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In tone and actions, Saugus Town Manager Scott Crabtree projects the image of a confident, my-way-or-the-highway administrator. But comments Crabtree made during last Thursday’s meeting with the Board of Selectmen (Item, Feb. 11) paint a picture of a fighter who is on the ropes battling against steep odds to survive professionally.
“I would say if you want to articulate the position I’m in, it is a very conflicted position that I’m not able to perform a certain aspect of my duties because of the conflict,” Crabtree said during the meeting.
He made that remark in response to the board’s request for Crabtree to recommend a candidate to fill a town Board of Health vacancy.
Board Chairman Anthony Cogliano stated that he prefers to get someone on the board sooner rather than later. Cogliano’s sense of urgency is understandable: The Board of Health is barely meeting its quorum requirement when three members meet, prompting board Chairman William Heffernan to publicly urge town residents to apply for the board’s empty seat.
The board is only one of several town boards — including the Planning Board, Conservation Commission, and Zoning Board of Appeals — with vacancies going unfilled because of lack of interest among residents to volunteer.
Cogliano’s remark about the need to fill the Board of Health vacancy drew an odd response from Crabtree: “I’ve already talked about doing that and I was told I wouldn’t be supported in my employment if I did,” Crabtree said.
What that means is anyone’s guess.
Saugus town government is no stranger to political upheaval and Crabtree knows that better than anyone. He lost his job seven years ago and then regained it in triumph after a recall vote campaign ousted his enemies on the Board of Selectmen.
He has made bold moves on the town’s behalf since then by stabilizing town finances and spearheading the sweeping school construction and reorganization initiative.
Selectmen evaluated Crabtree’s town-manager performance last year and extended his contract through August 2025.
But Crabtree’s remarks last Thursday imply his tenure is on shaky ground, especially when — in response to a remark by board member Corinne Riley — Crabtree said the Board of Health vacancy goes “way beyond” the need to make a management decision on his part.
“This is a decision based on how you provide for your family,” he said, before mentioning the state Ethics Commission may need to be consulted concerning the Board of Health vacancy.
Shakespeare coined the phrase, “Much ado about nothing,” and if the board vacancy falls under that heading, then we hope Crabtree and the selectmen fill the vacancy and promptly clear the air over any concerns about the vacancy.
If there is a larger, yet-to-be clearly defined disagreement between the parties, then we urge them to seek mediation to resolve the matter. Saugus has too many irons in the proverbial fire at this time to have to embark on a search for a new manager.