NAHANT — In the Town Hall of this quiet beachside community, employees sorted through ballot petitions for the upcoming elections, handled water and sewer bills, and sold beach tickets to the public.
There was no sign of a police raid. No indication that just a few days ago officers seized computers, paperwork, and lists of the town’s vendors from the building off Pleasant Street. Nothing beyond the fact that, since Friday, the office of the town administrator has been locked.
“I would say it’s business as normal,” Town Clerk Margaret R. Barile said Tuesday, before turning to ask a co-worker, “Wouldn’t you?”
Around Nahant, residents voiced concern and frustration about an investigation of spending by Town Administrator Andrew Bisignani, but many were not surprised. Several described Bisignani as invisible and unavailable to the community, in stark contrast to his predecessor. Bisignani took over the post in 2012 after retiring from the same position in Saugus amid concerns about his spending of town funds.
Prosecutors in Essex County are looking into whether Bisignani improperly funneled public contracts to favored contractors. He quickly resigned, effective July 1.
Resident Paul McCormack, 73, said Bisignani’s apparent financial impropriety should have been obvious, given the circumstances of his departure from Saugus after serving as town manager since 2002.
“He’s preying on somebody, and we have to be it,” said Mccormack, a substance abuse counselor. “It’s an addiction to power and money.”
McCormack described the island town as peaceful and family-oriented. He said it’s a place where people come to raise their children, where one would not expect to fall prey to a financial scheme.
“It’s a quiet, hard-working community,” he said. “We pay our taxes like anyone else.”
Diane Dunfee, who lives on Cary Street, lauded the previous town administrator, Mark Cullinan, for cleanup and maintenance projects and making regular appearances at community events. Cullinan was well known in Nahant and accessible, she said.
“The last administrator was fabulous,” she said. “He maintained and made improvements to the town. At job sites, you could see him running around. He always seemed to make the most out of the money available.”
Cullinan left a positive mark on Nahant, she said. “He really beautified the town.”
Still, Dunfee said she would hold off her final judgment on Bisignani until the investigation is concluded.
“It is concerning to me if there’s illegal business going on,” she said. “I think it’s a good thing that he resigned.”
Edward Goodrich, during a stop at a convenience store on Nahant Road on Tuesday, said Bisignani was less receptive to public concerns than the previous administrator. He said he spent two years urging Bisignani to replace or repair a dilapidated ladder on Wilson Road allowing access to the beach. Bisignani agreed to take care of the matter, Goodrich said, but he never did.
“He made himself more accessible,” Goodrich said of the previous administrator. “Obviously, he was more responsive.”
Some said Nahant has suffered since its monthly newspaper, the Harbor Review, ceased printing in 2011. The fact that an investigation is occurring left Dan Dolce surprised.
“There’s no transparency here,” Dolce said. “It’s a small town, and sometimes those things happen. Hopefully, the allegations aren’t true, but it’s a little sketchy.”
State troopers arrived Friday in a van and cars and swarmed Town Hall. They roped off Bisignani’s Nahant home as they searched for evidence.
Bernadette McCaffrey, who splits time between Nahant and upstate New York, wondered how the potential misspending might be affecting projects and services in Nahant. Audits looking into the last two years of Bisignani’s tenure in Saugus identified more than $2 million in questionable spending.
“Who knows when people have all that power, what they’re going to do,” McCaffrey said, “even in a small town.”