Hardesty: Training is paying off

Alice Hardesty said Monday that she considered resigning from the Ashland City Council last year, but that was before councilors began training sessions to teach them how to work together more cooperatively.

Hardesty was appointed to the City Council to fill out the unexpired term of her late husband Jack and ran unopposed in 2006. She said the council has made significant strides since their sessions began with Ashland author and motivational speaker Rick Kirschner.

"There have been times about a year ago when I was so frustrated that I thought 'how am I going to make it through the rest of my term?' but that was not often, and also things have gotten so much better," Hardesty said in an interview Monday.

Hardesty first raised the idea of hiring Kirschner, according to an earlier interview with Mayor John Morrison. The decision to pay Kirschner $37,000 was met with fierce resistance from many Ashland residents, who packed a council meeting last fall to complain. The story about the City Council's strife and the decision to hire a councilor made the national news in a USA Today article.

But Hardesty said the decision was the correct one. She noted that the once rancorous City Council is more congenial and is working together more efficiently. She said the once-a-month sessions councilors spend with Kirschner as a group and the individual sessions councilors spend with Kirschner is time and taxpayer money well spent.

"The training and coaching we're getting from Rick has been wonderful for everybody," Hardesty said. "We still have differing opinions, but we have a much more efficient way of expressing them."

Kirschner said his aim is not to stifle healthy debate among councilors, but to help them communicate with each other more effectively. He said the assumption that residents ought to be prepared to sit on a city council without some preparation is unrealistic.

"There is a lot more pressure on local government than there used to be and people have a lot less confidence in government than they used to have," Kirchner said. "The amount of information and the amount of work and the pace of change of itself are combining to create a perfect storm and the result is dysfunctional city councils all over the country."

He said the Ashland City Council is not alone, but what makes the city unique is that councilors here are addressing their collective issues.

"We seem to be making good progress in building bridges and getting a process ironed out that is respectful and functional," said Kirschner, a naturopathic physician by training and author of seven books, including "Dealing with People You Can't Stand."

The city is paying Kirschner $37,000 for five months of group and individual sessions with councilors, a figure he said is far less compensation than he would receive for comparable work for corporate clients.

Kirschner said he took on the project because he loves Ashland.

"From my point of view, I am not getting paid nearly enough," Kirschner said. "I get paid at least double this for a project of this size anywhere else."

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.

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