Township Manager Schmid - He keeps Teaneck ticking

By Peg Shaw

The Record, April 14, 1975, p. L1

Under Werner H. Schmid, the Township of Teaneck runs like a Rolls Royce engine, says a longtime observer.

The loud knocks and political sputterings that accompany routine government decisions in many other Bergen County towns hardly can be heard in Teaneck.

Those decisions are made without the Township Council's lifting a finger -- except to rubber stamp items in Township Manager Schmid's calculated-to-the-penny budget.

Under Teaneck's strong manager charter, Schmid is the chief executive, directing the day-to-day operation of government.

He is given many of the powers that mayors possess in most other municipalities -- and he can be removed from office only on proof of misconduct.

No favors owed

Werner SchmidHe -- not the council -- hires, fires and promotes employes. Schmid's cabinet mambers owe no loyalty to any elected official.

For 16 years, Schmid has exercised his authority with an attitude that a longtime Town Hall watcher says is one degree below arrogance.

Schmid calls it professionalism.

Roads don't fall into disrepair in Schmid's domain. He regards chronic potholes as unprofessional.

No other Bergen County town inspects eating places as thoroughly or brings building code violators to court with such speed.

Store owners are regularly reminded that Teaneck employes don't accept as much as a free cup of coffee.

Prompt and courteous

When residents call Town Hall with complaints, Schmid's employes generally give the problem prompt, courteous treatment.

Their style is Schmid's own: He runs his town with a blend of a firm hand and charm.

"He carries his straight arrow attitude into everything he does," said one township employe who asked that his name not be used.

The employe said,"The emphasis in this town is to be fair to people, whether we like them or not."

Joseph J. Squillace, neighboring Hackensack's manager under an identical charter, says, "He's one of the finest and most brilliant professional managers I've ever met."

Squillace says Schmid has the reputation among other managers as a student of government second to none. Schmid -- who recently served a term as vice president of the International City management Association -- has said he cares more about the opinions of his professional peers than the views of the residents who pay his $41,000 salary.

According to Squillace, Schmid has proved over the years that he is willing to stand up for what is right, rather than do what is popular.

Nearly everyone who has been in close contact with Schmid can tell a personal story of how the manager refused to grant a small favor on grounds of principle or how he intervened when a council member or outsider threatened to meddle with one of his employes.

Schmid continually pleads with the council members to think about long range implications of their actions. Says Schmid: "After all, I have to live with all the consequences of all the decisions. This town isn't only the place where I live. It is also my profession. So in a sense, I have a bigger stake in Teaneck than anyone else."

A sharp eye can spot the anger beneath his usual facade of polite interest when residents press him to do what he considers mere political acts.

The anger surfaced, though, during a recent meeting of the council with parents who wanted a uniformed guard to watch their schoolchildren cross a railroad track.

"It's misleading the public to do something just to say you responded, when you know it won't do any good," he lectured the council.

Problem no problem

The council, which treatens to reject Schmid's advice about once each meeting, asked Schmid to hire a guard.

His reaction was characteristic. He ordered anon-duty fireman in the station next to the tracks to watch the children. The service will cost the township nothing.

"Once the council comes to a decision," he says, "I carry it out -- enthusiastically! But," he adds, "I wouldn't let my council do anything illegal. That would be very unprofessional.

I'm out to make the council look as good as possible."

Most managers would regard Schmid's regular lectures to his theoretical bosses as unheard of conduct during meetings open to public view. Nearly all the county's municipal administrators and managers avoid taking controversial stands on policy -- at least in the open.

But Schmid seems to glory in it -- at least he has during the past few months since a new council began doing more of its business in public.

Deputy Mayor Max A. Hasse Jr. says he sometimes thinks the council is skillfully manipulated by Schmid. "Maybe he takes a little too much on himself. The council should have more say-so," he said.

"Not to be ignored"

Mayor Eleanor M. Kieliszek disagrees. "We pay him for his advice. He's not to be ignored.

Several Schmid supporters attribute Schmid's recent increasing outspokenness in public to what they call a budding anti-Schmid majority on the council.

They say the coalition information includes Hasse and council members John F. Dougherty, Martin R. Cramer, and Dorothy Silverstein.

During the last few months, councilman Francis E. Hall several times has said in public that he believes the new council deliberately is trying to undercut Schmid's powers. But the rest of the council says that's not true.

Schmid stays out of the debate on whether his new council is deliberately ignoring his advice at an unprecedented rate or whether it is simply taking longer than usual to seduce the new members into silence with smoothly functioning government.

On every issue, Schmid provides council members with a flow of arguments why they should heed his professional advice. Almost daily he sends them envelopes stuffed with information. There is seldom any need for the council to seek information from outside sources.

"I almost overkill in keeping the council informed," he says.

"He went out of his way to make us as comfortable as possible," said Councilwoman Silverstein about her first months in office. "Werner was perfectly charming. That's the way he works."

Schmid's background

Schmid hosts the council's executive meetings in his office.

On a recent afternoon there, he leaned back in his favorite padded chair, stretched his long fingers toward the everpresent cup of black coffee on his desk, and explained with a smile that 20 years ago he had never even heard of Teaneck.

But in 1955, Teaneck's manager was looking for an assistant, and Schmid decided he wanted to use his public administration training in municipal government.

Most of his fellow graduates of the Maxwell School in Syracuse went to work for the federal government. That didn's appeal to Schmid.

"They were little fish in a big pond," he said of his former classmates who went to Washington. "They never saw the end results of what they did."

"And I could see the tremendous need for professionalism at the local level. I felt that's where the future would be - the frontier."

Schmid was 29 when Manager James T. Welsh quit and the council began screening 140 applicants to replace him. Despite doubts that he was too young, they hired Schmid to be the town's thrid manager since Teaneck's Depression-born nonpartisan, strong-manager charter was adopted.

Still a challence

That was 16 years ago. Since then he says he's devoted his life to the job and he continues to be challenged by Teaneck.

He says he has no interest in directing a larger government -- through some observers say he'd enjoy a chance to streamline the Bergen County government were it to adopt a manager system.

Schmid says only his wife, Irene, and five school-age children are allowed to compete for his attention with the town he loves. They live in a $70,000 two-story frame house at 350 Ogden Ave.

When asked what he has accomplished in 16 years as manager, the deeply etched lines in his face pull tight.

He says he's created a full-time professional government which operates without patronage or meddling from political forces.

He says he has attracted -- and kept -- a cabinet so competent that its members could find work anywhere. Through they are among the best-paid municipal employes in the county, he contends that the kind of talent he has collected cannot be bought. He believes his staff is the envy of Bergen County.