Friends of the Ledges - Update - June 13, 2002

Last evening the Wilmington Selectboard passed a broad language anti-nudity ordinance with a vote of 4-1. There was no public discussion allowed at this meeting.

Selectboard proponents of the ordinance stated the same concerns about lewd behavior and widespread nudity of jet skiers and boaters around the lake. It is interesting that these proponents are not users of the lake and cite second hand reports. Selectman Penson, the only opponent to the ordinance indicated that as a user of the lake he perceived no problems that required such an ordinance. At the close of last season the consensus of the board was equal to that of Penson and the only thing that has changed at the lake since that time is the water level.

Now the good news! Before an ordinance passed by a selectboard becomes law it must meet a set of conditions of voter approval. Nudity can not be outlawed for at least 60 more days, as would be a "worst case scenario" from last evening's action. TRADITIONAL CLOTHING OPTIONAL USE OF THE LEDGES WILL BE LEGAL UNTIL AT LEAST EARLY AUGUST, MOST LIKELY THROUGHOUT THE SEASON, AND WITH A STRONG CHANCE FOREVER. Neither the lawmaking process nor the battle to follow should this become law is close from being over. DON'T CANCEL YOUR VACATION PLANS OR SUMMER RENTALS!

Here is roughly how the process works. A petitioning period of 44 days is required in which 5% of the registered voters of Wilmington can petition to bring the new law to public vote for approval. If 5% do not petition in this manner an ordinance would become law 60 days from the time the Selectboard voted, which carries into early August. If 5% of voters petition against the ordinance the entire matter goes to public vote that may be part of a special election or at a regular town meeting and the majority of registered voters must vote to pass the ordinance.

Based on local turnout and local citizen opposition indicated last evening, we can be reasonably sure that 5% of the voters will petition against this ordinance and that it will need to be voted upon by general population. We are told that 5% is only 87 voters and best guess indicates that about 25 of those voters were at last evenings meeting. A couple of local voters, users of the lake and Ledges and highly respected citizens of the community have offered to initiate the petition. There is no doubt a campaign by locals will be the most effective means of obtaining this vote and that other than offer assistance in behind the scenes legwork there is little that Friends of Ledges can do to help this situation. A few locals polled outside of the meeting indicated that they would support a petition because they disapprove of the manner in which the selectboard carried out this process, but also indicated that their support was not because they were in support of nudity.

A general referendum vote requiring a majority of voters is much harder to predict. Indications of attitude are that most Wilmington citizens, although having distaste for extraneous law, have no feeling either way about the Ledges or issues of public nudity. Issues of freedom, making law in a fair and democratic way, and not wasting the governmental resources and dollars of the taxpayer on such an item are the issues that are most likely to bring the Wilmington voters to our favor.

We have been warned strongly by reliable local supporters that Wilmington citizens do not like to be influenced by outsiders and that our efforts to influence voters should be very subtle. Issues of economy and tourism are likely to be seen as threats and may drive negative reaction. Soliciting for general support by strangers can also have negative consequences and we must be very careful. Those of us who have made friends in the community will do well to feel out the views of these friends and to ask their support by going to the polls.

There are many legal and constitutional issues surrounding this ordinance. In the event that the people of Wilmington do not reject it, legal battles will most likely follow and that court decisions will be made against this new law. The Naturist Action Committee, NAC, is a large and powerful organization that has successfully dealt with these issues on a nationwide basis and NAC has indicated that the Vermont issue establishes an important precedent. NAC President Bob Morton, NY and New England board member Morley Schloss, and a half dozen NAC Area Reps are currently working very hard behind the scenes and have indicated very strong support in leading any legal battle. NAC has a strong working relationship with the ACLU and the American Association of Nude Recreation and it is quite likely that these groups would provide support as well. It is important to note that any expenditure of NAC must be passed by it's board of directors and that local membership and donation have influence over such decisions. To join or donate see http://www.nac.oshkosh.net/index.html .

Although it is not time to be overly pessimistic about the Ledges situation, there is the final alternative of other locations in Vermont of user of private clubs. Try as we may to find scattered hidden paradise where we can enjoy our right to not be told what to wear without imposing on others, the moralists, land developers, and others with selfish interest will continue attempts to prohibit our activities. As one friend has expressed, "Unfortunately, we must win all of the time and the opposition needs to only win once...." and once a beach is truly closed it is most often closed for good. If can be positive, calm, work in a collective manner, and follow the advice of those who are highly experienced in successful beach preservation elsewhere we can preserve the paradise of the Ledges. Although the community may not have our passion for clothing optional recreation, we can hope that they share our passion for freedom.


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