Following the first attempt to remove several elected Upper Arlington leaders from office, some of those who were targets of the recall are hopeful they can find ways to agree to disagree with their constituents.

Following the first attempt to remove several elected Upper Arlington leaders from office, some of those who were targets of the recall are hopeful they can find ways to agree to disagree with their constituents.

"Just sitting down and talking is the important part of it," said Kip Greenhill, council's vice president and one of four members faced with a recall vote on Aug. 23. "I'm not talking about just the opposition. I think it's got to be the entire community."

In addition to Greenhill, Upper Arlington City Council members John C. Adams, David DeCapua and Debbie Johnson warded off a historic recall attempt by the citizens group, UA for Accountability.

Though it was a victory for the council members -- unofficial Franklin County Board of Elections results showed approximately 60 percent of those who voted opposed the recall -- the special election and events leading to it exposed deep divides in the community.

Even while the votes were being counted, some who faced recall said they needed to find ways to move forward together with residents.

Greenhill said dialogues with residents, regardless of their ages or politics, would lead to finding commonalities and building relationships. He said that could foster respect and help people listen to each other when they disagree.

"When we walk away, I'm OK and you're OK, but we still disagree," he said. "I think it's important to have relationships with people."

Johnson, council's president, expressed frustration throughout the recall campaign and said those feelings were compounded by the volatile and adversarial nature of public meetings.

"I've said all along it wasn't that we didn't listen, it's just we didn't agree," she said.

She's interested in reaching out to ministers and other groups in Upper Arlington and beyond in hopes of fostering civility.

CAC experiences

Johnson pointed to Positively Clintonville, which was established in June 2012 to address heated rhetoric between residents and community leaders in that Columbus neighborhood.

Nancy Kuhel, a CAC member who co-founded Positively Clintonville, said the concept was a "civility movement" with a mission of fostering "a positive culture of civility and understanding" to strengthen that community.

She noted group leaders began working with Ted Celeste's Next Generation, a project of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, and learned about "nonviolent communication."

Positively Clintonville then held community meetings and other events to bring people on different sides of various issues together to talk rationally about their views.

"Initially, we presented a civility training by Ted Celeste (to the CAC)," Kuhel said. "A couple people on that commission were just outraged that we suggested they needed more civil behavior.

"We were very clear that being civil doesn't mean you have to agree on everything, but you can be polite, you can hear people out."

Kuhel said she believes initiatives like Positively Clintonville and Next Generation are helping, and she hopes it spreads.

"We'd love to get together and talk about what we could bring to Arlington," she said. "I'd love to speak with them and see if there's anything we could do."

Seeking respect

Steven Buser, a member of UA for Accountability, was among residents who debated for nearly a year about whether to move forward with the recall. Respect is a word that he uses often in recounting why the citizens group pursued recall, which he said was a "last resort."

Buser said last week he and other UA for Accountability members felt like they were dismissed and accused of misdeeds for questioning city officials' proposals and decisions.

"We weren't protesting. We were simply attending meetings we were asked to attend, and (council) just toed the party line. If you asked any questions at all, you were being divisive and got no answers."

Buser said he and those like him want honesty and transparency from city leaders, and they want to be treated with respect even when they oppose city plans.

He added he's "very encouraged" by remarks from some on council that public officials and residents should work toward greater diplomacy and civility.

Exercises to that end could be helpful, Buser said.

But he added he thinks public meetings and standard modes of democracy should be adequate venues.

"I don't think it's that big of a puzzle and you can allow citizens to have input, even in a traditional way," he said. "Allow them to provide input and ask questions without them being labeled divisive.

"I would even accept an explanation of, 'We're going to make your life worse, but it's because of this relevant need.'"

Setting priorities

Stephen Gavazzi, an Ohio State University professor of education and human ecology, said reconciliation must be the top priority of all residents, with appropriate time set aside to nurture that relationship and ensure that each side feels respected. The key, he said, is developing individual relationships that lead to trust, understanding and respect.

"If you disagree, you say, 'I'm going to be OK with that because I know I was dealt with fairly and with respect,'" Gavazzi said. "You get to a place where you're not feeling embattled because you have a dialogue."

"You have to get over the hurt," he said. "Harmonious relationships are ones where you always are working on the relationship."

Positively Clintonville has held discussions at churches because people tend to be less disruptive or rude in places of worship, Kuhel said.

"A lot of communities across the country are going through this," she said. "We're focusing on the positive so that we're not rehashing the old stuff over and over again.

"What we're seeing is more people coming because they feel safe to share their thoughts. Don't get me wrong: It's not all ponies over here, but what we're seeing is more people coming and more people treating people with respect."

Columbus Dispatch reporter Kimball Perry contributed to this story.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekNate