HARWICH — Town Administrator Joseph Powers, serving as hearing officer for the board of selectmen, has found the Port Restaurant and Bar and Ember Pizza, Inc. violated state laws during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
Powers in his findings concluded the Port Restaurant and Bar committed three violations and Ember Pizza, Inc. committed one violation. Powers stated in his findings he would hold his disciplinary recommendations for both restaurants in abeyance until after hearings are held by selectmen to determine whether or not the liquor licenses should be renewed.
Selectmen on Tuesday night agreed to hold hearings based on receiving requests for the seasonal all-alcoholic license renewal applications from the two restaurants, but those license applications cannot be filed with the town until March. Once the applications are filed the town has 14 days in which to schedule the hearings.
Town Counsel Gregg Corbo said that in weighing the applications, the selectmen can look at factors to determine if it is in the public interest for there businesses to remain in operation. Corbo recommended that the board make that decision before acting on any disciplinary recommendations from the town administrator.
In his statement of findings related to the Port restaurant, Powers said he found the licensed establishment did in fact, “permit disorder disturbance or illegality to take place on the license premises” by violating the governor’s orders and guidance relative to the operation of restaurants during the COVID-10 state of emergency on three of four dates in question.
On May 22, 2020, Harwich Police Officer Neil Nolan observed numerous individuals congregating on the outdoor patio area of the establishment, drinking from open containers, as well as the operation of what appeared to be a full service bar in violation of the Governor’s orders prohibiting on-premises consumption, Powers found.
On July 16, 2020, investigators from the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission also observed numerous violations of Department of Public Health guidance for on-promises service, including the consumption of alcohol without food, the service of alcohol without food prepared on site, and individuals standing at outdoor areas consuming alcoholic beverages. The following day, ABCC investigators saw patrons walking around the establishment without facial coverings, customers playing in gaming areas, gathering in groups larger than six people at tables, and consuming alcoholic beverages without food prepared on site.
In his statement of findings related to Ember Pizza, Inc., Powers said that on May 22, Nolan observed what appeared to be a full-service bar area on the patio of the establishment, in violation of the governor’s orders prohibiting on-premises consumption. There were a few people standing around the outside bar area and around the fire pit. Nolan observed individuals with canned beverages in their hands and they were drinking from containers. He also observed a staff member behind the bar area actively serving the beverages.
The hearing process for the two restaurants has been long and contentious, and town officials had difficulty setting dates for the hearings that would accommodate all parties. Initial hearings conducted last August were suspended when attorney Raymond Tomlinson, representing owners of the restaurants Justin and Griffin Brackett, contended the remote GoToMeeting system was not working and he could not hear witnesses, town counsel or the hearing officer.
Powers reconvened the hearing for Jan. 12, 2021, setting up a separate room in town hall for the restaurant owners and their attorney. The room was connected to the other participants by a closed-circuit video feed. The arrangement was approved by the health director, Powers noted. But both Tomlinson and Justin Brackett informed Powers they could not attend on that date.
In an email to Powers on Jan. 6 Justin Brackett wrote “I am unable to attend an in person hearing on Jan. 12, as I am traveling out of the state for work and I am required by the state to quarantine upon arrival back in Massachusetts until I receive a negative COVID test.” On the same day, attorney Tomlinson said he was experiencing health problems and a busy work schedule that would necessitate new hearing dates in March.
“Based on the numerous delays already experienced, the hearing officer chose not to reschedule the hearing and informed attorney Tomlinson of his decision in writing,” Powers stated in his hearing summary.
No testimony was provided in the Jan. 12 disciplinary hearing by the owners of the restaurants or their attorney.