Local government

ACLU suit highlights another case of government exclusion of citizens

By Guy Page and Newport Dispatch

The ACLU’s lawsuit on behalf of a former Newport city employee served with a trespass notice in city parks is the latest in a trend of state and local government kicking Vermonters out of public spaces.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit this week on behalf of Andrew Cappello, who city of Newport officials allegedly served with a “notice against trespass” in August 2021, barring him from city property.

According to a statement released by the ACLU, on August 5, 2021, Cappello, who is a former Newport employee, was visiting friends at the Prouty Beach Campground in Newport when the city’s Public Works Director approached and accused him of harassing city employees, and demanding that he leave.

Newport isn’t the only Vermont government body excluding individual citizens from enjoying taxpayer-funded programs open to all.

In October 2021, the Vermont Climate Council cancelled a BIPOC-only Zoom public hearing for what it said were  ‘Zoom security reasons.’ The meeting was billed as BIPOC-only, a white person (VDC editor Guy Page and possibly another white person) had registered to attend via Zoom. The meeting was eventually rescheduled, with Page listening off-camera and reporting on the official, warned, government meeting.

The City of Burlington Community Garden program excludes gardeners who won’t sign or abide by a diversity/inclusion/equity pledge. As reported in the November 23 Vermont Daily Chronicle, the city website warns “your plot privileges may be forfeited” for failing to sign and follow an agreement promising:

  • “Being proactive about educating myself on matters of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
  • “Being aware of my own privileged identities and how these affect others and understanding, acknowledging, exploring and challenging my conscious and unconscious biases
  • “Remaining open to and engaged with efforts of inclusion when I make a mistake, am uncomfortable or held accountable.”

VDC’s repeated efforts to contact Community Garden director and Parks and Recreation Dept. Land Steward Dan Cahill have been unsuccessful. Other city officials also did not return emails and phone calls, except for one city councilor.

“I’d be concerned that a reclusive gardener could find themselves in breach of this agreement.  Requiring education, having nothing to do with gardening, seems beyond the mission of the Community Garden,” Councilor Joan Shannon emailed VDC in reply on November 29. “A lot of people might not have time to make ‘meaningful connections with all fellow community gardeners.’ What if you’re just trying to feed your family? ‘Participating in productive communication?’  What if you don’t speak the same language?… That said, I am sure that whomever came up with it had the best of intentions. This should be reviewed in my opinion.”

The requirement reportedly has since been discussed within city government, but today is unchanged since last fall.

Of the three incidents mentioned above, only the Newport incident has resulted in legal action. 

Soon after his first contact with the Public Works director, a Newport police officer arrived and presented Cappello with a notice against trespass which ordered him not to enter upon property that is lawfully possessed by the city of Newport.

The notice allegedly had no explanation for why it was issued or instructions on how to contest it.

When Cappello sought further explanation, the Newport Police Chief allegedly would say only that the Public Works Director had instructed him to issue the notice.

Cappello inquired again, noting that he needed to access Gardner Park and Prouty Beach, to volunteer for his children’s sports teams and for his new job with NorthWoods Stewardship Center.

He says he was told the notice would expire after one year but received no additional information.

When Cappello requested an opportunity to petition the city council to lift the notice, the mayor allegedly refused.

Cappello says he did not enter city property for months and was unable to visit friends at Prouty Beach Campground, and could not perform some of his job duties.

He says he has visited the parks occasionally since the notice’s expiration in August 2022, but says he still fears future reprisal.

The lawsuit was filed against the city of Newport, Travis Bingham, Thomas Bernier, and Paul Monette.

In his complaint, Cappello asserts that his free speech and due process rights were violated when he was denied access to all city property without an opportunity to challenge the notice.

He is seeking declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages. Cappello is a resident of East Charleston.

The Newport sections of this story are republished from the January 12 Newport Dispatch.

Categories: Local government

5 replies »

  1. Kinda reminds me of Jeff Foxworthy’s old comedy routine – as he would ascribe a variety of behaviors or characteristics to individuals or groups and then conclude that if those fit….”You might be a redneck”.

    Here you have an ordinarily left-wing organization actually opposing this once free state’s tyrannical and anti-constitutional dictates! If Mr. Foxworthy were only here for us to hear: “Vermont might be Marxist”!

  2. The process IS the punishment. One must go through the court system in order to show the illegality of these edicts.

  3. All those who are tired of these wannabe communists raise your hand. Or better yet, send them an email and tell them what you think.

  4. Contact “FIRE”, out of Phila. They will likely take up his case. “Sue them” is sometimes the only way to redress grievances.