Council pays tribute to outgoing veteran members

David Lefkovits
Photos by Daniel Jackovino
Michael Rohal

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Glen Ridge Council reorganized during it annual meeting on the evening of Monday, Jan. 6, with the swearing-in of incumbents Mayor Stuart Patrick, Councilman Peter Hughes and newly elected councilman Richard Law.

But the evening belonged to David Lefkovits, the three-term councilman defeated in the November elections, and retiring borough administrator Michael Rohal. Rohal will be replaced at the end of the month by borough Director of Planning and Development Michael Zichelli. Zichelli’s previous position will be filled by Erik DeLine of Pompton Lakes.

The meeting began by addressing old business, with Lefkovits seated as a member of council. Patrick then requested a traditional Glen Ridge farewell for Lefkovits, with each council member offering remembrances.

Hughes spoke first. He reflected on how he and Lefkovits had worked together on the council for nine years, calling Lefkovits “the smartest guy in the room,” someone who always possessed a sense of calm and dignity.

“What impressed me is what a great listener you are and asking just the right question to get to the heart of the matter,” Hughes said.
“I tried to emulate David,” he said as an aside to his colleagues, adding that emulation was the highest form of flattery.
He thanked Lefkovits for his help when Hughes, then the borough mayor advocating artificial turf at Hurrell Field, suffered a stinging defeat in a public referendum for the change.

“There’s never been a contested word in this group, and you were part of that,” Hughes concluded.
Councilwomen Deborah Mans and Ann Marie Morrow both thanked Lefkovits for helping them find their way when they were new to the council. The mayor read a proclamation honoring Lefkovits and a short recess followed.

The council then conducted its annual meeting, with Rohal administering the oaths of office to Patrick, Hughes and Law. Patrick noted that the year 2020 will mark the sesquicentennial for the borough, which 150 years ago seceded from Bloomfield.

He recalled Rohal’s 25 years with the borough, which began with him serving as a consulting engineer before being promoted to borough administrator six months after.

Patrick noted Rohal’s negotiations with NJ Transit while serving as an engineer for Montclair prior to coming to Glen Ridge. The negotiations led to a direct line to Manhattan on the Boonton Line, which benefitted Glen Ridge residents. As borough administrator, Rohal filled grant applications to fund road repairs, acquired loans for water infrastructure repairs and established 11 shared-service agreements with neighboring communities.
“Truly a gentleman’s gentleman,” Patrick said, adding that Rohal and his wife, Jan, a trustee of the Glen Ridge Public Library, had a strong sense of volunteerism.

Addressing the council, Rohal said he wanted to thank each mayor for whom he had worked. Glen Ridge was “a great time,” but the borough would be in good hands with his successor.

“The best thing is that the people here don’t give you excuses,” Rohal said. “I couldn’t have done it without the support.”
Patrick then presented Lefkovits, who had been seated in the audience, with a wrist watch.
“I have just the place for it,” Lefkovits said, lifting his sleeve.

Patrick then gave his state-of-the-borough address.
In 2019, he said, the borough’s bond rating was upgraded and the sanitation system was majorly rehabilitated. The borough planted 1,000 new trees and achieved Sustainable Jersey certification at the silver level. The process of fully accrediting the Glen Ridge Police Department, which began in 2018, is anticipated to reach completion in 2020. Crosswalks were enhanced for safety with lights and signs, and residents took part in a citizen’s police academy along with Bloomfield and Montclair.

The GRPD and the East Orange Police Department worked closely in 2019 to stop a rash of car thefts on their border and in 2020 will focus on bicycle thefts in the borough.

The public library was voted the people’s favorite library by New Jersey Monthly in 2019, the mayor said. It had record circulation in 2019 and in 2020 will be fine free and open an additional six hours a week.

Turning his attention to the council, Patrick said it was a dedicated, focused and experienced group. Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Baker then addressed Rohal.

Baker said Rohal was a “transformative figure” for her. She explained that years ago she had been asked by Rohal to serve on the council. She was hesitant because she thought of herself as only a retired history teacher with some ideas. But with a leap of faith, she accepted Rohal’s entreaties and was elected to the council. Looking back on the experience, she felt she had made a difference.

“Michael always took my idea and ran with it,” she said. “And remember, every one of these ideas added to his plate of responsibilities.”
It was a fitting end to the meeting. Many in the audience delayed departing to embrace.