Tim Fong, owner of on Boston Post Road, appeared at Tuesday night's meeting of Sudbury's Board of Selectmen at Town Hall to discuss the controversy that's been raging through Sudbury for two months.
Various town officials stand accused of staying at the restaurant past the hours specified on its liquor license following Town Meeting on May 9. Concerned residents have wondered whether officials abused their positions by demanding service from an establishment in violation of a liquor license that the officials themselves are in charge of approving.
Chairman Larry O'Brien, who previously admitted to being at Lavender past the stated hours, recused himself from the meeting before any discussion of the Lavender case began, He previously
Tim Fong was accompanied at the meeting by his attorney, Stephen Grande, who occasionally intercepted questions directed at Fong.
"We had the early crowd come in to watch the Red Sox, and many stayed to watch the basketball playoff games," said Fong, who said that his understanding was that he was allowed to serve alcohol until 1 a.m. that night. He said Lavender normally closes at 10 p.m., but is allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. during special events, which include sports games, such as the basketball playoffs.
He described the timeline of events, which he said included a last call at 12:45 a.m. He said by 1:10, staff members were still finalizing bills for customers.
"I lost track of time," Fong said, describing several interruptions by various people, including two police officers who arrived at about 1:10 a.m. "It turned out that time was moving faster than I realized."
He said earlier that evening, he turned down a woman's request to be served because it was clear that she had already had too much to drink and should not consume additional alcohol.
It is her third OUI case, which has caused concern among residents who worry that the town could be held liable for any future accidents.
"It was a private party but it was open to the public," Fong said, in response to a question about whether the gathering in his business on May 9 constituted a private party. His attorney said Fong did tell the intoxicated woman "this is a private party" as an excuse to get her to leave.
Fong described a scene in which patrons were taking their time in leaving as the restaurant was ready to close for the night.
"I didn't want to be rude about it, and say, 'Hey, get up,'" Fong said, as he described several polite attempts encouraging patrons to move along a little faster. He said as a business, Lavender couldn’t afford to be discourteous to customers.
Grande objected to the meeting being open to questions and comments from the public, noting that it would be unusual for a business owner to be subject to public interrogation at an official meeting.
"They're not addressing any questions to Mr. Fong, they're addressing them to me," said Selectman Bob Haarde, who took over as chairman after O'Brien recused himself and left the room. "I'll give him the option of answering questions, but he can decline."
Fong answered a question from a resident about whether he had spoken with O'Brien "to get their stories straight" by saying he had not. He said that since Lavender is public, O'Brien could go there anytime he chooses.
"We might have talked about his daughter's party or his son's graduation, but we did not talk anything specific about this," he said.
"I've had people come to me and say they saw Fong and O'Brien talking in the parking lot the next day," said resident Bob Stein, who's been outspoken on the case that's become known as "LavenderGate."
"In the 50 years I've lived in Sudbury I've never seen anything as contentious as this," said resident Susan Bistany. "There are people screaming for resignations, while other people are saying let's just forget the whole thing. At this point, I don't see where we are going from here."