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Effort To Recall Bennington Panhandling Ban Falls Short

A town law banning ‘aggressive panhandling’ and sleeping in cars went into effect this week in Bennington, despite efforts to overturn it. The measure, passed by the town select board in November, amends an older ordinance governing public conduct.

Bennington officials say they were responding to business owners who complained that visitors had said they felt intimidated by people asking for money on the streets.

Opponents said the amendment unfairly targets the needy and imposes fines on those who can least afford to pay.

The measure sparked a petition drive for a recall and town wide vote. But Bennington Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran said there weren’t enough signatures to recall it.

“The petitioners just didn’t get enough names in to place the ordinance on the ballot,” Corcoran said. “I think it was 95 signatures. If it was a real groundswell they would have done much better than that.”

The petition would have needed about 500 signatures.

Bennington homeless advocate Mary Gerisch said there were many more signatures that had not been turned in because of confusion about the recall deadline. But she said the effort paid off in other ways.

“A lot of awareness of the issues of poverty and homelessness were gained,” Gerisch said. “A lot of community spirit was generated, because even though not all the petitions got in on time, there was really widespread interest from many different facets of the community.”

Gerisch said the issue might be revisited after Town Meeting in March.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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