Day in the Spotlight for Teaneck Manager
Saage Honored on Eve of Retirement

By Adam Lisberg, Staff Writer

The Record, December 20, 2000, p. L3

After 34 years of service to the township he calls home, Gary Saage is finally getting some time to himself - and a day of his own.

Today is "Gary Saage Day" in Bergen County, in honor of the Teaneck township manager's impending retirement.

Bergen County Executive William "Pat" Schuber surprised Saage with the honor Tuesday night at the start of the Township Council meeting, where Saage formally announced his retirement.

"This township has progressed immensely with Gary's help," Schuber said. "He's a unique treasure, and I want to wish him well in his retirement."

Saage, 66, will put in his last day of work Jan. 12, though he will stay on the payroll through May 31 using vacation time. He will begin his time off with a monthlong trip to Florida.

"It is time to be realistic and think about winters in the sun," Saage said, "with a great wife who has endured living in a fishbowl as the spouse of a public official instead of the accountant she met and married 41 1/2 years ago."

Saage recommended that Deputy Manager Helene Fall, who came to Teaneck two years ago and has been learning the ropes under Saage, be named acting manager when he leaves. She has already taken charge of negotiating union contracts and preparing next year's budget.

Saage became a master of township finances during his first 23 years as a Teaneck employee, when he worked his way up to chief financial officer. He left that job in 1990 to work in the Hackensack treasurer's office, but Teaneck's council asked him to return the next year.

Saage took over a troubled town when he was hired as manager in 1991. The previous manager had left under a cloud of bitter relations with the council and the public; the budget, labor contracts, and hiring all were months behind schedule; and the town was being criticized for white Police Officer Gary Spath's fatal shooting of a fleeing black teenager, Phillip C. Pannell. Spath was acquitted of reckless manslaughter.

"We were going through very difficult, tumultuous times," said Mayor Paul Ostrow. "He did a wonderful job in helping bring the town back together after the turmoil of 1990."

Nine years later, things are quieter in Teaneck. Council meetings don't dissolve into post-midnight bickering, police officers operate out of a modern building, and officials say the town's finances are in fine shape.

However, the same take-charge style and strong will that helped bring order to a fractious town has earned Saage some detractors.

In two recent lawsuits, firefighters claimed they were singled out for unwarranted discipline after complaining about working conditions or grievances; they also went three years without raises during a protracted contract battle.

Saage, who metes out some employee discipline and negotiates contracts, was personally named in at least three lawsuits. One suit was dismissed, another is pending, and Saage was found liable for $150,000 in punitive damages in the third claim - a ruling that is likely to be appealed.

Some town officials, when granted anonymity, acknowledge that Saage's hard-nosed approach to labor negotiations was at times counterproductive. Still, there was nothing but praise for Saage on Tuesday night, as council members thanked him for his service to Teaneck.