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Staying the Course in Saugus

Selectmen and Town Manager-2
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Selectmen reward Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree with a 2-year contract extension that will keep him in charge of town government through August 2027


By Mark E. Vogler

  Scott C. Crabtree was already Saugus’s longest serving town manager, and his current contract extension wasn’t due to expire until Aug. 24, 2025 – about two years and seven months from now. But selectmen voted unanimously last week (Jan. 19) to give him a two-year extension on top of that, which would keep him in charge of running town government through Aug. 24, 2027.

  “I appreciate the confidence,” Crabtree told selectmen after the official vote approving his two-year extension. “And I do appreciate the job and will continue to work as hard as I can to improve on the things that you would like to have improved. I appreciate this job and I appreciate all of your support.”

  In addition, Crabtree received a 4 percent pay raise, retroactive from Aug. 23, 2022. The contract extension and pay information wasn’t immediately available. But Board of Selectman Chair Anthony Cogliano said Crabtree’s current base pay of $196,000 would increase to about $205,000, when taking benefits into account.

  Under his previous contract extension, Crabtree, 53, became the first town manager to serve Saugus for a decade in the history of its current form of government (town manager/Representative Town Meeting), which dates back to 1948. Former Town Manager Andrew Bisignani (2003-2012) served for about nine years. Seventeen regular town managers were in office less time. Their service ranged from a year to five years; many of them for just half that period, which earned Saugus the reputation of being “the graveyard for town managers.”

  But Crabtree – who was fired in the fall of 2014, only to get rehired a year later after the recall of the four selectmen who fired him – is already credited with serving 10 years and nine months of service as Saugus town manager (and that includes the time between his firing and rehiring). If Crabtree serves the full amount of his contract extension, he will extend his stay at Town Hall to 15 years and four months.

  “I voted in favor of extending Mr. Scott Crabtree’s contract for two years because I think he’s done an exceptional job moving our Town forward,” Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta said.

  “I believe this will ensure the stability of our Town, and I look forward to continuing to work with our Town Manager for the betterment of our community and residents,” she said.

  Crabtree is a fourth-generation Saugus resident. He and his wife, Christina, have three young children. He is a Saugus High School graduate from the class of 1988.

  Previously, he served as chairman of the Saugus Board of Selectmen and was a town police officer for more than a decade.

  Crabtree holds a bachelor of science degree in management with a concentration in accounting from Boston University and a juris doctor from New England School of Law. He clerked for a Superior Court judge and worked as an accountant for a Boston law firm before starting his own Saugus law practice. He has been a member of the Massachusetts Bar since December of 2004.

  Crabtree became town manager on April 1, 2012. His days at Town Hall nearly ended in October of 2014, when the Board of Selectmen at the time voted 4-1 to fire him. Selectman Panetta was the lone board member supporting Crabtree. But Panetta and enough citizens in the community rallied behind Crabtree, engineering a successful recall in March 2015 of the four selectmen who fired the town manager. Panetta and the four “recall advocates” who joined her on the board – Cicolini, Mark Mitchell, Jennifer D’Eon and Scott A. Brazis – rehired Crabtree as one of their first actions as a new board.


Two members considered government change

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano and Selectman Corinne Riley said they would have preferred to have the board elected this November vote on Crabtree’s contract extension. “I’m not happy this took place at this time as I felt the board coming in in November should have handled his contract extension; however, our Charter, as it presently reads, only requires three votes to extend a Manager’s contract and he had them,” Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate this week.

  “Voting against the extension would only show division and that’s not what I’m about. I’ve always been a team player and I hope that shows,” he said.

  A proposal was made to extend the manager’s contract an additional two years from August 2025 to August 2027, with the rationale that with a potential change of government on the horizon, retaining the Town Manager until 2027 would allow a year of overlap to a potential new form of government, according to Riley.

  “While the year overlap makes sense for a smooth (potential) transition, I felt that this decision would be better handled by the next Board to be elected by voters this November,” Riley said.

  “However, the proposal was made now, and the Board was not receptive to tabling this issue until November, so I had to make the best decision I could,” she said. “With all the current and soon to be started projects underway, like Cliftondale Revitalization, a West Side Fire Station, the Vocational school, water/sewer upgrades, water meter replacement, public safety communication upgrades, not to mention revenue-generators like marijuana dispensary permitting and potential finalization on a Host Community agreement with WIN, I think that stability is critical to get these projects planned and completed effectively, and retaining the Manager provides stability to the town, and reduces risk to these projects, even if a change of government were to occur.”

  Cogliano said his vote was influenced in part by the potential for Saugus to change from a town to a city – a move he has been lobbying for in recent weeks. “My vote tonight [Jan. 19] ensures that Saugus will stay the course while I work to change our Charter. With everything going on across the political aisle in town, the last thing we need is more controversy,” Cogliano said.

  He vowed to have a proposal for a Charter change along with a Charter Commission on the ballot in November. “They will then draft a plan to present to the voters in 2025 and if all goes well we could be electing our first Mayor or Town Manager In mid 2026 for a temporary term,” Cogliano said.

  “The first full four year term for Mayor could take place in November 2027, the same time the contract expires,” he said.

  Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini said the contract extension definitely helped to allay fears of uncertainty surrounding the possibility of Saugus switching from a town to a city. “Obviously, there is chatter about a change in our government, and this extension provides us much-needed stability into 2027, the first year in which a change in our form of government could take place if supported by the voters,” Cicolini said.

  “Obviously, we cannot manage our town and fulfill our fiduciary responsibilities based on what-if scenarios. No one knows what the future holds. What we do know is that we now have stability in our executive leadership for the next four years, which is an excellent thing for our community,” he said.

  Selectmen spent more than two hours in a public evaluation session at Town Hall last week. The Saugus Advocateasked the selectmen to each summarize how they graded Crabtree’s performance in light of the pay raise and contract extension:

Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano

  “Strengths: What he does well, he does really well and our town is in great shape financially.”

  “Shortcomings: Communication is an area all 5 members say he needs improvement. I think the town has a horrible rapport with developers and that starts at the top. Response time on most matters is slower than I’d like.

  “I also think he needs to allow our department heads to do their jobs. There is oversight and then there’s micromanaging. A good manager can garner an employee’s respect and be well liked at the same time. I’m not sure we have that in Saugus today.

  “Do Scott and I have differing opinions, styles, and views, absolutely but we’ve managed to work in unison for the betterment of Saugus and will continue to do so. The entire board made it clear he needs to improve his communication skills.

  “I’d also like to see him act as fast as we did in settling his contract with all our unions and he said he would be starting that process in the coming weeks.

  “I’m happy to put this in the rear-view mirror and continue working to bring about a Host Community Agreement with WIN that will be even better than the one initially accepted, begin the licensing process for the Cannabis dispensaries, two initiatives I championed that I believe will bring as much as $100 million over the next 25 years. Money that will help us get our third fire station that we desperately need. I can also kick the Charter Change process into high gear. The events of this week only prove to me that we can do better with our form of government. As always, Saugus first.”

Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta

  Some of the reasons that I voted on this extension are listed below.”


  “Under Scott’s leadership, our Town finances are in excellent shape. Scott has implemented and upheld financial management policies and procedures, which led to the Town achieving a AA+/Stable rating under S&P Global Ratings. I believe this is the most significant accomplishment under Scott’s watch.

  “When I became a Selectman almost 12 years ago, there was talk about going into receivership. There was discussion about closing the Library, the Senior Center, and Youth and Rec. The Essex Street Fire Station was continuously being closed due to lack of funds. Per Standard & Poors, ‘Saugus now has a “very strong economy, strong management, strong budgetary flexibility, and very strong liquidity.’” We also have approximately $10M in our stabilization fund.

  “By our Town being financially strong, we have saved millions in dollars in borrowing – where we can continue to save money & invest in our community.

  “New School / Parks & Playgrounds

  “Under Scott’s leadership, our Saugus children have a beautiful, state-of-the-art Middle/High School. The Belmonte School has been renovated for the upper elementary school students, serving students 2-5. These efforts, which were supported by over 70 percent of the voters, are all part of the district-wide master plan solution to prioritize education in Saugus. This was the largest capital project that Saugus has ever undergone.

  “Our Town has prioritized parks and playgrounds under Scott’s watch, including Bristow Park, Belmonte Middle School Tennis Courts, improvement in Stackpole Field, the Veterans playground and the Evans Park basketball courts.

  “GRANTS Received

  “Although Saugus does not have a grant writer, Scott and his staff have worked diligently to bring in millions of dollars of grant money into Town.

  “Some of our successes include: The $65.1M grant through the MSBA for the new Middle/High School

  “Saugus was awarded a community development block grant COVID-19 grant to help small businesses (up to $360K).

  “We have received over $1M in grant money since Saugus has become a green community. (good for the environment while receiving funding)

  “Awarded multiple SAFER grants for the hiring of firefighters.

  “Awarded $1M towards the final design and construction of the first phase of the Ballard Street RiverWalk project from the Seaport Economic Council.

  “Awarded $1M for public safety communication enhancements.

  “And the most recent grant of $2.3M to revitalize Cliftondale Square.

  “Safety Improvements

  “We have continued to invest in public safety under Scott’s watch. We have acquired new police cruisers, we’ve added radar speed signs, and we’ve had a comprehensive, town-wide speed limit analysis completed by The Engineering Corp. (TEC) of Andover. He is also overseeing the public safety fiber optics communication upgrade project.

  “Scott also worked hard to try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the community and prioritize the health and safety of all residents during this global pandemic. He hired a new Director of Public Health, hired additional nurses, as well as other health care professionals to support and aid the public during these trying times.

  “Completion of the Master Plan

  “Scott hired the MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Council) to help develop the Goals & Vision for Saugus over the next 15 years. Public meetings were held to engage the public on what direction they wanted Saugus to take. The Master Plan is now complete.

  “Cliftondale Square

  “The Board of Selectmen let the Town Manager know that Cliftondale Square was a priority. The Town Manager was able to secure two parcels that will be used to help revitalize the square, including adding additional parking in the area. We were also awarded a $2.3M grant to help revitalize the square.

  “With so many accomplishments, I feel that an extension of Scott’s contract is well deserved. He is dedicated to do what’s in the best interest of our community.”

Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini

  “As for the Town Manager’s evaluation, I think it is evident by the comments made by all 5 selectmen that our Town Manager does an excellent job maintaining fiscal and operational stability for Saugus. Our town’s financial performance and fiscal strength has never been better than it is today. Scott’s conservative financial policies coupled with his attention to detail on complex matters, help Saugus maintain its fiscal strength and reputation as a stable community.

  “Obviously, as with any employee, there are areas where one can improve. I think Scott was receptive to constructive feedback, and I am sure he will strive to address any items that we raised. The vote for the contract extension being unanimously supported by all 5 of us is a great thing for Saugus. Part of our bond rating assessment includes the stability of the community, including its leadership

Selectman Corinne Riley

  “Regarding the Town Manager’s evaluation, first off, I am happy that we’re now having regular public evaluations, as I think it increases transparency and accountability in our local government. Specific pros, in my opinion, include a conservative fiscal approach, which provides for stability and flexibility for things that cannot be reliably predicted like snow and ice, pandemic-related expenses, etc.

  “Another pro for me was the purchase of 481-483 Lincoln Ave and 42 Jackson St. These two properties in the heart of Cliftondale represent a rare opportunity for the town to have a direct impact on Cliftondale Revitalization. To the Manager’s credit, he acted quickly to initiate the purchase of both properties, preparing Articles for Town Meeting to approve, and then secured a very significant grant to demo the buildings and create parking.

  “I’ve campaigned on trying to make Saugus government hear, and act on, the wishes of residents. Through both the Cliftondale Revitalization Committee survey, and public forums, residents have identified parking as a major problem in Cliftondale. The Manager’s actions here demonstrate responsiveness to the wishes of the residents, and I give him high marks for it.

  “Specific areas for improvement, in my opinion, include the lack of progress on a west-side fire station, economic development particularly in Cliftondale and on Route 1. Another area for improvement is communication. For example, the town web site is cluttered with outdated information, the search function is almost useless, and information is way too hard to find. Beyond the web site, where information is ‘pulled’ by residents, I want to see timely communication where information is ‘pushed’ to residents’ smartphones, whether by social media platforms, a town-provided application, or a free subscription service. Examples of this type of communication include timely updates on road closures, updates from police and fire to avoid certain areas during an emergency, updates from the town clerk about election information, polling places/hours, etc.

  “Regarding the contract extension, in Saugus, the most important responsibility of the Board of Selectmen is the hiring/extending/removal of the Town Manager, whose performance has a significant impact on the residents’ quality of life. Given this impact, I’d like to share the rationale for my vote to extend the Manager’s contract.

  “Scott Crabtree has proven the ability to complete capital projects effectively, and with inflation and rising interest rates, delays have a significant impact on all projects, so the sooner projects get started, the cheaper they will be for our taxpayers. I realize that some people may have expected me to vote against an extension. I thought about it, considering the pros and cons, and to me, the correct decision was clear that keeping the current administration in place is the best available option for completing these critical projects over the next few years.

  “I want to congratulate the Manager on this extension, and I look forward to working with him on the projects listed above and others.”

Selectman Michael Serino

  “In regards to the Town Manager’s Evaluation. The Board of Selectmen recently held an open meeting to evaluate the manager, as required in his contract. The entire board did feel that the manager could improve on his communication with the residents of our community.

  “Overall, I feel that the Town Manager is doing a good job. Back in 2012 when the former manager left, the town was in financial ruin. The Hamilton St. Fire Station was only opened part-time, our library was decertified, we had No money in our free cash and stabilization fund reserve accounts. Moreover, our town employees had no pay raises in nine (9) years. A property tax debt exclusion and trash fee was repeatedly being mentioned. Consequently, Saugus was being considered for take-over by the State.

  “Myself, as chairman of the Board of Selectmen at that time, Scott Crabtree, our newly appointed Town Manager, our Town Treasurer/Collector and our outside financial advisors traveled to the Statehouse to meet with the State Treasurer, State Auditor and officials from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. We did secure Saugus being allowed to use the States bond rate in order to borrow money. The Department of Revenue did require Saugus to complete several financial goals. The Board of Selectmen, at that time, along with the Town Manager implemented several financial management policies which have continued to this day.

  “Currently, the Hamilton St. fire station is back operating at full time, our Library’s certification has been restored and our dedicated town employees have been receiving well deserved pay raises. New schools and parks have been built. Saugus has 10 million in our stabilization account and 8 million in free cash and our bond rating is AA+, one step away from AAA. Our residents are living in a full-service community.

  “In regards to the Town Manager’s Contract. The Board of Selectmen did vote (5-0) to extend the Town Manager’s contract for two (2) years, from August 2025 to August 2027. I do believe our town is on the right track under the current administration. However, there is a movement to change our town to a city. A city form of government could include replacing our fifty (50) elected Town Meeting Members, our five (5) elected Board of Selectmen and our nine (9) member appointed Finance Committee with an elected seven (7) to eleven (11) member City Council.

  Consequently, the earliest the voters of our community would be able to decide on any charter proposal, as a ballot initiative, would be in November of 2025.

  “According to Michael Ward, director of the Collins Center at UMass Boston, ‘transitioning from a town to a city is a huge change and should have a very long transition provision written in any charter proposal. A transition period could take anywhere up to 18 months.’ The State Legislature and the Governor would have to approve the change. Furthermore, the administration would need time to transition and candidates would need time to campaign for the new seats. It could be well into the Spring of 2027 before a special election is held. Moreover, the town’s regularly held two (2) year election cycle would take place in November of 2027. Until a charter proposal is produced for the November 2025 town election, many uncertainties currently exist.

  I believe that the Town Manager has done a good job. Moreover, I believe that it is very important that we maintain stability in Town government. Therefore, I feel that a two (2) year contract extension is warranted.

Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree-2
Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree has reason to be happy after selectmen voted to give him a two-year contract extension, ensuring that he will be at the helm of Saugus Town Government through August of 2027. (Saugus Advocate file photo by Mark E. Vogler)
Selectmen and Town Manager-2
Selectmen and Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree (far right) are shown last month, warming up inside Town Hall during the town’s tree lighting event. Joining him, pictured from left to right, were Selectmen Michael Serino, Anthony Cogliano, Corinne Riley, Debra Panetta and Jeffrey Cicolini. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler)

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