Teaneck manager prepares to retire; Council plans for transition

By Don Stancavish, Staff Writer

The Record, October 10, 1997, p. L1

Township Manager Gary Saage, a fixture in Teaneck's municipal government since Lyndon Johnson was president, is expected to announce his retirement Tuesday night.

Saage, 63, has been privately discussing his departure with the Township Council and with department heads in Teaneck since June, sources said. This week, Saage acknowledged that he broached the topic recently with municipal officials.

"I felt it was time to bring it up," he said. "I care very deeply about this community, and I didn't want to leave it in the lurch. ...I wanted to tell them that I had seen the light at the end of the tunnel."

At this point, Saage and municipal officials say details of his retirement are not in place yet -- including the date when Saage is expected to leave. But Saage has provided Teaneck with a "window," meaning he could step down any time from six months to two years after Jan. 1, 1998.

Sources say the township is considering hiring a deputy manager while Saage is still working to provide a transition between the old and new managers.

The council this year appropriated $50,000 to hire a deputy manager to handle public and community relations in Teaneck. so far the township has not taken action on the matter.

Saage is Teaneck's most important and powerful non-elected official, presiding over a payroll of 400 municipal employees and a 33.4 million government that is one of Bergen county's largest.

Teaneck's government includes full-time police and fire departments, a library, a health department, and a recreation department.

Saage, a Teaneck resident since 1967, is paid about $106,000 a year and is due soon for an annual raise that would bring his pay to $108,000, officials said.

Teaneck Mayor Paul Ostrow would not comment in detail on Saage's retirement, but he said Saage "is looking to participate in a transition that will maintain the high caliber of Teaneck's government."

Ostrow said the township is seeking "a smooth and careful transition" in hiring Saage's sucessor. Of Saage, he said: "Gary is a gentleman of high integrity whose primary interest is the wellbeing of Teaneck.

"In 20 categories, he gets high marks in 15 to 18 of them," Ostrow said. "He's not perfect. But nobody is, and neither will his successor."

"Saage's supporter credit him with coming up with ways to cut costs and keep municipal taxes relatively low. But Saage has been publicly criticized recently by some council members, who say the manager is not responsive to residents' problems and has created addversarial relations between Teaneck's government and its employees.

"The town desperately needs a manager who is adept at community relations and at conflict resolution," said Councilman Leo Wielkocz, one of Saage's critics.

Saage began working in Teaneck in 1966 as a finance officer, and after rising to chief financial officer he announced his retirement in 1990.

But just a few months after he left Teaneck, Saage was appointed acting manager in June 1991 when the council fired Township Manager Jack Hadge. Hadge had been criticized by township officials for uneasy relations with the council and the public. Saage later was appointed permanent manager.

"This is a big job," Ostrow said of the manager's post. "Teaneck is a vibrant, exciting, and complicated town."