Franklin County Children Services has abandoned the controversial staff training sessions run by The Forum, the agency's board of directors announced yesterday.
A statement drafted by the board behind closed doors decried publicity that has erupted over the three-day Forum sessions which critics have described as cult-like.
Because of negative news reports, the statement said, "We seriously doubt that there will be future requests by staff to participate in The Forum."
Ruth Mount, chairwoman of the board, said she is confident no more staff members will be sent to The Forum. She said drafting the statement during a 70-minute, closed-door session did not violate the state's open-meeting law.
Jeffrey L. Glasgow, assistant Franklin County prosecutor, said the board may have acted legally because it merely drafted a news release and did not take formal action.
However, Glasgow cautioned that the executive session "falls within a gray area." County agencies before should consult the prosecutor's office before recessing into private sessions to discuss controversial issues, Glasgow said.
The Forum is an offshoot of EST, a self-awareness movement founded in California in 1971 by Werner Erhard, who is believed to have left the country amid numerous lawsuits and tax liens.
The est movement included encounter sessions that used an authoritarian indoctrination meant to help people free themselves from conventional ideas and transform their lives. In 1983, Erhard retired est and created The Forum, considered to be a watered-down form of est.
Est was characterized by a boot-camp approach, including insults, long hours on hard chairs without bathroom breaks, and psychological and emotional manipulation.
The Forum is a somewhat gentler approach, but its critics say the hard chairs, long hours and manipulation remain.
Margaret Sandberg, Children services executive director, attended a three-day Forum session in mid-1990. Since then, she has sent 20 managers to similar sessions at cost to taxpayers of $4,800.
"From the feedback that we have gotten, we have no reason to believe that it (The Forum) was anything but productive," Mount said yesterday.
"The board does not approve individual training sessions. I was not aware, nor were any of the board members and executive staff, that Erhard was part of it initially. It is my understanding that he has not been (recently involved)."
Both the management and board are "sensitive to the concerns of members of the community," Mount said.
Sandberg told reporters her staff would continue to work at improving skills. She said she did not know Erhard had been involved in The Forum.