Giving Vermont bureaucrats a salute they will remember

  • 20 December 2018
  • NormanL

Local governments sometimes make life as difficult for small business owners. That's especially so in communities where the businesses in question aren't the cute, trendy outlets that some local bureaucrats so admire. Consider this case from Vermont, and business owner Ted Pelkey. Mr. Pelkey got the run around from his local government. His response was inspired:

Pelkey runs a monofilament recycling and truck repair business with his son. For years, he says he's been trying to move his business from Swanton, Vermont, to Westford. To do that, he needs a permit to build an 8,000-square foot garage on his property in Westford. But the town has been giving him issues.

"We've been trying to put a business there for the past 10 years," Pelkey told the Burlington Free Press. "It's just never-ending. They're railroading us really good," he added, explaining that his business is "a low-impact thing" with "such little traffic you'd wonder if we were open."

The town refused his bid and basically told him to go away. So what does Mr. Pelkey do?

"I was sitting at a bar and said to my wife, 'Hey, I want to get a statue made of a middle finger, and I'm going to put it up on the lawn,'" he told Boston.com.

So that's exactly what he did. Pelkey commissioned a Vermont artist to carve a 700-pound, wooden sculpture of the middle finger. On November 30, he had it installed in his yard, complete with two floodlights so that it's visible 24/7. All told, the project cost about $4,000. "If you don't want to look at the building, look at this," he told Boston.com.

Here's the kicker: The town may be able to stop him from building his garage, but there's not a single thing officials can do to force him to get rid of the middle finger statue. While the state of Vermont doesn't allow "off-premise" billboards, the sculpture isn't actually advertising anything. Instead, it's considered public art, which is protected under the First Amendment. Pelkey is not breaking a state law, and according to Westford Selectboard Chair Allison Hope, he's not in violation of any local regulations either. "The Pelkeys can do what they like to exercise their free speech within the laws and regulations," Hope told the Burlington Free Press.

So the middle finger will stay up, at least for the foreseeable future. Pelkey's attorney has appealed the review board's decision regarding construction of the garage, with a court hearing possible next month.

That's one way to fight back against the red tape and ignorance of a local bureaucracy. Good for Mr. Pelkey...and here's hoping his appeal is successful.

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