Twenty-one civic leaders met for three hours Jan. 20 in the Norwich Township Safety Services Building to participate in Hilliard United, a forum designed to resolve tensions among community leaders.

Twenty-one civic leaders met for three hours Jan. 20 in the Norwich Township Safety Services Building to participate in Hilliard United, a forum designed to resolve tensions among community leaders.

The theme of the forum was "A New Start for a New Year: Life's too Short."

The participants faced each other as they sat at tables shaped in a rectangle around the meeting room. They had read materials provided by Chip Weiant, director of the American Center for Civic Character, prior to the meeting. Weiant served as the facilitator for the forum, asking each person to give their thoughts on questions such as, "How can you (and we all) be more intentional?"

Answers varied, ranging from "people need to walk the walk" and "actions speak louder than words" to "we should move on," "I don't think rehashing old wounds is productive" and "we should agree to disagree."

Mayor Don Schonhardt said, "Our best intentions, through no fault of our own, can have a negative impact on others."

"Even if you do the right things, you have to do them the right way," said Franklin County Agricultural Society secretary Tim Shade.

In the second half of the meeting, there was discussion on who should participate in future Hilliard United forums. Some thought civic leaders from Columbus and Dublin, which are in the Hilliard School District, should also participate, as well as representatives of Brown Township, parts of which are being annexed into Hilliard. Others thought there were enough representatives for now, which was where the matter was left.

"What (Hilliard United) was originally orchestrated to do was to break down the barriers, the walls and the communication gaps between community institutions," said council president Brett Sciotto. "I don't want to get hung up on school-district boundaries or city boundaries. I lean towards the mayor's position: we have plenty of people right around this table who can impact the greater good, and there are plenty of issues to begin to work on. We have a year's worth of work."

"I think it's important for all of us to try and leave things in the past," said Norwich Township trustee Chuck Buck. "What's in the past needs to stay in the past. I think one of the things we can do as a group here is to pledge to one another from this day forward, that we treat each other with honesty and respect. The other thing is we still need the process, because there are still some issues on the table."

"It's a Utopian thing to leave the past in the past," Shade said. "However, if you improperly bury garbage, it eventually produces gas that belches. You don't want that to happen. So it may be that there are things in the past that need to be carefully dealt with so that they can be given a proper disposal, and won't be so likely to come up and fester with an ugly, stinky smell."

Some noted that face-to-face discussions between aggrieved parties have yet to occur.

People on opposite sides of the table say Hilliard United was formed as an attempt to resolve conflicts between different constituencies over the years. Council came up with the idea in July, and is spending $17,000 for the first phase of the program, which ends March 1. Hilliard United first met on Dec. 9.

The Hilliard United participants agreed to meet again in February.