First a public building, next inevitably it will be public housing, and then you can kiss Whetstone Park goodbye.

First a public building, next inevitably it will be public housing, and then you can kiss Whetstone Park goodbye.

So went the argument put forth three decades ago by those vehemently opposed to a proposal to combine two small branch libraries into a large one serving Clintonville.

Dave Penniman was living in the neighborhood at the time, and he recalls the "vicious rumors" that were circulated about the planned consolidation. With an advanced degree in communication, mostly relating to how people communicate with computers, Penniman joined with others in trying to demonstrate that the public-housing notion was a "preposterous thing."

"I missed the fruits of the labor, which was that wonderful library that we have now," Penniman, now retired and once again a Clintonville resident, said last week. "I do remember how rumors were used as a method to counteract that."

Penniman left Columbus for a career that included stints as president and CEO of the Council on Library and Information Resources Inc. and the American Society for Information Science and Technology. He also was a faculty member at the University of Tennessee and in September 2001 was named dean of the State University of New York University at Buffalo School of Informatics.

Penniman and his wife, Charlotte Ann, returned to the community where they had raised their children after his retirement. Shortly before they returned, Dave Penniman said he was doing some consulting work in central Ohio, and a friend suggested he might be interested in the fledgling Positively Clintonville movement, then a nascent idea being explored by a task force created in June by the area commission's chairman, Daniel B. Miller.

"It struck a resonant chord with me, because even though it was 30 years ago, I remember the acrimony around the move to create the Whetstone Library," Penniman said.

He became a member of the task force and undertook research into similar efforts elsewhere.

"Having a focus on civility is not a unique idea," Nancy Kuhel, the CAC member in charge of the task force, wrote in a recent press release. "Like other communities including Cincinnati, Akron, Duluth (Minn.) and Oshkosh (Wis.), concerned citizens of Clintonville have begun a grass-roots movement demonstrating a commitment to civil discourse. A recent workshop, sponsored by Positively Clintonville volunteers and facilitated by (former state Rep.) Ted Celeste, a nationally recognized consultant in this area, attracted over a dozen participants to begin spreading the word on this local initiative."

But why is there a need for civility training? What's the source of all the incivility?

"A couple of things are going on," Penniman said. "One is this kind of cold media (i.e., email and earlier faxes) that allows you to say things you wouldn't do otherwise, and probably the lack of ability to negotiate sticky issues."

In politics and increasingly in the real world, the retired professor added, factions on either side of an issue no longer seem to seek common ground, but rather the approach is, "Let's beat the bastards down."

"I think that people just don't know how to resolve issues in a way that's productive, and that's a shortcoming that I think can be overcome with some training, if they're willing to be open to the training," he said. "It's a pretty universal issue, in many ways. Instead of trying to overwhelm the other party, let's try to listen to them and have some empathy for their point of view."

Plans for the upcoming year include additional workshops led by volunteer facilitators trained by Celeste and the Center for Compassionate Communication, distribution of guidelines for civil discourse and conflict resolution, and engagement of local businesses and organizations to endorse the concept of creating a kind and respectful community, a place where people want to visit, spend time and live, Kuhel wrote.

For more information about the volunteer group Positively Clintonville, email her at or call 614-288-8532.