By Dawn Nieters
WILMINGTON- Reaction has been as evenly mixed as the results of Tuesday’s vote indicated, in the face of a decision by the town’s voters, 289 to 282, to uphold the Wilmington Public Indecency Ordinance.
Phil Markham, one of three plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the town’s selectboard, says the case will now proceed in light of Tuesday’s results. He said he and his fellow plaintiffs are using the suit to “seek justice” by holding the town’s selectboard accountable for what they describe as a flawed process.
Selectboard chair Fred Skwirut said he was surprised by the atypically high turnout, noting the results are anything but decisive.
“When you get down to it, if we had to do it over again, I think we’d do it the same way. Somebody’s got to make a decision,” Skwirut said. “We initially reacted in the way we thought was best for the town. Had the vote gone the other way we certainly would have acquiesced. But it didn’t.”
Skwirut indicated he expected the lawsuit would proceed if the ordinance was upheld.
Markham said Wednesday that his group would continue to work toward solutions in the town’s best interest, and also commented on the slim margin of victory for ordinance supporters.
“Such a close vote is a sign of injustice,” Markham said. “This closeness indicates a strong need for exactly what Friends of the Ledges has sought right along in the form of rational win-win solutions to the factually identified problems.”
Markham said he’d expected more voters would see through the “ugly tactics” used by supporters of the ordinance.
Several who commented on a Ledges message board on Wednesday, in response to the vote, expressed disgust about a table displayed in front of the school before the meeting, created by the Halifax-based Citizens Interaction Network, which featured photographs and condoms allegedly from the Ledges, along with printouts from a homosexual website and a copy of “Vermont Unveiled” a book of photographs and text about Vermont’s well and lesser-known naturist areas.
“As a person who cherishes Wilmington I found myself repulsed by the obvious emotionally-charged tactics that reflected so poorly on a great town,” Markham said.
Markham’s lawsuit cites a violation of Vermont’s open meeting law, based on the selectboard’s decision to prohibit public comment at the meeting during which the ordinance was adopted. Skwirut said the board had taken several meetings worth of testimony on the issue between last season and this one, and “hadn’t heard anything new.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the board exceeded its authority “in adopting an ordinance that prohibits plaintiffs’ nudity at the Ledges as a ‘public nuisance.’”
Markham said despite the controversy, and calls to action by some Ledges users, he expects a gathering planned for the Ledges on Sunday to be peaceful and legal, and encouraged anyone who wishes to meet the Ledges users and see the area to attend. “I am encouraging all users to remain calm and to continue to use the Ledges in a law-abiding (clothed) manner,” Markham said.
“With luck we will have the usual turnout for our annual potluck picnic. I fully expect that we will be clothed,” Markham noted. “I think that most users would be thrilled to be joined at this event by Wilmington citizens who would like to learn more about the Ledges, the nice people who use the place and who would enjoy a nice day in a truly great social setting.”
In the meantime, Wilmington Police Chief Joseph Szarejko said his department will do its best to enforce the new law. Though he declined to say when patrols start, Szarejko said they will be conducted as time and officer availability dictate. He discouraged residents from calling the department to make a report every time a nude individual is spotted at the lake.
“People need to trust that we’re going to be enforcing it,” Szarejko said. “But our patrol situation doesn’t allow us to just cover the Ledges. We can’t park and be gone from the police car for half an hour or 45 minutes. It just doesn’t work.”
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