In the aftermath of an after-hours liquor license controversy at a Sudbury restaurant last spring involving two of the town’s three selectmen, a group of residents is pushing a plan that would increase the number of board members to five.
Resident Mike Troiano has submitted a petition for Monday’s Special Town Meeting warrant that would expand the board. Troiano, who is concerned about competing political factions in town, said the move would increase representation and decrease the chances of the board becoming deadlocked when one member is absent.
“It’s a practical way forward,’’ Troiano said. “The real issue is a classic ‘too much power in the hands of too few’ people for too long.’’
The Town Meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.
The Board of Selectmen met with petitioners Tuesday night but did not take an official position on the proposal, said Selectman John Drobinski. Drobinski said he is open to the idea but is concerned that there hasn’t been enough time to study it; Selectman Robert Haarde said he supports it; the board’s chairman,Larry O’Brien, was not available for comment.
‘Any time you can offer more representation to the people, it’s a good thing. . . . I think it will generate more good, honest, open public discussion.’
Troiano said the “Lavendergate’’ controversy in May was the driving force behind the petition.
Just after midnight on May 9, Drobinski and O’Brien were among a group of people who had gathered at Lavender Asian Cuisine and Bar on Boston Post Road after Town Meeting. The restaurant had closed at 10 p.m. that evening but reopened at some point when the group arrived.
Police 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 twice that evening reported finding people, including O’Brien, at the restaurant as late as 1:45 a.m. Drobinski left at some point before 1:15 a.m. Sudbury police issued a written warning to Lavender for staying open past its closing time.
The Board of Selectmen is the town’s licensing authority for liquor licenses.
In the aftermath, residents clamored for more information from O’Brien and Drobinski. O’Brien recused himself from any discussion, leaving just the two remaining members to deal with the fallout.
Haarde said he’s looked into Troiano’s proposal and supports it. He thinks it would help eliminate potential Open Meeting Law violations and quorum problems, and would open up government to more people.
“Any time you can offer more representation to the people, it’s a good thing,’’ he said. “Including more people in the process, having more inclusion, is better. I think it will generate more good, honest, open public discussion.’’
Haarde said he tried making changes after Lavendergate but they never went forward.
“Sometimes three-member boards find themselves in paralyzing situations like we did this year with Lavendergate,’’ he said. “I did propose some remedies the board could do in the wake of Lavendergate but because of the one-to-one tie, nothing went through.’’
Drobinski said he hasn’t taken a position on the proposal yet, but he thinks it may be a big enough change to warrant further study. “The concept doesn’t bother me,’’ he said. “I just want to make sure whatever we do is in the best interest of the community. I’d hate to see a knee-jerk reaction, whatever the motivation.’’
In the months following Lavendergate, some residents grew frustrated over the lack of information about what happened that night and called for setting up a recall process for selectmen. Troiano thinks this is a better approach and one that could have the most long-term impact.
“We had contemplated multiple avenues, including censure and recall and things that would’ve created consternation and conflict in town,’’ Troiano said. “As we peeled the onion on this issue, it seemed there were a lot of people who feel underrepresented in town. We’re a small town and a bedroom community of neighbors. This is hopefully a way to get back to that, rather than further from it.’’
Nearby communities with five-member boards of selectmen include Wayland, Concord, Acton, Maynard, Stow, Carlisle, Boxborough, Northborough, Framingham, Wellesley, Lexington, and Hudson.
If residents approve the article at Monday’s Town Meeting, it will then go to the Legislature for a vote on a special act authorizing the change.
The article is one of six that will go before residents. There is also a proposal for a roof repair at Nixon Elementary School, and two petition articles organized by Framingham resident Steve Haker.
The first resolution would direct selectmen to write to state and federal legislators asking for legislation that would end unfunded mandates on local government. His second resolution asks for legislation to require that all pesticides used by citizens, landscape firms, and utilities be approved by local boards of health after a public hearing. Currently, pesticides and herbicides are regulated by the state.
Haker submitted the same two petitions in Wayland and Framingham. Framingham residents rejected them both; Wayland residents meet Oct. 3.