The man who runs Teaneck

By John Koster, Staff Writer

The Record, November 4, 1977

Werner SchmidIf you can imagine a computer with a mind and will of its own, you'll understand how many Teaneck residents feel about Township Manager Werner Schmid.

Joseph J. Squillace, Schmid's fellow manager in Hackensack, has called Schmid one of the finest and most brilliant professional managers he's ever met. Others have called him indispensible. Some have called him sinister.

But he remains something of an enigma to most of the 42,000 residents of Bergen County's largest community.

Schmid veers away from any issue that could be construed as partisan politics. He keeps a low profile -- except when he feels Teaneck's welfare is involved.

Recently he took on Conrail for what he called the routing of trains carrying dangerous chemicals through Teaneck. Schmid dashed off letters to Washington and to Conrail and is trying to enlist the support of local authorities in getting advance warning of dangerous cargoes.

Dispite this furor, the quiet, empirical manager tries not to seek publicity.

It is about 10 in the morning when Schmid arrives at the Municipal Building to take command of his staff of about 300 township employees.

For about an hour before he arrives, Schmid's been driving around, taking notes on potholes, illegally parked vehicles, fallen tree limbs, and spilled garbage. Shortly after he gets to work, the staff will get a multipage memo about the infractions.

"He's a detail man, very much so," says Township Clerk Roz Endick. "The one thing you cannot do around here is to submit a report that's one bit less than complete. "no way is he going to accept less than a complete report, on anything."

Through Schmid's drive for perfection is relentless, he doesn't alienate his staff. Most of the senior municipal employes who work with him not only are supportive. but protect Schmid and his reputation.

"This township has a reputation as one of the cleanest in the state -- in every respect," Mr. Endick says. "There's no corruption here, and there's efficiency."

Some lower-lever employes -- the ones Schmid has to negotiate with on salaries -- tend to be negative however. While the police generally praise Schmid for doing a hard job well, some of the fire fighters, who have just started their third year of talks on the 1976 contract, say they'd like to strangle him.

The Department of Public Works men hung him in effigy during their brief strike last autumn. And occasional crank phone callers who blame him for almost anything call him up to scream obscenities.

"Show me any other $10-million business where the man in charge answers his own phone," Mrs. Endick says. "We've tried to convince him to have his calls screened, buy he won't do it.

The townspeople are of two minds about Schmid. No one who knows anything about him seriously suspects him of any fiscal wrongdoing or malfeasance. The worse thing he is accused of is arrogance.

This impression probably comes from the twice-monthly Township Committee meetings. Depending on the issue and the hour, the council meeting can resemble anything from a bland college seminar to the mad hatter's tea party.

The unflappable Schmid never seems to lose his cool and strikes onlookers as a sinister figure among the ebullient council members. Some residents seem to think Schmid is the one who pulls the strings behind anything that happens in Teaneck -- a sort of Bismarck presiding over a rebberstamp Reichstag. The people who really hate him lika to pronounce his name with a mock German accent.

"some people who come to council meetings get mad at Werner bacause they don't understand his function," says Mayor Eleanor Kieliszek. "Usually, in the long run, they wind up respecting him. Unexpected things don't usually happen to Werner, because he comes well prepared."

Schmid's role is not so much the man behind the throne as the man divorced from all politics. This policy originated in 1930, when the strong manager form of government was adopted in Teaneck, which is nonpartisan.

The Township's population had risen 300 per cent between 1920 and 1930, from about 5,000 to 16,000. Expenses staggered the taxpayers, while council meetings became incredibly windy as many residents repeatedly spoke on the same subject.

In 1930, the Teaneck Taxpayer's League stumped successfully for a nonpartisan form of government in which a full-time manager would run the business affairs, while candidates ran for office as individuals rather than members of parties or slates.

Paul Volcker, a civic engineer hired as the first manager, showed his devotion by serving as township engineer at $1 a year.

James T. Walsh succeeded Volcker in 1950. In 1955, Schmid, then a recent graduate of the Maxwell School in Syracuse, after serving in Korea and a summa cum laude diploma from Rutgers, came to Teaneck as Welch's assistant. When Welsh retired in 1959, Schmid, said by some to be too young for the job at 29, beat out 140 applicants for the job.

Under Teaneck's government, Schmid hires, fires, and promotes employes, supervises the preparation of the municipal budget, handles salary negotiations, and provides direct supervision of the police, fire, DPW and engineering departments. he cannot be removed from office except for proven misconduct. He owes political allegiance to no one.

At one time, veteran Councilman Max A. Hasse was regarded as the head of an anti-Schmid faction on the council. He claimed in 1974 that Schmid, then making $37,500, was overpaid, and that he didn't need two assistant managers. Hasse is gone - he retired in January - and there's an anti-Schmid faction on the council now, the members don't identify themselves. Schmid's present salary is $41,000, and nobody says he's overpaid.

Schmid's workweek is unpredictable. The only sure fact is that he usually puts in a good deal more than 40 hours. Twice-monthly council meetings, and the twice-monthly council work sessions the night before are usually good for five hour each, and at budget time Schmid often uses the office nights and weekends for the quiet environment necessary to calculate the budget.

The big issue for Schmid this year has been Conrail. On July 4, a Conrail train stalled on the tracks behind the Volunteer Ambulance Corps headquarters on Windsor Road and leaked anhydrous ammonia fumes. The irritating gasified fertilizer alarmed the ambulance corpsmen. The corpsmen evacuated about 29 homes. There were no injuries.

Schmid then took up the cudgel, asking the state Public Utilities Commission to demand that the railroad provide advance notification when they ship hazardous materials through Teaneck.

The PUC said that the realroads felt this was unnecessary. Schmid wrote back, questioning if the PUC supervised the railroad, or the other way around.

He also wrote to the Federal Transportation Commission in Washington to press his case, and discovered a way that computerized date could be delivered instantly to local police in case of chemical spills.

The matter isn't settled, but nobody who knows Werner Schmid is betting on the railroad.