Selectmen express concerns after receiving email accusing their chairman of making alleged “homophobic comments” on social media
Selectmen received an email this week from a critic of Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano, accusing him of making “homophobic comments” on social media, calling for a public apology and demanding that he be removed from his leadership position with a public reprimand.
“Cogliano should publicly apologize to members of the LGBTQ+ community that he has offended,” Ross Demore wrote in the letter he emailed to selectmen Tuesday (March 14).
“Furthermore, in accordance with the policies of the town, he must immediately be removed as chairman and publicly reprimanded for his hate speech,” he said.
At least one member of the board – Selectman Michael Serino – said he believes that Cogliano should apologize to Eliot Evan Smith, the Lynn man he allegedly disparaged on his Facebook page. “I am shocked and saddened by Anthony’s comments,” said Serino after reviewing the email, which contained screenshots of Cogliano’s comments from his Facebook page.
“I would hope that he realizes that an apology is the right thing to do,” Serino said.
“I will not be apologizing”
But Cogliano responded with a short email of his own to everyone who received the Demore email, which declared, “I will not be apologizing to anyone as I was referring to a crucifix and not a penis.”
“At some point, this nonsense better end….because I’ve simply had enough now. I’m the last person to be anti anyone based on race or sexual orientation,” Cogliano wrote in a statement to The Saugus Advocate.
“I don’t care if a person is black, brown, yellow, red, or white. If they’re straight, gay, Bi, Trans, lesbian, queer or whatever they identify as. That’s their business and everyone deserves the right to be happy in their own skin and have a partner to share themselves with,” he said. “I have many friends and relatives in the LGBTQ family and to me they are simply just friends and relatives….just like everyone else.”
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta suggested that Cogliano’s alleged conduct didn’t epitomize what is expected of a selectman. “As elected officials in Saugus, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard and be an example for those in the community,” Panetta said. “With that said, the words and actions of the Chairman do not represent the Board of Selectmen. We must move our Town forward in a positive manner, always in the best interest of our residents.”
In an interview this week, Cogliano defended himself and said his controversial texting was in response to a social media sparring session with a man he believes was using a fake name.
“I’ve never turned my back on anyone and have a track record to prove it. I respond to everyone on social media and try to take care of everyone’s problems,” Cogliano said.
“Those that disagree with my political views take advantage and think they can say anything they want to me and about me….well I wasn’t put on this earth to take b.s from anyone, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen or not and I’m not starting today,” Cogliano said.
“I treat everyone with kindness and the utmost respect and feel as though I deserve that in return. I believe Evan Smith is a fictitious person so for anyone to think I’d apologize to someone I don’t believe exists [it] is never going to happen,” he said. “The things he sends to me on Facebook messenger are deserving of a good solid backhander as my father would say..fortunately those days are long gone. When pushed to the limit, I responded back so he threatened to go to the press. Well here you go Mr whoever the hell you are. Here are you five minutes of fame…soak em up.”
Smith says he’s for real
Eliot Evan Smith insisted in an interview yesterday that he is a real person and that he was critical of Cogliano’s conduct when the board chair was accused of allegedly fabricating signatures for documents to defend WIN Waste Innovations in a lawsuit. “My full name is Eliot Evan Smith, but I’ve gone by Evan my whole life. My Facebook profile is legitimate. I’ve had it since 2005 or 2006,” Smith said.
“Furthermore, even though multiple people confirmed to him that I am a real person, Cogliano has repeatedly claimed that my profile is fake or that I am (name deleted) or other critics of his. He went so far as to make a series of homophobic comments since (name deleted) is openly gay,” he said.
But some of Cogliano’s colleagues on the board said his actions in his dealings with Smith do not reflect the character of the person they know.
“I read the email and reviewed the attachments. I hear and fully understand the concerns raised by the author and empathize with him. I do not condone this type of behavior,” Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said.
“I have known Anthony for a long time, and I do not believe he had any malicious intent towards the GLBTQ community when he wrote the comments. I believe he felt provoked by the many critical comments made about him, and he responded in haste,” Cicolini said.
“I learned a few years back about the impact words can have on others, even when not directed at someone in particular. These comments were out of character for Anthony. I am sure if he had the option to do it over, he would choose his words more wisely. I have asked that he refrain from any further posts with this individual for the betterment of the town, the board and our residents,” he said.
Riley defends Cogliano
Selectman Corinne Riley – Cogliano’s closest ally on the board – said she’s hesitant to make a judgment, noting that the letter received by selectmen presents just one side of a story.
People need to get Cogliano’s side of the story, too, before passing judgment. If they have concerns, they should contact him directly, either at a public meeting or on social media.
“Unfortunately, social media often becomes a place for airing of personal and political grievances, where people routinely use false names and spread false and derogatory information behind private pages. While posts like these may be satisfying in the short term, they just build resentment and ill will, and do nothing to help Saugus move forward,” Riley said.
“I’ve known Anthony Cogliano long enough to know that he is not a person that has hatred in him for any group of people. In fact, I can offer recent examples where he has worked to help groups that have experienced hatred, including Black Lives Matter in June 2020, and the rally to support the local Jewish community after a hate group targeted them in September 2022,” she said. “Rather than tearing people down, he has routinely worked to build people up, like when he worked with a local Rabbi to bring the first ever menorah to the front lawn of town hall this past December, and when he started a new Saugus tradition of recognizing graduating seniors with banners around town, and when he spent months delivering food, at no cost, to so many local families in need at the beginning of the pandemic, and when he recognized many local families who lost loved ones with ornaments on the town Christmas tree, and the countless instances where he has helped local sports groups with transportation costs, fundraising and more.”
Riley credited Cogliano with working “tirelessly to bring new revenue into Saugus to ease the burden on Saugus taxpayers, via legislation for marijuana dispensaries and a WIN Host Agreement.”
“He doesn’t just talk, he puts in the work to get things done, and while in my opinion, we all might be better served with more civil discussion on social media on both ‘sides’, it would be Saugus’ loss if this social media issue were to continue,” Riley said. “Let me be clear, the comments that were posted on social media were unnecessary, and I don’t condone any derogatory remarks against any group regardless of religion, sexual orientation or any other circumstance that may offend anyone’s belief or freedoms of the way people choose to live their lives. I urge all involved to act more civilly toward one another, act like adults, and for the Board of Selectmen to focus on the work at hand to address the many issues facing Saugus.”
Serino suggested Cogliano needed to be more tolerant in accepting criticism. “When you are a public official, at times we all get criticized. Unfortunately, that is a part of our job that I am sure we all don’t like,” Serino said. “However, the Board of Selectmen are the top elected officials in our town. We represent all the residents of our community. Our words do matter.”
For his part, Cogliano said he’s not about to take public abuse from his critics. “These individuals, some of which I believe to be fake, love to dish it out but cry wolf when they get a taste of it back,” Cogliano said. “I wasn’t put on this earth to take anyone’s b.s. and I will not start now….Chairman of the Board of Selectmen or not… I think most people in this town know who I am and what I stand for. I never turn my back on anyone. This ridiculous noise will not deter me from leading this town. I’m not going anywhere.”
The letter from Ross Demore
Here’s the entire letter that selectmen received via email this week:
Dear Members of the Saugus Board of Selectmen et al.,
I was disturbed to read that Chairman Anthony Cogliano allegedly falsified documents under penalty of perjury in an ongoing lawsuit against WIN Waste Saugus. Subsequently several people have criticized him publicly on social media for his unlawful behavior. In response to his critics, he has denied that they are real people, and has made homophobic comments towards them on social media, as you can see in the attached screenshots.
Cogliano’s homophobic comments do not align with the policies and values of the Town of Saugus. The Town’s Use and Email policy prohibits “Comments that offensively address someone’s age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, national origin or disability.” Furthermore, the town’s Sexual Harassment Policy specifically prohibits “gossip regarding one’s sex life” and “…sexual messages or images posted on social media, including but not limited to instant messages, Facebook posts, Tweets, Snapchat, Instagram, or blog entries.”
Cogliano should publicly apologize to members of the LGBTQ+ community that he has offended. Furthermore, in accordance with the policies of the town, he must immediately be removed as chairman and publicly reprimanded for his hate speech.