Booster

'Movement' encourages Clintonville residents to keep on playing nice

Positively Clintonville members preparing residents to take civil approach to next big controversy

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When Dave Penniman left Clintonville 30 years ago, controversy raged over plans to consolidate two small branches of the Columbus Metropolitan Library into one.

The retired professor of communications and foundation executive returned to Clintonville to controversy over plans for a left-turn lane on East North Broadway.

Upon learning that a task force of the Clintonville Area Commission had been created to explore ways to bring greater civility to the discourse in the community, Penniman signed on and happily conducted research on similar efforts around the country.

"I thought that whole movement of trying to introduce civility was a pretty good idea," he said last week.

The upshot of the task force, which was led by CAC District 2 representative Nancy Kuhel, is Positively Clintonville.

It's not so much a new organization as a movement, Kuhel said.

"To be clear, it's not specifically about the CAC," she added.

Rancorous exchanges among area commission members in years past provided the impetus for seeking improved civility in the neighborhood as a whole.

"I think that Positively Clintonville arose partly because of the problems in the commission in past years," District 8 representative Kristopher Keller said. "People saw the destructive effects of acrimony and realized there was a better way. That is kind of where Positively Clintonville got some traction in that people were hoping for something better.

"People in Clintonville hope for something better out of our community and out of our leaders."

Bitter feelings between the factions for and against the East North Broadway turn lane also helped to foster an image of Clintonville as a place where people often didn't get along with one another.

To counteract that perception, Kuhel said Positively Clintonville would sponsor training sessions in 2014 and, at some point in February, a community forum on the topic of improving communication on controversial topics.

Former state Rep. Ted Celeste, who has made a sort of second career out of offering civility training to elected officials around the country, led a workshop last year for about a dozen Clintonville residents, Kuhel said.

These people will, in turn, conduct training sessions for Positively Clintonville during the coming year, she added.

"The worth of that is to help foster productive communication between people," Keller said. "It's trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, build a sense of community where we're all in this together.

"We're all living in the same community, after you get past those perceptual differences."

"Over time, you notice that people are less kind," Kuhel said. "It wasn't any one thing. It was sort of a series of things I observed or experienced, and I thought, 'What are you going to do about it?' and I got some nice people together to do something about it.

"It's very clear that's not specific to Clintonville," she said. "Places all across the country and the world are starting to say, 'Hey, look at what we're doing, look at how we're behaving -- what can we do about it?'

"It's not a thing with meetings and board members and all. What we're really focused on is creating a movement with a mission of creating a culture of civility."

Penniman, who served on the CAC's civility task force along with Shirley Hyatt and Susan Wallace, said Positively Clintonville has submitted proposals for funding to pay for additional workshops on civility for neighborhood residents.

"Our hope is, before the next issue comes along, whether it's a new Whetstone library or another left-turn lane on North Broadway, we'll have the tools in place to deal with a knotty issue in a more-effective way," he said.

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