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Burlington, Saugus pick managers

Petrin and Crabtree both negotiating contract terms with town officials

By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / April 5, 2012
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Two area communities have selected new municipal leaders, with Burlington tapping John D. Petrin as town administrator and Saugus picking Scott Crabtree as town manager.

By a 5-0 vote, Burlington selectmen Monday chose Petrin, currently the Ashland town manager, to succeed Robert E. Mercier, who is retiring. The appointment was subject to Petrin and the town reaching contract terms.

Crabtree had been chairman of the Saugus Board of Selectmen until recently, when he resigned to seek appointment to the vacant town manager’s post. Last Friday, the board appointed him to the post effective April 1. Selectmen were set to discuss contract terms with Crabtree on April 2 in a closed session.

The hiring of a new administrator in Burlington marks a notable changing of the guard for the community. Mercier, who retires June 1, has been the town’s administrator since 1999, and also held the position from 1980 to 1986.

Petrin, a Bolton resident, was among three finalists in a search that began with 22 applicants. Selectmen chose him after interviewing all the finalists Monday.

“They were all great candidates,’’ said Walter T. Zenkin, the board’s chairman. The finalists included Robert Halpin, president of the Newton-Needham Chamber of Commerce and a former town manager in North Andover and Westford; and Plymouth Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz.

Zenkin said Petrin stood out for him because of his “passion’’ and his “approach to getting things done,’’ which he said emphasized working as a team, building trust within departments and unions, and providing staff with up-to-date training.

“It feels good,’’ said Petrin, 53. “Burlington is a great community. I’ve got some big shoes to fill. Bob Mercier has been there awhile and is certainly known in the field as a very good manager. Stepping in, my goal is to work with everyone in Burlington to build on the success that he has worked with them to accomplish.’’

Petrin said Ashland is also a “great community’’ but that the new job will be a good career step for him.

“It’s a bigger community population-wise. And then with the economic development and the commercial industrial base, it just brings a new set of challenges’’ he said, noting that Ashland “is more of a residential community.’’

Before becoming Ashland’s town manager in 2005, Petrin served as assistant school superintendent in Marlborough from 2001-2005; town administrator in Harvard from 1988-2001; town administrator in Pepperell from 1985-1988; and town assessor in Bellingham from 1982-1985.

Ashland Selectman Steven Mitchell praised Petrin for his performance as administrator, citing in particular his strength as a team builder, his “vast networking capabilities,’’ and his record of having brought financial stability to the town.

“He brought a much more professional approach to the whole concept of municipal budgeting for the town of Ashland,’’ he said.

The Saugus town manager’s position has been vacant for several months due to the departure of Andrew Bisignani, who is now town manager in Nahant.

Thirty-one people applied for the job, and selectmen narrowed the list to three finalists, one of whom later withdrew. On March 28, the board interviewed Crabtree and South Hadley Town Administrator Michael A. Szlosek, according to Selectman Stephen Horlick.

At Friday’s meeting, selectmen voted unanimously to appoint Crabree to serve as manager for two years. The action followed several earlier rounds of voting in which the board was split over the length of the appointment.

Horlick is a lawyer and former Saugus police officer who has also worked at an accounting firm.

“I think Scott has got a good overall grasp of the issues of the town,’’ Horlick said of Crabtree, who could not be reached for comment. “He has a very diverse education in different fields.’’

Noting the fiscal challenges Saugus faces, Horlick added, “This is all about putting Saugus back on track, cleaning up the financial issues, and moving forward. I think Scott has the ability to bring people together to get stuff done.’’

Horlick dismissed criticisms that the selection process had been rushed, noting that before considering candidates, the board held public forums to solicit input on the qualities it should seek in a manager.

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