By Guy Page
About 50 people braved a Northeast Kingdom snowstorm yesterday to rally in support of embattled Newport print shop owner Mark Desautels’ stand against the state’s masking directive.
Last week, UPS ended their franchise relationship and Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan filed three civil suits in connection with Desautels’ decision to let employees not wear masks. Persistent in allowing a voluntary mask-free environment, Desautels reorganized the store under a new name, Derby-Port Press.
The commotion only started after he posted a sign on the door explaining the long-standing policy to customers.
“We haven’t worn a mask for a year,” Desautels told Claudia Stauber, host of the Facebook video series Cabin Talk.
“Two weeks ago we put up the sign,” Desautels said. “Once we did that, all hell broke loose. The state came down on us. UPS came down on us. The state filed suit on us, they’re trying to close us down.”
To make matters worse, Desautels’ landlord has sent him an eviction notice. “She wants us out by the end of the month,” Desautels said.
On June 15, 2020, Governor Scott issued Executive Order 1-20 that allowed for the resumption of nearly all business, non-profit, and government entity operations subject to “occupancy limits and physical distancing, health and sanitation and training requirements set forth in ACCD Work Safe Guidance.” The guidance from ACCD requires that “Employees must wear face coverings over their nose and mouth when in the presence of others.”
The AG’s office confirms the general timeline of events as described by Desautels, although Donovan does say a ‘cease and desist’ letter was sent in November. According to the AG’s office, “After it was reported that the Defendants were not in compliance with the Governor’s orders, the Attorney General’s Office sent a cease and desist letter on November 10, 2020, informing the Defendants of the mask requirement for employees and advising them to comply.
“On February 17, 2021, in response to additional reports of noncompliance, the Attorney General’s Office sent a second warning to the Defendants and again requested immediate compliance with the mask mandate. Despite repeated warnings from the Attorney General’s Office, and multiple outreach and education efforts made by the Newport Police Department, the Defendants have refused to comply with the Governor’s orders.”
In the suit filed Friday, Donovan said state law gives him the authority to file the suits: “The Vermont Attorney General is authorized under 20 V.S.A. § 40 to enforce against violations of provisions taken under Vermont’s Emergency Management laws, including orders of the Governor made under such Authority.”
A fund to support the store has been started, details are available on Stauber’s video.
In a related story, the Town of Stamford decided January 21 it would not proceed with its municipal ‘termination’ of the Governor’s Emergency Order. According to 1/21 minutes, Selectboard member Mike Denault “announced that after further research, Attorney [Deborah] Bucknam agrees with the Attorney General’s interpretation of a natural disaster and will not be able to represent the town. Therefore, the Selectboard cannot pursue the termination of the Governor’s emergency orders.”
On December 22, Stamford affirmed its status as a “constitutional town,” after defying the directive to not hold an outdoor public meeting by holding a community Christmas tree lighting Dec. 3.
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