Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano cites his campaign to change Saugus to a mayoral form of government as his top priority for 2023
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano has expressed an interest in recent years of running Saugus local government as a future town manager. In an interview published in last week’s “The Advocate Asks,” he elevated that interest to running a future City of Saugus as its mayor. “I believe the top official in Saugus should be elected by the people and not simply reappointed by three members of the Board of Selectmen,” Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate.
“I would imagine a Mayoral race in Saugus would be quite interesting…. something I would definitely be interested in,” he said.
In the interview, Cogliano declared that he would “lead the charge to change our charter in 2023 and finally become a city.” He called the current town manager/Town Meeting form of government “outdated.” “If all goes well, we could have a question on the November ballot to change the charter and form a charter commission,” Cogliano said.
“Should everything go to plan, we could have our first election for Mayor in 2025, which also goes along with the expiration of the current Manager’s Contract,” he said, referring to Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree.
Two of Cogliano’s four board colleagues – Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta and Selectman Michael Serino – are adamantly opposed to changing Saugus from a town to a city. Serino said he plans to explain why Cogliano’s proposal wouldn’t be good for Saugus in a future “op-ed piece” to The Saugus Advocate. Selectman Panetta took great umbrage to the way Cogliano made his proposal public – in local newspaper interviews in which he questioned the effectiveness of the town manager form of government.
“We have built beautiful new parks and playgrounds under Scott’s leadership,” Panetta said.
“We have received millions of dollars in grant money because of our Town Manager. So, when I read in the paper that the Chair wants to change our Town of Saugus to a city, and then he wants to run for Mayor, it is disconcerting,” she said.
Selectman Corinne Riley said she needs more time to evaluate Cogliano’s proposal, but said she isn’t satisfied with the town’s current form of government. “The people in Saugus pay every bill, and they have no direct input on the town’s Chief Executive,” Riley said, referring to the town manager. “In my opinion, we’d all be better served by a form of government with direct accountability to the people,” she said.
Selectmen Jeffrey Cicolini said he also needs more time to review Cogliano’s proposal. “I feel the residents are hesitant to adopt such a radical change in fear of the unknown and knowing that once it happens there is no turning back,” Cicolini said.
Cogliano elaborates on his proposal
Cogliano said he plans a thorough briefing of voters as he proceeds with the plan. “I intend to engage the entire community in the process of looking at what works and what can be improved to make Saugus, our home, the absolute best place to live, work and raise a family,” Cogliano said.
“As the town grows and changes, so have the needs of Saugus residents. We need a form of local government more responsive to the residents. As the region continues to change, Saugus cannot afford to get left behind; we deserve a seat at the table,” he said. “On regional transit, on educational funding, on smart sustainable development that reduces the tax burden to our residents, a mayor can make a real difference in ways that a town form of government can’t.”
Vice Chair Panetta explains her opposition
Please know that how I found out about this proposal is through the newspaper. This was never discussed at a Board of Selectmen’s meeting.
This question is really two-fold. Is the question truly about becoming a city or is it about a change in who is managing our government?
For the record, I am not in favor of changing Saugus from a Town into a City. I don’t see the benefits of becoming a city over a town. There was a comment made that we would receive more money as a city compared to a town, which I don’t believe to be true. Over the years that I’ve served in Town Government, including as Vice Chair of the Charter Commission, the majority of people I spoke to want Saugus to remain a Town. After all, 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 the residents. This is what we have today. Centralizing governmental power is never a good idea.
When I was first elected back in 2011 as a Selectman, our Town was heading into receivership. Our finances were in disarray, and our Essex Street Fire Station didn’t have enough money to stay open full-time. We were about to close our library, Senior Center, and Youth and Recreation Center. When Scott Crabtree was hired, he had some tough decisions to make. Through his knowledge, communication, and good business sense, Saugus worked its way out of financial turmoil. He earned the respect of the Finance Committee, Town Meeting, and most importantly, the residents of our Town. Today, we have an AA+ bond rating from Standard and Poor’s. Because of this outstanding rating, we were able to borrow money for the new Middle/High school at a lower interest rate, saving Taxpayers millions of dollars. With that said, he led the charge for the new Middle/High school, where over 70% of the voters voted for the construction of the new school and a restructuring of the entire district. By working with the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA), our town was awarded a $63.8 million grant to construct the building. We have built beautiful new parks and playgrounds under Scott’s leadership. We have received millions of dollars in grant money because of our Town Manager. So, when I read in the paper that the Chair wants to change our Town of Saugus into a city, and then he wants to run for Mayor, it is disconcerting.
Cicolini has “mixed feelings” about plan
I continue to have mixed feelings about the possibility of Saugus becoming a city. There are rumors swirling around town about how if we were to become a city, Saugus would get millions more dollars from the state, that unfortunately is not a guarantee. There are many criteria that come into play in determining the aid amounts provided to communities and some of the key factors such as density and demographics do not necessarily work in Saugus’ favor. The average surrounding city has a population of 60,000 or more people. Melrose is an example of one of few smaller cities with 30,000 people but it is more of an outlier as Lynn, Malden, Everett, Revere, Chelsea all have populations in excess of 50,000 and a couple over 60,000. Saugus’ population of 28,000 pales in comparison to most cities that surround it.
My parents were involved in the most recent past attempts to change our charter. My father chaired the charter commission in the 80s and my mom served on the most recent commission. It takes a lot of time, energy and effort to create a charter that encompasses enough change and still provides the proper checks and balances while allowing our community to maintain its unique identity. The idea of an elected mayor instead of a town manager and a city council in lieu of a board of selectmen and town meeting has many elements that need to be taken into account. The Town Manager is the chief procurement officer but reports to the board of selectmen and cannot spend a dollar without the approval of town meeting as the appropriating body who receives recommendations from the finance committee. A Mayor has significantly more control over the day to day and financial operations in a community given the board of selectmen and 50 member town meeting (all of whom are elected by the people) would be replaced by a much smaller city council. I feel the residents are hesitant to adopt such a radical change in fear of the unknown and knowing that once it happens there is no turning back.
I am interested to read what the proposal, if any, will be. As I always do, I will take each and every fact into account before I decide whether I will or will not support the change from a town to a city.
Riley seeks “accountability” in current town government
Whether or not to become a city with an elected Mayor is an important issue, with pros and cons. I’m not yet prepared to provide a definitive opinion on it, but I will be doing my own due diligence on this important topic. I would strongly support public debate as to the options available regarding forms of government available in Massachusetts.
The topic deserves strong consideration, since, in my opinion, our current Town Charter has fundamental shortcomings. Specifically, the role of Town Manager has a significant impact on every resident, with direct control over all town departments, capital planning, contract negotiation for all contracts except for schools, economic development, appointments to most Boards and Committees, and much more, yet the employee in that role only needs to keep two members of the Board of Selectmen satisfied to keep his job, and only 3 members to get a contract extension. That is not what accountability looks like.
The people in Saugus pay every bill, and they have no direct input on the town’s Chief Executive. In my opinion, we’d all be better served by a form of government with direct accountability to the people.
Serino questions a change
The Advocate newspaper had asked me for my thoughts regarding a statement, from my colleague Mr. Cogliano who stated in another local newspaper, that he would like to
change the form of government in Saugus from a town to a city. Consequently, I first became aware of his opinion a couple days ago when a friend of mine had texted me a copy of the newspaper article. I am opposed to changing our form of government along with the character of our community. I believe it is best to make changes within our current town charter, if necessary, then changing our form of government to a city.