• Rubbing it in
    July 27,2013

    For all of his efforts to usher in Barre’s renaissance, sometimes Mayor Thomas Lauzon goes too far. For weeks now, since media reports first emerged that massage parlors in Chittenden County were being closed or reprimanded for taking part in certain sexual activities, the mayor has seemed concerned the businesses might end up relocating to Barre.

    In an effort to demonstrate that there is no welcome mat for massage-plus businesses here, Lauzon this week proposed a 10-page ordinance that explicitly bans massaging certain body parts, does not allow any nudity in such businesses and, perhaps more prohibitive, requires licensure — including fingerprinting, photos, background checks, height, weight and other personal data including where the business owners lived in recent years, the people they employ, or those who may have some financial stake in their massage business.

    Lauzon has said he does not mind if a business starts here, but he wants to know exactly who is accountable.

    Right now, the city licenses a few types of businesses — bars, nightclubs and taxi companies among them — but taxi drivers are the only individuals who must be licensed by the city. Needless to say, city officials don’t care how much taxi drivers weigh or the color of their eyes, but they are interested in confirming their driving records don’t raise any red flags and they don’t have criminal records that might argue against letting them drive around with often vulnerable fares at their mercy.

    The state requires professionals in certain trades and jobs to be licensed. In fact, that list is voluminous but does not usually require such intrusive personal information, though it does include fees.

    Lauzon is so concerned about the issue he is taking his draft to the Vermont Mayors Coalition, which is made up of the state’s eight mayors.

    We suspect the Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups concerned with workers’ rights will be lining up with their reasons why government cannot put on the books laws aimed at dissuading or discriminating against certain kinds of businesses.

    If the fear is that illicit activity will be taking place behind closed doors, should there not be additional ordinances in place for strip clubs — one of which is located on Barre’s Main Street and comparatively loosely regulated?

    Likewise, if there is a fear of some criminal element, why not just have police investigate and enforce the laws on the books before adding a layer of bureaucracy in a veiled attempt to control who works and, in this case, gets massages here?

    Lastly, central Vermont has a very active recreational community, many members of which rely on physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractors and other services to alleviate discomfort and pain, as well as restore strength and flexibility. In fact, Lauzon was instrumental in bringing the RehabGym to City Place as one of the founding commercial tenants because there is in fact a demand for rehabilitative services here.

    The proposed ordinance would carve out limited exceptions for some, most notably “licensed physicians, chiropractors and physical therapists,” which means RehabGym owner Sharon Gutwin, a licensed physical therapist, is welcome to keep her weight, her age, and her fingerprints to herself.

    If Barre wants to attract business, putting restrictive, discriminatory ordinances on the books (that would most certainly be challenged in the courts) sends the opposite message.

    Moving forward

    The announcement this week that Barbara Vacarr is resigning as Goddard College’s president is unfortunate news.

    While it is admirable that she is going to suspend her academic career so she can turn her attention to family, Vacarr’s short time at the school has yielded noticeable and exciting results. The strides she has made at positioning the low-residency school for the future will ensure its sustainability as long as the board of directors hires someone like-minded and committed to the same path.

    Vacarr has been met with resistance as an agent of change, and promoting a different kind of Goddard. And the collaborations she has made, and the teams she has assembled, have likely caused Goddard’s old guard to freak out, dig in or lash out. But Vacarr’s vision, which has received national attention and praise, is a higher education model that allows for a flexible curriculum while providing a financial model that does not simply extend from one semester to the next.

    Vacarr will remain in her post until the end of this year, straddling the world of academia and caregiver to her family. In the meantime, it seems likely she will continue to position the school for the bold new course that she has charted.

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