By COLIN FLANDERS
With additional reporting by MIKE DONOGHUE
The selectboard won’t hold a liquor hearing for Backstage and Pub Restaurant because town officials believe the state’s weeklong license suspension sufficed as punishment for its owner being drunk on the job.
Following recommendations from the police department and town manager’s office, selectboard members agreed to forgo a local hearing after initially postponing a decision until the state resolved its case.
Deputy town manager Greg Duggan said there have been no reported incidents at Backstage since May, and town officials feel confident the state’s punishment is sufficient.
“We’ll certainly continue to monitor them and see if any other issues come up,” Duggan said.
The decision signals an end to the troubles for Backstage and its owner, Vincent Dober Sr., a former Burlington city councilor who has owned the Essex bar for about five years. Dober came under scrutiny earlier this year after state investigators said he was drinking on duty and failed to fully disclose his criminal record on his license renewal.
Liquor investigators were called to the bar after getting two anonymous tips that Dober was intoxicated, according to the Vermont Liquor Control Board.
At a hearing in front of the liquor board July, Dober tried to dispute testimony accusing him of being intoxicated on a night in late April. Investigators said his speech was slurred and he was unsteady on his feet – portrayals Dober blamed on a respiratory illness.
Dober said that’s also why he couldn’t complete a required breath test, a condition added to his license in April following an earlier incident in which he was found tending bar with a .172 percent blood-alcohol level. He paid a $350 fine for the infraction, and Backstage’s license was suspended for three days for having an intoxicated patron on the premises that same night.
In its ruling, the liquor board said it found the liquor investigator’s testimony “credible in all respects,” leading to the suspension and a several tight restrictions: Dober is now prohibited from drinking or being under the influence of any substance, including alcohol, while on the premises of his bar in the village.
The board also said it wants Dober to appear when it comes time for any future license renewals.
“We have now found that Mr. Dober’s intoxication has led to violations stemming from his role as both employee and patron of his licensed establishment,” reads the board’s decision. “These infractions cannot continue if licensee wishes to remain licensed.”
Dober’s attorney, Norm Blais, told The Reporter in July that he and his client felt the state’s conditions were reasonable “considering the circumstances.”
“He will live with them,” Blais said.
Police reports show authorities were quite familiar with Backstage.
Essex police reported 26 incidents at Backstage between Jan. 1, 2017 and April 4, 2018 that generated police response, including at least seven cases of driving under the influence in addition to complaints for assaults, intoxicated persons, disorderly conduct and a non-fatal drug overdose.
Selectboard chairman Max Levy asked to receive timely notice of any further violations rather than waiting until next year’s renewal process. Police Chief Rick Garey said the department is now running quarterly incident reports for all first-class liquor licenses.
“If there is something of an urgent nature, we would bring that to the town manager’s attention immediately,” Garey said.