What started as a late-night gathering after Sudbury’s Town Meeting in May has turned into a townwide drama involving the police, calls for a vote of no confidence in a selectman, and a Facebook page dubbing the controversy Lavendergate.
Local residents are demanding more information about what happened during the gathering after midnight May 9 at Lavender Asian Cuisine and Bar on Boston Post Road, where two of the town’s three selectmen and several other people had gone after the Town Meeting.
One town employee was involved in a car accident after leaving the restaurant, and is facing drunken driving charges. Police also issued a written warning to Lavender’s owner for staying open past closing hours.
Police Lieutenant Scott Nix said the restaurant closed at 10 p.m. that evening but reopened at some point when the group arrived. Nix said the restaurant’s liquor license allows it to serve alcohol until 1 a.m., with all customers off the premises by 1:15 a.m.
But police officers who went to the scene reported finding people at the restaurant as late as 1:45 a.m. Two selectmen at Lavender that evening, Larry O’Brien and John Drobinski, have not answered questions about what took place, a stance that has angered some residents. The Board of Selectmen is the town’s licensing authority for liquor licenses.
‘My objective is to maintain some visibility on the issue.’
“People are talking recall, and a vote of no confidence,’’ said resident Bob Stein. “People are very upset.’’
Residents say they want to know why the restaurant reopened, who was there, when they left, and who paid the tab. They also want to know whether O’Brien pressured the restaurant’s owner into reopening for the group, and whether he knew if the town employee had been drinking.
Neither O’Brien nor Drobinski returned calls seeking comment. Lavender’s owner, Tim Fong, was on vacation and was not available for comment last week.
The events in question began to unfold after midnight.
According to a police report on file at Framingham District Court, town employee Elizabeth Rust allegedly left the restaurant and crashed her car on Concord Road around 12:41 a.m. May 9, and was taken to Emerson Hospital for treatment. She was issued a summons for allegedly committing a marked lanes violation and operating while under the influence, reportedly her third summons for that offense. Rust told police she had been drinking at Lavender, according to the report.
Rust was arraigned June 19, when she pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is due back in Framingham District Court for a pretrial hearing on Aug. 17, according to the court clerk’s office. Town officials would not comment on her case, and Rust could not be reached for comment.
Nix said that after the accident, police responded to a second incident: a missing person’s report filed by Drobinski’s wife because he had not returned home after Town Meeting. When an officer went to Lavender to check for Drobinksi’s car at about 1:20 a.m., he said, the officer found several people leaving the restaurant.
Nix said an officer returned to Lavender at 1:40 a.m. on a routine patrol and saw cars in the parking lot. She called a supervisor. Ten people, including O’Brien, were there when the supervisor arrived at 1:47 a.m., according to police. By then, Drobinski had returned home, police said.
Selectman Robert Haarde said Drobinski has said publicly that he was at Lavender that evening but left before the time when a violation would have occurred.
Nix said there is no indication that people were drinking after hours, and said a customer cannot be charged simply for being in a restaurant past the time when alcohol can be served. The owner of the restaurant is responsible if any violations occur.
Sudbury police issued a written warning to Lavender for staying open past its closing time, Nix said.
Stein, one of the residents upset about the events, said residents are gathering signatures to place several articles on a Special Town Meeting warrant. One would ask the state for authority to establish a process to recall elected officials, another would express a vote of no confidence in O’Brien, and the last would increase the membership of the Board of Selectmen to five from the current three.
Stein said a resident has created a Facebook group called Lavendergate so people can vent about the topic. Within two days, 800 people joined.
“I’ve never seen the town so divided and upset with current management,’’ said Stein, who is a member of the town’s Finance Committee but said he was speaking out as a taxpayer.
Mike Troiano, the resident who created the Facebook group, said his goal is for the town to get to the bottom of what happened.
“My objective is to maintain some visibility on the issue,’’ he said. “I have no specific agenda. It’s to keep people organized and focused on this outrageous situation. There are so many unanswered questions about what happened that night.’’
Troiano said O’Brien is the town’s spokesman for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.
“Mr. O’Brien speaks to our kids as part of the DARE program,’’ he said. “What kind of interaction did he have with the woman who was cited for OUI? There is a whole bunch of stuff that seems wrong to me.’’
Sudbury does not have a recall process, according to its town counsel, Paul Kenny. In order to create one, Town Meeting voters would have to approve an article asking the state Legislature to pass a special act, he said.
Residents can call a Special Town Meeting by collecting 200 signatures and presenting it to the Board of Selectmen. The selectmen would have to call a meeting within 45 days, Kenny said.
As the town’s liquor licensing authority, the selectmen held a meeting June 12 to discuss the Lavender violation, but after reading a brief statement, O’Brien recused himself and left.
The board then held a meeting June 26, when Police Chief Richard Glavin answered questions about how the department handled the situation that evening. O’Brien recused himself at that meeting as well, said Haarde.
Fong was unable to attend but is expected to appear before the board at its next meeting, on July 10, Haarde said, adding, “We need to finish the conversation and get the facts out there,’’
Haarde said he is satisfied with the Police Department’s handling of the case but would like to hear what Fong has to say. The selectman said he also thinks O’Brien and Drobinski should explain their involvement.
“I’ve not heard any details or explanation from my colleagues about events that evening,’’ Haarde said. “I think the public has a right to know.’’