A group of Sudbury residents is gearing up for a grass-roots campaign to increase the number of members on the Board of Selectmen from three to five.
The move comes after a tumultuous year in town government, during which two selectmen came under fire for attending a post-Town Meeting gathering at a local restaurant and allegedly not being forthright about what transpired that evening.
Resident Mike Troiano said the goal of the proposed change is to bring more transparency and accountability to a town government that he thinks has been controlled by too few people for too many years.
“The message is simple – it’s time to open up,’’ said Troiano.
Residents at a Special Town Meeting in September approved the plan for additional members, but it still needed legislative approval before becoming law. Late last year, the Legislature signed off on the plan, with some changes, including a requirement that it go before voters one more time.
Governor Deval Patrick recently signed the home-rule petition into law, paving the way for the question to appear on the town election ballot March 25.
Democratic Representative Thomas Conroy of Wayland said the original proposal did not require a town election vote, but that was included after lawmakers heard testimony from dozens of residents and town officials.
He said it seemed like a reasonable option and will give residents one more chance to be heard on the topic.
“Several Sudbury residents and the chairman of the Board of Selectmen requested a ballot vote . . . to confirm it and to give all residents in Sudbury a voice about whether to expand the board from three to five,’’ said Conroy, who received close to 100 phone calls and e-mails on the topic.
Troiano said he was initially opposed to the requirement for a ballot vote because he thought it would derail the process, but he was pleased the petition made it through the Legislature so quickly.
“The idea of a ballot was a reasonable compromise,’’ Troiano said. “It’s fair and we’re confident we’ll do very well at the ballot.’’
According to the revised bill, if a majority of voters favors the increase, an election for two additional selectmen must happen no later than the subsequent annual town election, which will occur in March 2014. The language of the bill allows for a special election during 2013, initiated either by citizen petition or by vote of the selectmen.
Troiano said he is working on a grass-roots campaign to get the word out about the proposal before the election. He said he is putting together a 10-minute video presentation, and supporters will be meeting in small groups to spread the word.
“We’ll try a face-to-face dialogue,’’ he said.
Larry O’Brien, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said he has served on five-member committees in the past and has found it to work fine.
“Town Meeting has spoken, the Legislature has passed it, and now we’ll see where the community goes at the election,’’ O’Brien said.
Selectmen Robert Haarde and John Drobinski said it makes sense to have a ballot vote because more people typically vote in an election than attend Town Meeting.
“It’s good to include more people in the process,’’ Haarde said.
Haarde said he supports Troiano’s proposal as a way to generate more civic involvement.
“I think five members would be good for the town,’’ he said. “Sudbury has many brilliant people and this is a great way to invite more people to get involved in the process.’’
Troiano said the so-called Lavendergate controversy in May was the driving force behind the petition to change the makeup of the board.
Just after midnight May 9, 2012, Drobinski and O’Brien were among a group of people who gathered at Lavender Asian Cuisine & 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 the restaurant for staying open past its closing time.
In the aftermath, residents clamored for more information from O’Brien and Drobinski.
Drobinski said he doesn’t have a preference one way or another about how the vote goes but hopes the election will ease some of the tension in town.
“We have a great community,’’ he said. “We have a lot of kids to educate and roads to plow. It would be great to just keep going forward. Hopefully it brings us all together.’’