Ashland City Council agrees to get therapy

ASHLAND — They're openly disrespectful of each other. They curse and bicker regularly in public. They disagree on almost everything. But now they've agreed to see a counselor for a second shot at their broken relationship.

This isn't a marriage on the outs; it's the Ashland City Council.

Starting next week they'll put their future collaboration in the hands of an Ashland naturopath who counsels corporations and cable news channels on conflict resolution and adapting to change.

Rick Kirschner will lead the council in the first of a five-month series of therapy sessions on Oct. 6, for which the city's taxpayers will pay Kirschner $37,000.

Kirschner has written several books about the art of persuasion and human relationships, including "Dealing With People You Can't Stand - How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst."

The council's cry for help was highlighted once again Tuesday night when Councilman David Chapman told Councilman Eric Navickas to "shut your f——— mouth" during a formal discussion about council rules at a special session.

"I just lost my temper," Chapman said Wednesday. "He's lost his temper with me before. We kind of take turns."

Chapman said he "had the floor" and Navickas was muttering comments to him.

Navickas "does it all the time," Chapman said. "He makes snide little remarks under his breath. Eric does his own little needling, and I just got irritated.

"I'm not very happy about it. It's not the way I prefer to act. I don't know if I'm embarrassed, but I wish I didn't say that."

Chapman said he was frustrated that they've made little progress on the council rules issue despite a year of meetings.

Navickas called the incident with Chapman "very disturbing. I countered one of his points in a very civil tone. The forum was fairly open and the conversation was free-flowing. But he cut me off ... ."

Navickas said he has lost his temper at public meetings as well, but said, "I can't think of a time in a public meeting where I've used that strong of language towards another councilor. There is definitely emotional attachment for certain issues, for instance Mount Ashland, but throwing profanities out during a public meeting is not acceptable behavior especially when conversation is entirely civil."

Councilman Russ Silbiger, who ran Tuesday's meeting because Mayor John Morrison was absent, said Chapman's language was inappropriate. But he said Navickas has been guilty of similar acts of socially unacceptable behavior.

"Eric has a habit of speaking out of turn, and he's said things, too," Silbiger said. "He hasn't sworn, but he does tend to push buttons.

"He's made some fairly dismissive comments about others before. He once called (former Ashland Mayor) Cathy Shaw a 'Nazi.'"

Chapman has walked out of two council meetings, one time yelling as he left. Both times he said he was frustrated with the way the fractured council operates.

Chapman and Navickas have had bad blood since Chapman successfully pushed a motion that directed city staff to discuss transferring to the Mount Ashland Association the U.S. Forest Service permit to operate a ski area on Mount Ashland, a hot button issue in city politics.

"Eric has decided we should not get along anymore because of Mount Ashland," Chapman said. "It's too bad because we got along fairly well before that."

Silbiger said he hopes the upcoming counseling sessions will improve things.

"Could it be any worse?" he asked. "Anyone watching any meeting can see the divisions."

Though Kirschner's guidance doesn't come cheap, Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett said the $37,000 is money well spent if it means restoring civility to the council.

"It may seem like a lot of money," she said. "But if the council doesn't function, the city doesn't function."

Bennett said the problem is bigger than just this latest clash.

"It's definitely bigger than what happened (Tuesday) night," she said. "That was a symptom.

"They don't have to like each other. But they need to figure out how to work together when they disagree. They are supposed to disagree. There is a reason there are seven of them. It's good for Ashland that they disagree. It's not about trying to get people to like each other, but they have to work together."

Robert Plain is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at 482-3456 or

Mail Tribune reporter Chris Conrad and Assistant City Editor Scott T. Smith contributed to this story.

Share This Story