THE ADVOCATE ASKS: Selectman Jennifer D’Eon shares her “Christmas List” for Saugus residents
Editor’s Note: For this week, we sat down with Jennifer D’Eon, who has been a member of the Board of Selectmen since the recall election in March of 2015. We asked her to identify and talk about the top five presents she would give to the town this Christmas if she had the ability to do so. D’Eon, a 1993 graduate of Malden High School, has lived in the Cliftondale section of Saugus since buying a Myrtle Street home from her husband’s grandparents in 1999. She and her husband – Saugus Fire Department Deputy Fire Chief Tom D’Eon, Jr. – have two children: Ally, 16, and Jake, 12. They were both born and raised in Saugus. D’Eon is one of four “recall” candidates who were elected to join Debra Panetta on the Board of Selectmen after the firing of Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree by four selectmen who were later ousted. Panetta was the sole supporter of Crabtree. Soon after emerging victorious in the recall election, D’Eon and the other selectmen voted unanimously to rehire Crabtree. D’Eon and her colleagues were reelected in November 2015 and again in November 2017. D’Eon has not yet decided whether she will seek another two-year term on the board in next year’s town elections. She has an associate’s degree in business from North Shore Community College. Some highlights of the interview follow.
Q: Jen, do you plan on running for reelection next year?
A: Right now, I want to run for reelection in 2019. It will depend on whether or not I pull papers in July. That will depend on what is happening at that moment; if I feel in my heart that I am still contributing – what have I and if I have met my goals – which I came onto the board wanting new parks and schools in town, which we accomplished. I was told we never would [accomplish those goals], but we did, but we accomplished all that I wanted and I feel proud about that. As long as there is still good work to do, I want to do it. I just feel that come July 2019, when the time comes to decide am I going to run, there are a lot of factors that will determine if I say, “Yes, I definitely am going to run for another term” or “No, I’m not going to run.” But right now, yes, I do want to run.
Q: Now, were you inspired to run on the parks improvements because of what happened to your daughter – getting injured on the playground?
A: Yes. Yes. Because my daughter broke her arm at a playground in Saugus and subsequently needed surgery and has a steel rod that she will have for the rest of her life in her arm. I met other figures in town, including Greg Nickolas over at the Saugus Youth and Recreation Department [he is the director]. Our children have been injured at our parks, and I knew it was time to make some improvements.
Q: So that was the motivating thing?
A: Yes. That was the motivating thing. It was the right time. There was an opportunity at that time that I could run for selectman and get my voice heard. I just felt like our priorities at that time were not in the right order. I felt that we needed to take our bottom priorities and make them our top priorities. I’ve got children, and the educational and recreational areas in this town were top priorities for me at that time.
Q: Now – the time that you have been on the Board of Selectmen – what do you consider your best accomplishment or the thing that you are most proud of?
A: I am very proud to have been part of getting the town to vote and approve to build a new high school-middle school. I’m so proud, because while we needed it 20 years ago, you could not get it back then, but now was the time when the entire community came together and said, “Yes, we need this for our children, for their education and to give them the best chance in their lives to the best education” – I am so proud to be a part of that and a part of our history.
Q: Okay, let’s look ahead. It’s Christmastime and I want to ask you some questions. If you could give five Christmas presents to the town, what would they be? And in their priority, so what would be your first?
A: Well … if I knew what the town’s wish list was, I would try my hardest to get them everything on the list. Anything that is within my wheelhouse to do, I would try my best to do it. I’m reading and I’m listening and I’m hearing at my meetings that people do want a 25 miles per hour town-wide speed limit – and I want that, too, and I think the rest of the board wants that, too. We’re doing the studies right now, and I hope that as soon as possible that we can help make that come true to the town.
People in my neighborhood are buying their own “slow down” signs. This is a new phenomenon for us.
Q: Did you get one of those “Citizens For A Safer Saugus,” 25 miles per hour bumper stickers yet?
A: No, I have not gotten one yet.
Q: Are you looking for one?
A: I did not even know that they had them available until I read about it in the paper. Does Bill Brown have one?
Q: You could probably get one from him.
A: I’ll have to reach out to him.
Q: So, you would put the bumper sticker on your car?
A: Oh no, my husband wouldn’t allow me to put it on my car, but I would put it in the window.
Q: Any other thoughts on what you plan to do for the new year on this issue?
A: I’m going to be as proactive as I can and as involved as I can. We are the traffic commissioners for the town, so I’ll be involved every step of the way with that. I read every single piece of documentation that I get, before the meetings and as the weeks go on. We are very well informed as to where they are doing the [traffic safety] study. We do know that this is going to come down to an enforcement issue. It’s going to be enforcing the new speed limit that is ultimately going to make it successful.
Q: Should this be like a major theme of next year’s Annual Town Meeting?
Q: Articles to improve traffic safety.
A: I think the Town Meeting realizes this is a very important issue to the town right now, and something needs to be done. The town manager and the Board of Selectmen are well aware of it, too.
Q: Okay, you have 10 precincts, so do you think maybe that members should get with residents of their precinct and propose things to help their neighborhoods out?
A: I think a good amount of them are doing things right now. Town Meeting members have come to us over time about stop signs and speeding, so I think that Town Meeting members are aware of the problems, so we’ll see in 2019 what comes up.
Q: Okay, for Christmas present Number Two, what will you offer?
A: Well, I have some pet projects that I hope that the town will like. One of my goals is revolving around beautification projects. I would love to see some projects done on Route 1 to improve the overall appearance – maybe filling in the holes and the guard rails, and metal fences coming down – coming more up to the times with what some other towns have on their highways. They have the sound barriers. They don’t have any more of the guard rails. It would be really nice if we could get some funding for improving the appearance of Route 1 and making it look much better.
Q: Christmas Present Number Three, what would that be?
A: Christmas Present Number Three, if I could give to this town, I would like very much to hear from some of the developers and see what they are willing to do for improvements. From the Square One Mall, I’d love for them to come to us and see if they have any plans to make any improvements to that mall. I know that a restaurant is coming. I know that it’s a steakhouse – the Longhorn Steakhouse – but as far as the inside of the mall, I’d like to hear if they plan to do any refurbishing or anything. It seems like the trend now is for outdoor walking mall–type of thing. And I think that Square One Mall could definitely use a little help with its image and a little refurbishing inside.
Q: Okay. Christmas Present Number Four?
A: Christmas Present Number Four for the Town of Saugus, if I could give anything … I would just love to be able to let more people know and give them directions if they have an issue in their neighborhood or a concern: how they can reach out when they approach the town. I would like to make it easier for people; I would love to explain to them to make it easier. I would really love to make it easier for them to get help on projects that are important to them. I’d just like to help them to get where they need to be to get information and to get answers.
Q: That sounds like a little more transparency in town government.
A: Yes: better access to town government.
Q: Okay. And Christmas Present Number Five?
A: Christmas Present Number Five to the Town of Saugus: I vow to make myself available to residents of Saugus any way I can, to do the best job that I can. If there is something that I’m not informed on – and I need to be as one-fifth of the Board of Selectmen. I volunteered for this job, and I’m open to hearing from anybody who needs to tell me anything that would help me do my job better, so my Christmas present to the Town of Saugus is my time.
I am very happy when residents come to our meetings and tell us their personal points of view, because it only helps the cause. That’s what we’re there to do – to listen and to try to help our citizens.
Q: Great. I have a couple of other questions that might dovetail into some of the things that you have been talking about as presents. Do you have any thoughts on a West Side Fire Station?
A: I do have thoughts on a West Side Fire Station.
Q: Please expound.
A: The time has come for a West Side Fire Station. There’s a lot of development coming in town and it’s happening quickly. I do believe that this topic has been on the table before, and the town knows that it is needed. Working with the town manager and Town Meeting and all the other different boards in town, I think that this [new fire station] will come to fruition.
Q: Is this something that should be on the agenda for the Town Meeting in this coming year?
A: In 2019? Probably. Yes, I think it should be on the agenda. It should be discussed, because there are many, many new apartment buildings that are coming along. There’s going to be a real need quickly; a West Side Fire Station is definitely needed in this town.
Q: Do you have any more thoughts on transparency? On how to make the town more transparent to its citizens?
A: I hope that we are transparent. We hold the meetings in public. Anybody can come. The meetings are posted, and anybody can come and speak to us. There is nothing I could tell you that the public doesn’t know. We don’t do anything in private.
Q: You are talking from the perspective of the Board of Selectmen, but there are other aspects, like some people complain that when they go to Town Hall, they request something and they don’t get the information, and sometimes they are discouraged from seeking it – that they have to pay so much for documents when the information could be sent to them for free via email documents.
A: I don’t have much power over people getting documents from Town Hall, but there is the Freedom of Information Act [state Public Records Law], and they should be able to get the documents that they request. Every department is different, I think, depending upon what office you should go to, but they should be able to get them.
Q: One of the common complaints is that they are being told, “Oh, you have to put it in writing or I’m not going to honor it,” which is contrary to the Public Records Law. As a citizen, it’s better if you put it in writing, in order that you can protect yourself and be able to appeal if you are denied timely access to the records, but it’s not a requirement that when they come in, let’s say, the Town Clerk’s Office, and say, “I want to see the campaign expenses” – in fact, that is one area where those documents, because they are campaign-related, need to be readily accessible. They have to be produced on the spot – as required by the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance.
A: I thought those records are online.
Q: They are supposed to be online, but they are also supposed to be produced on the spot. There is no “file a written request and we will get the information to you.” That would be a violation of the laws coming under the state Office of Campaign and Political Finance. There are some instances throughout town government where things haven’t been accessible as they should be. There’s one town board that had trouble with following the Open Meeting Law, and the state Attorney General’s Division of Open Government set them straight on that. So, do you have any thoughts on this issue?
A: Going forward, we should look to see if there are any improvements that we can make.
Q: So, how do you see your role as one five members of the Board of Selectmen?
A: I consider myself to be the mom on the Board, looking out for children in the future and looking to promoting events that are good for the town. I’m 100 percent available to anyone that needs me, because the people elected me to do this job. The job as I see it is to have the best Town of Saugus we can possibly have.
Q: And what if people have some ideas or suggestions they want to pass along to you?
A: They can send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put my name in the subject space, but they should know that I’m elected as one of five members of the Board. I’m elected to speak, and speak for myself. I think all five of the members of the board bring a different perspective.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share – maybe a holiday message to the residents of Saugus?
A: Yes. I would like to say Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all of the residents of Saugus, and I hope that all of the children of Saugus enjoy their holiday and that they get to see Santa on Christmas Eve and the Annual Christmas Eve Parade. And I just hope that everyone has a happy and healthy new year.
Q: Merry Christmas!