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Nahant taps Saugus’s Bisignani as next administrator

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / December 8, 2011
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Saugus town manager Andrew Bisignani is preparing for a new assignment as Nahant’s town administrator, even as his pending departure has been a source of contention in Saugus.

The Nahant Board of Selectmen last Thursday chose Bisignani to succeed Mark P. Cullinan, who retired as town administrator last month after 16 years in the post. The appointment was subject to the board and Bisignani negotiating contract terms, a process that was set to get underway this past Tuesday.

But as Bisignani looks ahead to his new role after nine years in Saugus, his decision to leave has received criticism in that town.

Bisignani, whose Saugus contract expires in July, was also an unsuccessful finalist for the Winchester town manager post earlier this fall.

In an interview, Bisignani said that “in the absence of any discussion with the [Saugus] board to extend my contract, I felt that I would have to seek other opportunities. I had spoken to board members individually over the last six or seven months and never got any response from them or any direction.’’

But in a letter to Bisignani last Friday, Scott Crabtree, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, requested Bisignani to inform the board “of your employment intentions.’’

“I, as well as some other board members, were disappointed to learn through the media that you were actively seeking employment with other communities and have received a job offer without any formal requests or communication to the Board of Selectmen regarding your employment intentions in Saugus or elsewhere,’’ Crabtree wrote.

Crabtree reminded Bisignani that his contract expires next July 21, and said the board is required to “give notice of its intentions six months prior to that,’’ or Jan. 21. He asked that Bisignani “inform the board as to whether you intend to resign and breach the term of your current employment contract or are interested in proposing in writing new terms prior to the Jan. 21, 2012 provision.’’

In an interview, Crabtree contended that Bisignani would breach his contract should he resign because the contract has no provision for resigning.

Bisignani said he intended to respond in writing to Crabtree’s letter. But he said the board “has given me no indication whatever in the discussions I’ve had with them that I would be held accountable in terms of my contract up till July 21, 2012. So my impression is it’s not an issue. And the contract as written is ambiguous in that regard.’’

“My relationship with the board has been very good, so I feel I would have their full agreement if I chose to resign,’’ Bisignani added.

Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian said he believes “what’s best for all parties . . . would be a negotiated amicable separation agreement’’ between Saugus and Bisignani.

Bisignani, a Nahant resident, was selected from among 74 applicants and two finalists for the Nahant town administrator post, which Cullinan, now retired, is continuing to fill on a part-time contract basis.

His appointment came on a 2-1 vote, with members Michael P. Manning and Richard J. Lombard voting for Bisignani and board chairwoman Lainey Titus voting for the other finalist, Wenham town administrator Jeff Chelgren.

Bisignani has been Saugus’ town manager since December 2002, making him the town’s longest-serving manager. Before that, he worked for Revere for 25 years as chief financial officer, city auditor, and purchasing agent. He also chaired the city’s Retirement Board.

Bisignani said he was drawn to apply to Nahant because “it’s a well-managed community . . . It has a very stable history in terms of managers.’’ He said it also has “relatively new infrastructure. It doesn’t have the issues that some of the larger urban communities have.’’

Looking back on his Saugus years, Bisignani calls his most important accomplishment “maintaining financial stability over nine years during extremely difficult times . . . We haven’t had any significant layoffs.’’

“Saugus has had many issues over the years I’ve been here,’’ he said. “It usually centers around not having the resources to devote to a particular department . . . But an administrator has to balance the needs of the entire community with limited resources and can’t give everyone what they want.’’

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