The seminar offered to teach such skills as "establishing credibility," "maintaining good relations" and "nonverbal communications," so it seemed only natural that one of its star students was a politician who has had more than one brush with controversy -- Prince George's County Executive Lawrence Hogan.
It was not any encounter group that Hogan was attending in this pleasant colonial city, however, but something much more practical. Along with other municipal officials from the South and the East, Hogan spent two days here learning the tactics of preparing for strikes.
Having led Prince George's through its first strike and well aware that his relations with county unions have become strained of late, Hogan said he thought the seminar "might give us some ideas" for the future. What exactly he and the others learned will remain a mystery to the public to be incorporated into the county's highly secret strike contingency plans, he said.
The seminar, a small, closed-door affair that costs $250 a person, was sponsored by a Washington-based publishing group called Federal Publications, which organizes a wide variety of seminars.
The event this week attracted about 20 or so lawyers and government officials who, like Hogan, hoped to combine business and pleasure in Williamsburg. In Hogan's case, he and his wife Ilona used the opportunity to revisit the city in which they were married over six years ago.
According to an official at Federal Publications, the seminar is held at various locations around the country and teaches participants "how to deal with a strike or to keep essential services going during a strike." The course's goal is to create a "happy labor environment," the official said.
The seminar deals with such topics as typical employe grievances, the "personalities" of various public sector unions and what to do when negotiations fail and a strike is imminent.
Hogan's attendance at the meeting had been whispered about for days by disgruntled county workers who had struck against the county for 11 days in August. They called the siminar a further sign of what they say is Hogan's "union-busting" aims.
However, according to Ron Favre, a New Orleans lawyer who taught the two-day class, the siminar "is not an antiunion thing, no way. This is to inform [public officials] what their limitations are and what their options are."
Public employe unions and strikes have been a preoccupation of Hogan's since February when his contract struggle with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employes exploded into public view.
The struggle culminated this past summer in the county's first public employes strike, an acrimonious and highly publicized event that ended only after the union abandoned its picketing and returned to work with no concessions from the Hogan administration.
The issues in that strike, all of which were noneconomic, are still unresolved and have been brought to Maryland's highest court for resolution.
Hogan was accused of having violated county labor laws in his handling of the strike, a charge that a county circuit court judge upheld, but which Hogan is hoping the state's high court will strike down.
Hogan is also facing tense relations and the possibility of more strikes or job actions in the year ahead as his administration begins negotiating new contracts with every major union in the county.
While Hogan said he was pleased with his administration's response to the AFSCME strike this summer, he said that as a result of the seminar, "next time we'll have a better strike contengency plan prepared." Which is not to say, he quickly added, that he expects or wants another strike.