ventura City Council. The group has attended such meetings for years, and most council members say they are a smart idea.

“It is good to set up a meeting,” Mayor Tom Buford said. “It is always worthwhile for people to sit down and come up with an agreement.”

But former Mayor Richard Francis said such a meeting only works if everyone is willing to participate. And judging from the personalities of those on the council, he said, a workshop will be useless.

“It doesn’t have a snowball’s chance,” Francis said. “There is a whole element on the council that believes that conflict works to their advantage.”

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But incumbent and incoming council members said they are eager to work together and believe a workshop will start the new group on solid footing.

“I believe it is critical,” said Councilman-elect Ray Di Guilio, who has participated in similar problem-solving workshops as a community college administrator.

“They are generally successful, at least in understanding individual perspectives so we all know what our values are,” he said.

In related business, the council Monday also approved a rigorous lesson plan aimed at teaching the two incoming councilmen the nuances of city government, while bringing them up to speed on 24 public projects.

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Over a period of six months, Di Guilio and Councilman-elect Jim Friedman will meet with at least 20 city officials and former City Council members.

Their orientation will cover a dense curriculum of city policies and procedures, and will begin after the two councilmen take office Dec. 4. The orientation program requires no additional spending since instruction will be provided by city staff.

“The whole goal,” Landeros said at the end of the meeting, “is to provide additional continuity as the council changes.”

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