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A Question of Changing Saugus Governance

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Potential Candidates show an early interest in running for a spot on the Charter Commission in November

 

By Mark E. Vogler

 

Just a week after the Board of Registrars determined there will be a ballot question for a Charter Commission study on the Nov. 7 town election ballot, there is early interest by Saugus citizens who want to serve on that nine-member commission.

Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano, who spearheaded a successful petition drive motivated by an interest to change the current form of Saugus town government, pulled out nomination papers this week to serve on the commission. As of Wednesday (Aug. 16), Cogliano was one of five residents who took the initial step to becoming an official Charter Commission candidate, according to Town Clerk Ellen Schena. Joining Cogliano were Precinct 2 Town Meeting Member Robert J. Camuso, Sr., former Selectman and former Town Meeting member Julie Mitchell, Anthony D. Speziale and Frank V. Federico.

To qualify to become a Charter Commission candidate on the November election ballot, a Saugus resident must submit their nomination papers to the Town Clerk’s Office by 5 p.m. Sept. 19 for certification of signatures. Candidates must secure at least 50 certified signatures from registered voters.

Cogliano said he encouraged three of the four potential Charter Commission candidates to run for office, either by calling them or talking to them in person. “I would have asked all four, but I didn’t get a chance to call one of them. I will help all four if they want me to,” Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate.

“They are all friends of mine. I would imagine there will be many more jumping into the race. I intend on supporting those with a similar vision – which is moving Saugus forward. I’m looking forward to it and would love to be able to serve with any and all of them,” he said, declining to identify the potential candidate he didn’t approach.

Cogliano said he was “thrilled” with the early response by potential candidates expressing an interest in running. “I am happy to sign all of their petitions and will go door to door with them if they want my help,” Cogliano said. “I intend on meeting with all the candidates to get their thoughts and listen to their ideas. Nice to see some political newcomers too,” he said.

Cogliano only learned last week that he is eligible to serve on the Charter Commission while sitting on the Board of Selectmen. Town Counsel John Vasapolli had issued a legal opinion in late June that selectmen and School Committee members couldn’t serve in two townwide offices simultaneously and therefore were ineligible to run for and serve on the Charter Commission while holding their respective offices. But Cogliano disagreed with Vasapolli’s opinion and said he planned to run for both. He also appealed to the Secretary of State’s Office for their opinion on the matter.

Shortly after, Vasapolli consulted with an attorney in the Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office, who agreed with Cogliano. Vasapolli then issued a revised opinion that concluded selectmen and School Committee members were eligible to run for – and if elected – serve in those positions while also serving on the Charter Commission.

Cogliano said he understands that there are many more hurdles to overcome even if voters approve of a nine-member Charter Commission to study possible changes of Saugus government. He has suggested changing from a town to a city, or at least having an elected town manager. Cogliano has also expressed an interest in running for mayor or being a future town manager.

“I also know the opposition will be putting forth their cast of naysayers who will get no support from me,” Cogliano said.

At least two selectmen said they support the current form of government in Saugus and don’t see the need for the town to create another Charter Commission at this time.

  Selectman Michael Serino told The Saugus Advocate he has some concerns about creating a Charter Commission. “Overwhelmingly, when Towns vote to form a Charter Commission, the final plan proposed to the voters is to change a municipality’s form of government from a Town to a City form of government,” Serino said.

“In Saugus, this would mean eliminating your five (5) elected Selectmen and your fifty (50) elected Town Meeting Members, thereby, replacing them with an elected Town Manager or Administrator and/or Mayor along with an elected nine (9) member City / Town Council,” he said.

  Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said she has supported a move to staggered elections in the past as she does today. But that proposed change in town governance hasn’t been supported by the town. And it doesn’t take a Charter Commission to consider the proposal again.

After serving in the town’s local government for over three decades as a Town Meeting member, a School Committee member and a selectman, Panetta said she’s satisfied with the town’s current form of government. And she doesn’t like the idea of making the town manager an elected position. “When you choose to elect the top position, you are changing from a ‘Town’ form of government to a ‘City’ form of government. So really, the discussion will revert back to ‘City’ vs. ‘Town,’” Panetta said.

“The biggest representative form of government is a Selectmen / Town Meeting form of government with Town Meeting members, Selectmen, and School Committee members, all elected by residents,” she said. “This is what we have today. I’ve always felt that centralizing governmental power is never a good idea,” she said. “In the end, it is up to the Saugus voters on whether they are satisfied with our form of government, or whether they want to see major change.”

  Selectman Corinne Riley – Cogliano’s key ally on the board – said she supports the creation of a Charter Commission and wants to see it accomplish what she sees as needed change in Saugus governance.

“With over 4,000 signatures obtained, it’s clear that there is a strong appetite to form a Charter Commission to review the current Charter,” she said.

Speaking for myself, I’d like to see the charter amended to put more authority in the hands of the voters,” she said.

  Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini is not advocating specific changes in the current form of Saugus government, but he does support the creation of a Charter Commission. “I do support the desire to take a fresh look at our governance and how we operate as there are always things that can improve,” Cicolini said.

“I look forward to the election and no matter who comprises the nine-member commission, I am sure they each will do a great job and have Saugus’ best interest at heart,” he said.

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