Jackowski: The Bennington quagmire

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Rosemarie Jackowski, an advocacy journalist and peace activist who is the author of “Banned in Vermont.”

Those who say any publicity is good might not be right this time. The new anti-panhandler law has brought focus to Bennington from far and wide. Most of the publicity has been very negative. We need to find a way out of this quagmire.

Locally the law has generated the largest citizen protest since March 20, 2003. That protest opposed the “shock and awe war,” the invasion of Iraq, which caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

A few citizens are asking questions about a possible conflict of interest. Three members of the selectboard have connections to businesses on Main Street. Whether or not any law was broken is not the issue. There is a perception of impropriety. Selectboards represent all citizens, not only the business community.

Some citizens are circulating petitions so that the law will be the subject of a citizen vote.

The issue right now, today, is how do we stop the bleeding and allow the healing process to begin.


Many others, have serious concerns about the impact of this law on taxes. Laws restricting free speech have been overturned all over the country. Legal battles are expensive. Will taxpayers be at risk if the law is challenged on constitutional grounds? The “law of unintended consequences” might come back to haunt us sometime in the near future.

Beyond all that, there is another question. Was the law based on misinformation? Citizens, and also maybe some members of the selectboard, were given the impression that the law was necessary because the presence of panhandlers was having a negative impact on Main Street businesses. How can that be? The front page of the Oct. 15, 2013, issue of the Bennington Banner ran a news report about how great business was. “I’ve been here for 13 years, and this is the best Columbus Day weekend since,” said the office manager of Evans News. Other Main Street businesses reported similar good news.

The issue right now, today, is how do we stop the bleeding and allow the healing process to begin. There is a way. Think about this: What would happen if a citizen — any citizen — made a request of the selectboard to reconsider the law and have an immediate re-vote? Could that happen without a citizen request? Suppose the selectboard on their own, made the decision to hold a re-vote. This would be a win-win-win for everyone. There is no downside to this. Consider the risk-benefit ratio. The selectboard would look good, because they would be functioning at the highest level of democratic standards. The citizens would be comforted to know that the members of the selectboard were courageous enough to either change their votes, or convinced that their original votes were correct.

With the new information that is now available — the depth of citizen opposition, and the information in the Oct. 15 issue of the Banner, the members of the selectboard owe it to themselves to reconsider. A few votes of conscience could turn this around.


  1. Bob Stannard :

    Is there not a difference between and organized, peaceful protest against an illegitimate war and pan-handling on the street?

    In the first instance one is protesting the actions of our gov’t and that is protected by free speech law.

    The other is begging. Yes, begging makes us feel uncomfortable and I’m not sure it’s protected under free speech laws. It’s a different issue entirely.

    I’m not sure if it’s true, but I have heard that these people standing out with big cardboard signs saying that they need money are also organized and may be scammers. I would hope that this is not the case, because there are, indeed, people who genuinely need help.

  2. Require the Bennington Selectboard to watch the PBS Christmas special, “Mr. Stink.”

  3. Andrew D Hood :

    Very good article! The conflicts of interest and any misinformatio involved posed very slalient questions for all.

  4. Peter Liston :

    Please read the ordinance yourself before relying on Ms. Jackowski’s interpretation of it.


  5. Peter Liston :

    “A few citizens are asking questions about a possible conflict of interest. Three members of the selectboard have connections to businesses on Main Street.”

    Ms. Jackowski, please explain what this alleged ‘conflict of interest’ is. Who is involved and what is the conflict?

    In order for us, as citizens, to know how to correct this alleged wrong, we must have a full understanding of the facts.

    We can’t just take it on faith that your allegations are fact.

    Serious allegations like that must be backed up with evidence.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      It is a matter if public record that 3 members have ‘connections’ to businesses on Main Street. People have come to me with that concern. I simply reported their concerns here.

      I have no way of knowing if the ‘connections’ influenced their votes or not. No one can ever know what is in another person’s mind.

      “There is a perception of impropriety.” That is a fact. Whether the perception is justified, or not, is for you to decide.

      • Peter Liston :

        What are the connections?


        Who are the members?

        If it’s a matter of public record, it should be no problem for you to produce the evidence.

        Thank you.

  6. Andrew D Hood :

    Free speech is free speech whether someone is a billionaire or a pauper. The billionaire may ask Uncle Same “could you spare a trillion?’ With the pauper intoning “could you spare a dime?”

  7. Peter Liston :

    Asking “Could you spare a dime?” does not violate the Bennington ordinance.

    Please read it for yourself. Link provided above.

    • rosemarie jackowski :

      Just one example of a First Amendment violation…setting up zones where free speech is denied.
      “…No person shall solicit within ten (10) feet of an entrance to a building….”.

      Please watch the CAT-TV videos of the last 4 or 5 Select Board meetings. That might help put things in context.

      • Peter Liston :

        What are the conflicts of interest? What are the connections?


        Who are the members?

        If it’s a matter of public record, it should be no problem for you to produce the evidence.

        We can’t begin to resolve the alleged impropriety unless we have a complete understanding of the facts.

        Thank you.

        • rosemarie jackowski :

          Peter…Thanks for your comment. The First Amendment and the new anti panhandler law are my focus…. not 1 or 2 or 3 Select Board members. The information you ask for is easily obtained. It is a matter of public record. Anyone can check it out and go down that line of inquiry.

          Putting the focus on individual persons would make this debate ‘political’ and base it on personalities. That gets us away from the main issues…poverty, homelessness, prejudice, economic injustice, and most important of all, Constitutional violations.

  8. Andrew D Hood :

    Here’s an arrticle on Vermont which shows what the big picture in Vermont is. The panhandling legislation is merely the top of hte iceberg of the political malady which afflicts all Vermont as shown in this story below:


  9. Andrew D Hood :

    Here’s an article on Bennington Vermont and it would do well to see this as part of the struggle for free speech rights which the founding fathers and those backing them provided this country with. Here’s the arrtcle below:


  10. Andrew D Hood :

    The above comment has a duplication of artciles which I wanted to correct. Sorry about that. Here’s the article in question and thanks for the consideraation by all.


  11. Frank Lambert :

    Interesting article about the anti-”panhandling” ordinance in Bennington and the citizen comments above.

    First of all, there has been an increase in so-called panhandling by our fellow citizens seeking financial and related assistance (shelter, clothing, medical attention, etc.),not only in Bennington, but in many communities, large and small in the United States (and now in Europe) by more and more people unable to find work or even able to work, for a variety of reasons.

    I live in California, and see the increase of folks with cardboard signs pleading for help. Just last week, I gave money to four different men and women “panhandling” at four different locations all in the same day. Not a “pat on my back” for any means, but who are we to judge why others are destitute and their various reasons for asking for a “handout” so to speak.

    I think Ms Jackowski has made a relevant case against the ordinance in Bennington, and thank Mr. Andrew D. Hood for sharing the timely Counterpunch articles with the readers.

    The powers-that-be have been quite successful in portraying poor and/or disabled people and lower paid workers into some sort of burden to society, and have subtly instilled in the average mind to look up to and honor multi-millionaires and billionaires as “hard-working” captains of industry.

    We need new workable paradigms for the 21st century. The exploitive capitalist system of greed and insatiable desire for more and more is coming to an end. Around the globe, the awareness and implementation for egalitarian society is spreading, thanks to a younger generation which has seen the destructive forces of the current system and what it has done.

    Finally, ask yourself this question. If you were in similar circumstances as the “panhandlers,” would you rather be shunned by your fellow citizens or “given a helping hand” to reduce in whatever way, the hardships of your plight?

    • Andrew D Hood :

      Thanks for the kind words!

  12. Julie Hansen :

    Wow. I actually don’t know that panhandling equals free speech. But it does not seem at all appropriate for a select board member to mumble that he was “going to get that son-of-a-bitch” who spoke against his ordinance. Seriously?

  13. Jacob Miller :

    It will be interesting to see the economic improvement after Bennington has “re-imaged” its downtown business district.

    After all, the Church Street Market Place in Burlington has suffered economically for years by allowing “pan-handling”. They could learn so much from Bennington’s insightful leadership on this matter.



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