Friday, November 4, 2005
Carlisle Oral History Project: Hal Sauer: Carlisle's long time public servant
After 37 years of active service to the town, Hal and his wife Shirley are leaving their Westford Street home and moving to Maine. Last week he took some well-deserved time out from sorting and packing to speak with the Carlisle Oral History Project about his many years in town government. He arrived at the interview with an impressive list of community activities that would have filled the calendars of two or three people.
Because of his deep commitment to community service, Hal Sauer has lots of friends in Carlisle. "I really enjoyed knowing so many people in town, and because of my activities, people knew who I was," he observes. "It gave me a lift when I saw people who knew me." This, of course, is the essence of small-town life and Sauer exemplifies all that is right with Carlisle.
When Hal and Shirley Sauer came to town in 1968, there were about 1,700 people living here, compared with our current 5,000-plus population. A wrong turn brought him to town. "I lived in Bedford in 1959, I was going to Concord, and I made a wrong turn," he recalls with a grin. "'What a wonderful place!' I thought. I bought land [on Westford Street] in 1961 and built a house there in 1967." The Sauers — with children Jonathan, Jeff and Jane — moved here in January 1968.
It didn't take long for Sauer to get involved in his new community. In 1968 he joined the musical group, the Carlisle Cats, playing sax and clarinet with the group for 35 years. "We used to play from the back of a flatbed truck," he chuckles.
Hal and Shirley Sauer first experienced town meetings in Bedford, where "People would get up and talk at Town Meeting. I said to Shirley, 'I could never do that.' Well it turned out later that a microphone is wonderful to me, because I could talk and talk and talk!" Sauer says he enjoys telling people in other parts of the world about Town Meeting. They look at me strangely, as if self-government just doesn't make sense to them. Well, it does. The idea that a snowplow blade is something you purchase, that the town purchases, is something they've not experienced before. That only works when people are interested in town government."
Planning Board and town facilities
Sauer was elected to the Planning Board in 1974. At that time, the lack of town facilities was a serious concern. "We had no DPW facility, no fire station at the time, and the police were in a small office at the library [which always contained town office space]," Sauer recalls. "We came out with a multitude of reports of where various facilities ought to be; that was the major activity that I remember." At the same time, Sauer was the first chairman of the State Park Advisory Committee, with George Senkler and Ron Ondrika. "When Farnham Smith wanted to sell his property, there was a great deal of concern about the land being developed into house lots. Ben Benfield and others approached the state about buying the land for a state park. About 900 acres went into that, and I think the state made a good move," says Sauer.
Sauer was elected to the Board of Selectmen in 1986, serving as chair in 1989 and 1992. In his first term, Kate Simonds and Dave Stewart were also on the board, followed by Tom Raftery and Grant Wilson in his second term. Sauer observes that "there were no major issues or problems during my time as Selectman. George Fraser was instrumental in getting the fire department to look at how they maintain their trucks. We tried to find ways of doing it less expensively. George and I spent a lot of time under trucks, looking at maintenance!"
Asked about the inevitable phone calls from townspeople that come with a Selectman's job, Sauer replies, "The way I dealt with that was to say, 'Yes, that makes a lot of sense. I'll point you to the committee that studies that.'" This underscores Sauer's philosophy of recruiting people to work in town government: When people criticized a board's actions, Sauer says, "I always took the position that it would be great for those people to be on a committee, to find out whether their ideas were any good or perhaps to change their ideas when they were on a committee."
Sauer elaborates on the importance of volunteering for town office. "My experience on various boards has been as profitable to me as it has been, hopefully, to the town. I'll say that to anyone who will listen." He agrees that the make-up of the town is different from years ago. "People move here with the idea that services will be provided, and not necessarily that they have some responsibility for providing them themselves." He points out that his Westford Street neighborhood has changed significantly over the years, reflecting the changes in the entire town.
Hal Sauer was a Forum writer for the Mosquito for several years in the early 1990s, and prior to his election as Selectman he was president of the newspaper's parent company, Carlisle Communications, Inc.
Sauer's interests expanded to the region in 1990 when he joined the board of MAGIC (Minuteman Advisory Group on Interlocal Coordination), and became its chair for a year in 1991. Stressing the importance of regionalization, Sauer remembers getting a phone call from a newspaper reporter in Lowell who asked, "Why do you want so much green space in Carlisle?" Sauer replied, "That's a strange question. It seems to me that 50 years from now the green space we have here will be important to people from Lowell." His prediction was not based on geography — Lowell's borders will not expand to meet Carlisle's — but the populations will move back and forth. "For example, Lowell residents use our state park and I visit Lowell quite a bit and I'm impressed with it. I recently played with the Lowell High School band."
Consistent with his interest in conservation, in the early 1990s Sauer was chair of the Landbanking Coordinating Committee, which sought to create a fund from a small percentage of real estate sales to enable the town to buy conservation land. He was also the founder and first chairman of the 80 Russell Street Committee, created to recommend uses for the property left to the town by former Mosquito editor Kay Kulmala. "Eventually," says Sauer, "Ken Harte saw that it was sold through the Mass. Audubon Society, with the proceeds to be used for conservation purposes."
Board of Appeals and 40B
In 1998 Sauer became a member of the Carlisle Housing Authority and the Board of Appeals, and began to tackle 40B (affordable) housing. "I was in charge of the first 40B, which is the 'moonscape' across from the Transfer Station [now called Laurel Hollow]. Michael Kenney was the developer. Terry Herndon, who was on the Board of Appeals with me, had to recuse himself because he lived within 300 feet of the proposed development, so that first 40B was mine to do with the rest of the Board of Appeals. And now it's being developed."
Sauer feels strongly about the importance of the Board of Appeals today, citing 40B as the "hottest issue" today and into the future. He points out that, "Until Carlisle gets its housing plan in order, developers have found that 40B gives them a leg up in doing what they want to do in town. We've got to have a strong board." Responding to the lack of support revealed in the Mosquito editorial of October 21, Sauer says, "The Selectmen ought to do something to make the BOA a much more permanent board than it is now. A budget, staff assistance and a telephone would be important." In prior years, the BOA worried about such things as a garage being built on a non-conforming lot, "things that were fairly easy to deal with." With the advent of 40Bs, the BOA has taken on new meaning, Sauer notes. Even though he will soon leave town, Sauer is still concerned with Carlisle's future — he has written to the Board of Selectmen to encourage them to enhance the Board of Appeals so they can do the important work ahead.
Hal and Shirley Sauer will head for their retirement home in Ocean Park, Maine. He has been retired since 1994, when he worked for Trident International, a company that sold computer products. Looking forward to his new surroundings, Sauer anticipates "moving in November, if we get our Carlisle house cleaned up. We have a house there; Dave Thomas is our builder. Dave was one of my Cub Scouts and Shirley was the den mother back then."
Sauer leaves Carlisle with a long and enviable record of community service, and his enthusiasm for public service hasn't dimmed over the past 37 years. "When I speak to people now," he says, "I tell them I really think they should stand up and be counted. The best thing to do is to call the chair of the Board of Selectmen and say, 'I'm interested in (whatever it is) and I'd like to be appointed to a committee.'" He repeats that doing something for the town is equally rewarding for the person doing it.
Farewell party on Monday
The Sauers' friends and neighbors will be able to say farewell to them at Town Hall on November 7, 4 — 6 p.m. It would be a wonderful parting gift for Hal Sauer and a lasting gift for the town if a few more Carlisleans were to "stand up and be counted."
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito