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Vermont Blows Off U.S. Constitution

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Vermont City Acts Unlawfully & Unconstitutionally, Judge Finds

From Themis-- scales of justice
Themis-- scales of justice
(image by RaeAllen)

City of Montpelier deprives city employee of due process rights

One of the wonders of the American legal system is that you can win your case in court, only to have the court's decision extend and magnify the underlying injustice.

This is a story about how easy it is for a city government to run roughshod over an employee's constitutional rights, including free speech under the First Amendment and due process of law under the Fifth Amendment. And it's a story of how hard it is, despite those rights, for that employee to get any kind of justice from the state's judiciary.

This is a story about the Vermont judiciary failing a Vermont citizen who worked as Director of the Dept. of Planning and Community Development for the City of Montpelier, which is also the state capitol.

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This is the story of how City officials first vilified City planner Gwen Hallsmith for exercising her First Amendment rights, then fired her for defending herself.

This is the story of how the City deprived Hallsmith of any semblance of reasonable due process of law in what was effectively a bureaucratic lynching, demanded by the mayor and carried out by the city manager and his assistant without out a trace of fair deliberation.

This is the story of how the Vermont Superior Court affirmed Hallsmith's complaint of unlawful City behavior, finding that the City's actions were blatantly unconstitutional and unfair -- and then issued an order perpetuating the original injustice.

At its nasty little heart, this is a story that reflects the power of big banks to get their way, starting with their well paid legislative lobbyist, John Hollar, who also happens to be mayor of Montpelier, where there's no hue and cry about such blatant conflict of interest. The vested interests in the City have not objected even when the bank-drenched mayor set about in early 2013 to pressure the city manager to muzzle his planning director when she failed to follow his personal party line. Her "insubordination" amounted to exercising her free speech right to support public banking.

This seems to have made the banker-lobbyist mayor mad. By his own account, the mayor-lobbyist expressed his anger over and over to the city manager, with an apparent desire for the city manager to sack this troublesome planner. In his email of March 13, 2013, more than eight months before the firing, lawyer John Hollar wrote the city manager:

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"To repeat myself ad nauseum [sic], I still don't see how our city's chief economic development officer can hold and promote views that are fundamentally anti-capitalist in nature."

There is no good way to view this coercive note to an employee about an underling. Mayor Hollar acknowledges that he has been fulminating about Hallsmith ad nauseam, which means, roughly, till he's sick of hearing himself talk. The city manager had so far failed to silence Hallsmith, as the Mayor seems to demand. So what is the city manager to think the mayor wants him to do next?

Why was Mayor Holler so steamed in 2013, and why was he so covert? What was the City of Montpelier's official policy on public banking at the time, one might wonder. The City had no official policy on public banking, then or since or ever. Two years after Mayor Hollar set out on his behind-the-scenes warpath against the enemy of his benefactors, the City of Montpelier still has no official policy on public banking. The mayor, with a huge and obvious conflict of interest, was objecting to a City employee exercising her First Amendment right to speak freely on an issue that the City had no position on, an issue that threatens to benefit the public at some cost to banks.

The voters of the City of Montpelier have expressed an opinion on public banking. In the local election of March 2014, an official referendum on pursuing public banking received a vote of 1634-697 in favor of exploring the idea. The ballot question for public banking got 109 more positive votes than commercial bank candidate Hollar, who was re-elected mayor at the same time (beating Hallsmith by 1525-782).

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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