Town Meeting Member William S. Brown shares his views on what makes Precinct 6 special and the top issues facing the people he represents
Editor’s Note: For this week’s column, we sat down with Town Meeting Member William S. Brown to ask him what makes Precinct 6 so special and what he sees as the top issues in the Saugus neighborhoods he represents. Brown, 74, was born in Saugus, where he has lived most of his life. He is a 1967 graduate of Saugus High School. Brown is in the final year of his fifth consecutive two-year term on Town Meeting. He served three years on the 50-member body more than two decades ago. Several years ago, he was the leader of the grassroots citizens group, Citizens for a Safer Saugus. The group was instrumental in elevating public discussion about speeding in town and safety issues affecting pedestrians and bicyclists. He is a retired machinist who worked at General Electric for 27 years. His wife, Cheryl, is also a Saugus native and Saugus High School graduate (Class of 1969). They have been married for 39 years. Their son, Alex, graduated from Salem State University after receiving his high school diploma from Essex Agricultural and Technical High School in Danvers.
Brown plans to attend the sixth in a series of “Saugus Over Coffee” forums, which is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday (June 20) in the Community Room of the Saugus Public Library. He is interested in meeting residents of Precinct 6 and encourages them to attend the forum, which is cosponsored by The Saugus Advocate and the Saugus Public Library. All citizens of Saugus – whether residents of Precinct 6 or not – are welcome to come down to the library and talk with Precinct 6 Town Meeting members informally over coffee or to ask them questions during the forum, which will be broadcast later on SaugusTV.
Highlights of this week’s interview follow:
Q: What makes Precinct 6 special?
A: I think it’s the diverse factors. You’ve got business down here in Cliftondale and you’ve got a lot of residential. Half of Cliftondale is in my precinct. I think Anna Parker helps to add to the diversity … the athletic facilities. It’s close to my precinct, but not in the precinct. You see a lot of people walking through the precinct, a lot of different nationalities.
Q: Any businesses or historic points of interest in Precinct 6?
A: I think the historic part of Cliftondale, what people remember, are some of the old stores and businesses that have been here over the years.
Q: Like George’s Barber Shop on Jackson Street?
A: George’s? Oh yeah. That place goes back to the early 1900s. George’s is a destination for many people in town and has been around for ages. Going along that stretch, you have the Methodist Church, which sticks out as a landmark near the rotary.
Q: How much of the rotary is in your precinct?
A: I guess half of it. I’ve got two trees (in the rotary) and Bob Camuso (Town Meeting member of Precinct 6) has got the other one. As you go along that side of the square, I remember, there used to be a TV repair place in there. The guy’s name was Jim Howard. We had Sherman’s market over there.
Q: What about the Saugus Post Office? Is that part of your precinct?
A: Yes, the Saugus Post Office is in Precinct 6.
Q: What other landmarks in Precinct 6?
A: I don’t know about other landmarks. I guess the building that was owned by the Surabians is kind of a landmark. Then you have Saint Margaret Church.
Q: Are there any other historical buildings in Precinct 6?
A: I wouldn’t call them historical. But there are buildings that I see and look at that in my mind are nostalgic. These are just buildings that you remember. We had a bakery there. These are people that mattered to us – people like Jim Howard. We always picked our TVs there. The Square itself is historic.
Q: In your mind, what are some of the pressing issues facing Precinct 6? Issues that Precinct 6 residents are talking about or issues that you have identified in Precinct 6? Issues that are Precinct 6-specific?
A: I would like to see traffic throughout the precinct – and throughout the town, for that matter – given a higher priority. You see trucks that roll through Cliftondale and they go pretty darn quick. There is supposed to be a 20 miles per hour speed limit here, but it’s never enforced. People have forgotten about it.
Q: And from my observations over the years, a lot of people don’t even know how to drive in the rotary. They really have no clue.
A: Right. That’s [the rotary] an antique, right there.
Q: It’s amazing: Every time I come down here, people just don’t realize that the cars in the rotary have the right of way. They don’t seem to understand that.
A: Yes. That’s it exactly. People come down Essex Street, in front of my house [on School Street] and along Lincoln Avenue and Central Street. And there’s no excuse for them driving as fast as they do. They come down School Street, and School Street is kind of a crossover, and they’re in a hurry to get to Lynn or some other place. And they go down there fast. I’ve argued for a speed limit for 25 unless it’s already posted. Almost every town around us has that – a lot of streets where the speed limits aren’t posted.
Q: As I recall, back several years ago, you were the leader of that group, Citizens for a Safer Saugus.
A: Yes, that was a few years ago, and I still want to work on that. There are some issues that I would like to revisit. It seems that with COVID, everything has been tossed aside, and I think we need to get back to work on that. Traffic safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists, is an important issue – not just in Precinct 6 – throughout town. I think this town needs to invest in some speed limit signs for the smaller streets that are unmarked.
Q: As you go through your travels as a Town Meeting member representing Precinct 6, what’s the biggest issue or complaint that you receive in the course of a week, from citizens and residents?
A: It’s sad, but I don’t hear a lot from citizens. And in the rezoning of the Cliftondale area, I actually heard from the most amount of people that I have ever heard from. The largest group of people called me, and they were overwhelmingly opposed to it, and they were residents of this area. So, I listened to that. I don’t know. I guess the problem of being a Town Meeting member is that you don’t always have the guidance from the citizens. I look to hear from citizens who have an opinion on an issue. Unfortunately, I think, most people are complacent about what they want in this town. We need people who are going to speak up – people that are going to get active. Town Meeting has a lot of older people that will be stepping aside, and I would like to see some younger people with some good ideas come forward.
Q: I’m sure you have some views on how to proceed with the revitalization of Cliftondale. Would you like to share them?
A: Well, I think the first thing is that more attention has to be paid to Cliftondale. Cliftondale seems to be the forgotten stepchild of Saugus. Cliftondale has got potential, but we need to do it in a well-thought-out manner. I know people want to see change up here, but it’s not something that you just want to rush into and then have to correct your mistakes afterward. You want to do it right the first time.
Q: Don’t you think there’s a lot of progress that’s been made over the last couple of years?
A: It’s been stagnant, I think. There’s a lot of people who want change and want to see things, but the problem is that it’s not an area that retailers want to move into as a rule. It’s got limited parking. We’ve tried to do something about that. We’ve purchased land that we’re going to make parking a little more available. But retailers don’t move in just for parking.
They don’t move in because there’s no activity in the Square. Founders Day seems to be primarily down in Saugus Center. There needs to be some kind of thing down here. I’d almost like to say that Cliftondale should be considered a shopping area, but there’s no shops in it right now.
Q: Do you remember the days of the elephant in Cliftondale?
Q: When there was a festival down in Cliftondale and they had elephant rides. Peter Rossetti [Precinct 6 Town Meeting member and a longtime Cliftondale businessman] used to talk about when Cliftondale Square was closed down and they had an elephant in the parking lot.
A: Oh, really? That’s right. I think I’ve heard him talk about that.
Yeah, that gets me thinking about Cliftondale in the past. Mr. Allen owned the hardware store that my brother [George] eventually bought. At one point, there was a five and ten cent store in the Square. And when you were a kid, that’s where you shopped for Christmas presents and stuff. And they had everything. The modern day replacement of that would be the Dollar Store, the Five or Under Stores. I’d like to see that.
Then again, they don’t come here, because they don’t have the parking. I don’t know if the answer is to have some kind of incentive to bring them into the town. I’d like to borrow some good ideas from Jeanie Bartolo [Precinct 6 Town Meeting member]. I like the idea of putting planters and flowers in the Square, along with some benches and trash barrels out there to make visitors feel welcome. Another idea that I like – maybe we should close off Cliftondale one day and hold a car show to draw people to the Square. It’s just something different to do.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share about what you see as the future to Precinct 6?
A: I don’t know what the future is going to bring, and that’s a little scary.
Q: Do you think there’s too much apathy in town?
A: Yes. I think that a lot of people in this town are getting to be more temporary residents – this is where we are going to live for three to five years and then we are going to buy a house somewhere, way up on the North Shore. This is kind of a pass-through town. People are going to Lynn and Nahant and to other places, so they pass through the town, and they do it as quickly as possible.
Q: So, you’re saying that more and more people just aren’t willing to make an investment in the town for the long haul?
A: Well, a lot of the homeowners are just kind of complacent with what’s going on. And I think that all of the new apartments along Route 1 have given us a citizenry of people who are only here temporarily. They pay their rents. If it’s a condo, they pay their condo fees and they’re looking to move on to wherever they’re going to make their permanent home. Route 1 would be a bonanza if we did it right. Then, we end up going back and redoing it because we didn’t do it right the first time.
Q: Do you expect a good turnout on June 20?
A: I hope so; I really hope so. I talk to Jeanie [Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member Jeanie Bartolo], and she’s going to be there and she is excited for it, and I am, too. I’d like to hear from people.
And that’s my concern: People need to speak up; if you have a problem in this town or you think something’s going on that you don’t like, then speak up. Let us know. How are we going to do what we think is right here if people don’t speak up?
Q: Anything else?
A: I like Town Meeting. I really do. It’s a powerful form of government, and I think that people need to exercise it and get in there and do their part for the town and speak to their Town Meeting members when things aren’t the way they want them or when they are [going well]. It’s just a shame that we don’t have more participation in Town Meeting.