Town government works for the citizens and requires transparency into all it does. Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen’s (BOS) meeting was a defeat for those who favor transparency and openness in town government. This follows last week's refusal by the Sudbury Public School Committee to extend discussion and provide disclosure over the firing of a well-respected Sudbury teacher.
The last agenda item at Tuesday night’s BOS meeting was a discussion “Regarding the Chief of Police letter warning Lavender Asian Cuisine about an after-hours violation.” With Selectman O’Brien recusing himself since he was in the restaurant at the time of the violation, Selectman Haarde, now the acting chair, attempted to hold the discussion. What quickly became apparent was there would be no disclosure of what actually happened at Lavender’s that night.
- Selectman Drobinski, who was at Lavenders the night of the violation, refused to recuse himself from the deliberations citing his absence from the restaurant at the time of the violation.
- The Town Manager, who was at Lavenders the night of the violation and whose employee was involved in her third DUI, refused to recuse herself from the meeting based on town counsel.
- The Chief of Police who works for the Town Manager, was not present at the meeting to discuss the letter.
- Selectman Drobinski and the Town Manager both cited town counsel opinions, some not disclosed to Selectman Haarde, yet the town counsel was not present to explain these opinions.
When Selectman Haarde attempted to reschedule the meeting to next Tuesday to get the Chief and Town Counsel all in the same room, Selectman Drobinski voted against the motion. Realizing he was acting chair and didn’t need to ask permission to schedule the meeting, Selectman Haarde instructed the town manager to set the meeting up. Drobinski then chimed in that he didn’t think Haarde could do that.
So now we are left with a governance issue. Will this meeting happen next week under acting Chairman Haarde’s direction to provide the town with full disclosure, or will the Town Manager ignore the request and await the word of the recused chairman to set up a meeting to investigate his own actions?
Either way, Tuesday night’s meeting was not a win for the town. More will come out on this story over time. The internal police emails have been redacted with some key information awaiting trial of the accused. Besides the town manager, it is not clear who else in this accused employee’s management chain was present at the party and what time they left. There is still no accurate time line showing when police first arrived on scene at Lavenders to clear the restaurant. The liquor license is still not clear on whether extended hours were for special events only.
In addition there are very real leadership issues that Selectman Drobinksi does not seem to want to face. At Tuesday night's selectman’s meeting, Drobinski continually pointed out the incident was a minor issue between the town and the restaurant owner resulting in a simple warning. His statements seemingly ignore the potentially bigger issues of abuse of power, management responsibility to direct reports, drinking and driving by public officials, the presence of the members of the town’s liquor board at an establishment after hours, and conflicting interpretations of town wide ordinances.
Worse, failure to actually seek full disclosure of the event is now making the appearance of a cover up, worse than the actual incident that facilitated the problem in the first place.
Full disclosure led by people who were not at the event is the only way to close this incident. While Selectmen Drobinski may claim to hold the mantel of what constitutes the essence of Sudbury as he did Tuesday night at the meeting, I don’t share his vision. Our town government must operate with full disclosure at all levels. It is not too late to stop the erosion of trust in our town government.
The BOS should move forward with Selectmen Haarde’s meeting next week to put this matter behind the town.