Board closes in on nudity
The Selectboard has been debating a proposed ordinance since the summer when a handful of nudists walked the streets, played guitars and rode skateboards in the buff to the consternation of more than a few town residents.
While many town residents have complained to the board that nudity is inappropriate in public places, others have said restricting nudity is puritanical and unnecessary.
Since then, the Selectboard has batted about several versions of an ordinance that would prohibit nudity but has been unable to reach a consensus on what's best for the town.
While it's taken some behind-the-scenes actions to forge a compromise that was acceptable to most members of the board, some town residents expressed concern that board members were conducting business behind closed doors that should be taken care of in public.
"I can assure you I didn't sit down with three or more board members in terms of discussing this issue," said Selectboard Vice Chairman Dick DeGray. What he had was a "less-than-10-second" conversation with fellow board member Rich Garant about the definition of nudity and whether to make the behavior a criminal or civil infraction.
"Conversations among board members are very common," said Garant. "What is not permitted is three or more members getting together. Those conversations are all public."
In contrast to previous discussions on a proposed ordinance, the debate on the ordinance presented Tuesday night was short and nonconfrontational.
Most of it had to do with correcting minor language, rather than overhauling the ordinance once more.
But one board member expressed concern that passing the ordinance would harm the town's reputation as an arts town.
"If someone wants to do a nude installation, you can't have that," said Dora Bouboulis. "Plays like 'Caligula' and 'Hair' wouldn't be able to be performed because they have nudity. People nude sunbathing in their backyards, if visible, could be subject to getting a fine."
One man in attendance compared prohibiting nudity to the fight for civil and gay rights.
"The nudists are the last group who are pushed around," said John Lockwood. He also said the Selectboard, requiring a woman to cover her breasts while not requiring the same of a man, might as well start forcing women to wear a burkah.
Another town resident said forcing a woman to cover her breasts could open up the town to a court challenge on the basis of discrimination.
"That has been found to be constitutional in other similar ordinances around the country," said Bob Fisher, attorney for the town.
There is a provision in the proposed ordinance that would allow women to breastfeed their children in public.
Bouboulis also expressed concern that youngsters engaging in the ages-old tradition of "mooning" could be fined under the proposed ordinance.
Prohibited public locations "shall mean any location likely to be observed by members of the public and where the public is present ... including streets, sidewalks, parks, parking lots and business and commercial establishments," according to the proposed ordinance.
If the regulation is passed, it would be illegal for people to show their genitalia, pubic area or buttocks in a public area.
The document is available in the town manager's office or at the town's Web site at www.brattleboro.org.
At its next meeting, on Dec. 4, the board will hold a second public reading of the proposed ordinance and take comments from the public.
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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