SAUGUS — At a Tuesday evening forum, Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano sought to dispel any notion that his ongoing push to change the town’s charter would result in Saugus becoming a city, backing away from a controversial proposal he touted earlier this year.
The forum, held inside the Saugus Community TV station on Main Street, ran roughly 45 minutes and drew a small crowd of residents, who came to watch the discussion and ask Cogliano questions. Much of the discussion focused on the process Cogliano is undertaking to get charter change on the ballot this November — spending days knocking on doors to collect signatures from thousands of residents, with a looming deadline of 100 days before the election.
He explained — repeatedly — that should he garner enough signatures, residents would elect nine members to a charter commission in November. Any resident can run to be on the commission, Cogliano explained, and once elected, the group would have 18 to 24 months to produce a document complete with whatever changes to the town’s governing document they saw fit.
After that document’s approval by the commission, it would go before voters for a final determination. During the forum, Cogliano acknowledged that previous charter commissions have failed to see the changes they put forward adopted, but appeared undaunted by the fact.
“There are a lot of things that they incorporated into their plan that I would like to see looked at again this time around. It’s not a definitive process. But I want the residents to know… we’ll get their input as to what they would like to see to advance this town,” he said. “Saugus is a good place, but I think it could be a much better place. And with some new ideas, we can make Saugus better than it’s ever been.”
While it remains too early to tell what specific proposals would go before voters once the commission’s work concludes, Cogliano focused much of the discussion on the idea that the town manager should be elected. Earlier this year, Cogliano told The Daily Item and other local media outlets that he would like to see Saugus become a city with an elected mayor and city council — an idea he took a great deal of effort to distance himself from on Wednesday.
The decision to back away from the idea of becoming a city appears to be partially motivated by the fact that none of Cogliano’s fellow selectmen were entirely on board with the idea. But, with a more moderate proposal, he said he picked up the support of Selectmen Corinne Riley.
Selectman Jeff Cicolini, who Cogliano said he gained the support of, said he would support the formation of a charter commission and the idea of staggered elections for selectmen, but would not necessarily support more sweeping changes. He said he would not make a final decision until he could review the commission’s proposal in its entirety.
Cogliano said he would like to see the town manager serve as a member of the School Committee, much like a mayor does in a city. In fact, an elected town manager who serves on the School Committee would functionally serve as a mayor with only a different title. Both would act as a municipality’s chief executive and be elected by voters.
To that end, Candace Pierce, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said in an email that town managers and town administrators are “professional appointments.”
Cogliano, who first served as selectman in the 1990s before returning to the board in 2019, said charter change has topped his list of priorities for years.
“I’ve seen the way we operate, and I think we can certainly do better,” he said. “We’ve had our share of difficulties with previous managers… The climate has been a little crazy the last 15 years with our town managers, and I just think it’s time to turn some of the things over to the voters that the Board of Selectmen handle.”
During the forum, Cogliano criticized the approach his board took to extending Town Manager Scott Crabtree’s contract, saying he believed that decision should have been left to the selectmen who will be elected this November. The town charter requires four votes for a manager to be hired or fired, but only three to extend their contract.
Crabtree’s contract now runs through 2027, and Cogliano said Tuesday the first election for a town manager would be held in November 2026.
“It would have little effect on him and, like I said, he or anyone else could run… if it gets to that point,” he said. “But this is about trying to bring more accountability to the town, and I would love to see the residents have their say in who the town manager is and not just leave it up to the Board of Selectmen. That’s my biggest reason for wanting to put forth the charter commission.”
Precinct 2 Town Meeting member Peter Rossetti was among the audience members during the forum and said that while he opposed the previous charter-change effort in 2009, he would support the idea of an elected town manager. Rossetti pointed to his experience on both the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, saying he has seen projects come before the town only to fall away because of delays or other inaction. With greater accountability, he said, that would likely not happen.