Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen meeting left me proud of my fellow citizens and police force, but embarrassed by the behavior of the man who leads our most prominent governing body.
The meeting was civil, measured, and focused right from the start. Mr. Haarde deserves much of the credit for this, having begun the meeting by recapping the facts of the situation, framing the acceptable scope of the discussion, acknowledging goodwill on all sides, and calling for a neighborly dialog. He is to be commended for this, regardless of where people stand on the issue.
Chief of Police Glavin conducted himself in similar fashion. There can be little doubt given his professionalism, facility with the facts, and patient, thorough, even-handed response to every question asked of him that those of us who live in Sudbury are being served and protected by people who know what they’re doing.
Some of the facts that came to light took some of the more inflammatory issues off the table, at least for me. It turns out Lavender was at least arguably licensed to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. that night, even though their stated closing time was 10 p.m. This issue was raised again and again in the meeting, as though it were some kind of smoking gun. While it is appropriate for town government to place upper limits on the time during which alcohol can be served, however, it is most definitely not the place of town government to dictate hours of operation for a private business. If there was money to be made beyond their intended closing but within the legal limits of their license, I say good for them.
The real culprit in this respect seems to have been a liquor license written with too loosely defined limits, notably the ability of the licensee to serve alcohol later in the case of a “Special Event,” without a clear definition of what such an event is. Let’s not make that mistake again, shall we?
Beyond that recommended policy change … what I and others at the meeting remained troubled by was the conduct of Chairman O’Brien that night.
First off, Mr. O’Brien was certainly among (and perhaps in front of) a group of officials and town employees going directly from an official event to a local drinking place to “celebrate a great meeting,” in the words of Mr. Drobinski at last night’s meeting. Were they celebrating the successful protection of conservation lands and balanced budget, as Mr. Drobinski went on to indicate? Or were they celebrating the break with tradition that installed Mr. O’Brien as chairman, at the expense of Mr. Haarde? If the former, one would expect Mr. Haarde to be invited to the party. He was not, in fact, which might indicate to a reasonable person that the celebration taking place at Lavender came at his expense.
But you know, who can say? Politics has winners and losers, and sometimes the winners celebrate, even when they win in ways their opposition believes to be unfair.
Second, it’s notable that the restaurant in question was supposed to be closed at the time Mr. O’Brien and company arrived. Would it have remained open for you or I, if we’d shown up after closing, as surely happened given the duration of the preceding BOS meeting?
Again, who can say? Perhaps the giddy throng provided a chance for a small business owner to make a few extra bucks within the limits of the law. Perhaps Mr. O’Brien is friendly with the Lavender owner, and arranged for this in advance. Maybe it just pays to be a good guy, or at least a good customer.
Third, it seems this celebration extended well past the point where Lavender should be serving alcohol, in the absence of a “Special Event.” Again I’d ask … would you or I have gotten the same treatment? And again a reasonable person might respond, “Who can say?” There was a Celtics playoff game that night, though it ended at 10:20. Perhaps Mr. O’Brien’s ascent to the Chairmanship constituted a “Special Event,” if not in the eyes of the Lavender proprietor, then in those of Mr. O’Brien.
Who can say?
Beyond that, though, it gets a lot harder to look away.
When the "Celebration of Whatever" extended to a little past the point where even the "Special Event" clause was in play, a police cruiser made its presence known to the owner and the patrons. We know this since it’s stated in the police report. A cruiser came by at a little after 1am, making a reasonable and customary “fly by” to indicate that it was time for people to leave. At that time there were about 20 cars in the Lavender parking lot, and some of the owners of those cars began to leave right away.
You and I would probably have left then, even if we’d have behaved just as Mr. O’Brien did up to that point. Chief Glavin actually stated in the meeting that a cruiser fly-by is usually all that’s required to do this in our town, to get people to wrap things up and head home.
But Mr. O’Brien did not leave that night. We know this because when that same officer came back at a quarter to 2, called for backup, and entered the restaurant, Mr. O’Brien was still there.
And we know this because Mr. O’Brien approached the officers as they entered the restaurant, recognizing him immediately. And what did the Chairman of our Board of Selectmen say to the police as they entered a local restaurant close to 2 a.m. – almost four hours past its usual closing time, nearly two hours past its typical license to serve alcohol, and just about a full hour past the point where a police cruiser visited the restaurant to indicate the point at which patrons should be heading home even in the case of a “Special Event?”
He said, “Can I help you?”
Now … do you think Mr. O’Brien said that more like a Zappo’s customer service rep, or more like Robert DeNiro in pick-your-favorite-Robert-DeNiro movie?
I’m thinking the latter. Who can say.
What I can say is that it sure seems like Mr. O’Brien – after what is certainly a very long time of what is arguably very good service to our town – has reached the point where it’s time to step down.
So what do we do now?
I know there are those looking to pursue aggressive action to make this happen right away, encouraged by the oddball missing persons report that triggered this fiasco, and the alleged OUI that may have resulted from it. After last night’s meeting I have to say I’m less interested in those efforts. The truth is there is we have no means for a recall in Sudbury, and the effort to pursue one will only divide us further.
It’s worth noting, though, that Sudbury is one of the few towns left in Massachusetts without the checks and balances necessary to avoid this situation in the future. Even if Mr. Drobinski and Mr. Haarde agreed that Mr. O’Brien had violated the public trust and should be penalized, they have no power to do so.
It is time for use to fix that … for the people of Sudbury to install the powers of censure, recall and expansion to five or sevent selectmen in our charter.
This should not be a divisive conversation about recalling Larry O'Brien. This should be a decisive conversation about installing the necessary checks and balances into Sudbury's charter to prevent the next abuse of power from happening.
Here’s my understanding of what that takes:
- 200 signatures on a petition from the Town Clerk to call a Town Meeting.
- 50 signatures on petitions from the Town Clerk on separate articles for Censure, Recall and Expansion and perhaps term limits.
- Town meeting is held, votes are taken, if they pass they go to legislature to be ratified into our charter
The Town Meeting votes could happen right away - the legislative rubber stamp could take up to a year but now is the time to get started.
The problem we can fix is that power is concentrated in the hands of people undeserving our trust, and we have no means of holding them accountable. Let’s focus on that right now, and then on removing Mr. O’Brien at the appropriate time.
342 Lincoln Road