GLEN RIDGE, NJ — When Borough Administrator Michael Rohal left his office for the final time on Friday, Jan. 17, a group of residents awaited him in the lobby of the municipal building to say goodbye. Kisses and hugs were exchanged and quiet words of gratitude were heard, while outside a motorcade of first-response vehicles assembled to accompany the car that would drive him into retirement.
To the surprise of everyone who followed him out the door, the Glen Ridge Police Department broadcast an announcement over loudspeaker:
“Dispatcher: All Glen Ridge units stand by for a general broadcast. Glen Ridge Police to all Glen Ridge units, today, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, marks the retirement of Administrator Michael J. Rohal, call sign A1. Mayor Steve Plate appointed him to the position of borough administrator, and he has been reappointed by every mayor since. Skilled in finance, engineering and human resources, A1 has left his mark on the borough, from paving streets, improving our water and sewer system, achieving a bond-rating upgrade, and has vastly improved communication to residents. He has improved every aspect of the borough. A1 has served the residents of Glen Ridge with great pride and distinction for 21 years. Michael J. Rohal, the men and women of the Glen Ridge community wish you the best in your future endeavors. A1, you are officially relieved of duty.”
Rohal was definitely the go-to guy in Glen Ridge. He served the borough not just as administrator, but concurrently as engineer, municipal clerk, qualified purchasing agent and emergency-management coordinator. But at a recent ceremony, Rohal stressed that he had worked in a municipal government occupied by the kind of people who did not give excuses and who made his job easier. That recent ceremony, held during the borough council reorganization meeting of Jan. 6, occasioned Mayor Stuart Patrick to recall how Glen Ridge residents benefited from Rohal’s work even before he came here.
Patrick said Rohal had previously been the Montclair Township engineer and worked with NJ Transit in negotiating a rail connection to Manhattan.
“This major rail project modified the route of our commuter trains, electrified the tracks and ultimately provided a one-seat ride into Manhattan, which today is one of the major attractions for living in Glen Ridge,” said Patrick.
Rohal was hired as a consultant by Mayor Steve Platt and was promoted to borough administrator six months later, according to Patrick. He was charged with improving the borough’s infrastructure, and he eventually developed a borough-wide street repaving program.
“Up until 1999, the borough maintained its streets by covering them with tar and stone chips,” said Patrick. “Michael successfully applied for Municipal Aid Road Programming funds through NJDOT and has been managing and funding the resurfacing of our 20 miles of streets with these grants ever since.”
To improve the water and sewer system, Rohal secured zero-free loans from the Environmental Infrastructure Financing Program.
“Over a quarter of our sanitary sewer system has now been rehabilitated, and, by the end of 2020, our water delivery infrastructure will be totally free of lead pipes,” said Patrick.
As borough administrator, Rohal also improved Glen Ridge’s financial situation through better tracking of its cash flow and “enhanced financial reporting,” according to Patrick.
“He successfully shepherded the borough through the economic downturn of 2008, when our surplus dropped well below $20,000,” said Patrick. “In comparison, today our surplus is approximately $2.7 million, even though over the past 10 years the average borough property tax increase on a median-priced home was approximately $60 annually.”
Rohal also negotiated 11 shared-service agreements, including possibly the largest one in the state — a 10-year fire suppression contract with Montclair.
Patrick concluded by calling Rohal “a gentleman’s gentleman.”
Rohal, 65, grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Lehigh University.
In addition to working for the township of Montclair, where he also served as director of public works, he has been employed by the city of Bethlehem as executive director of municipal authority and engineer; Progressive Designs in Easton, Pa., as principal; and Simco Engineering in New York City, as senior vice-president.
Rohal told The Independent Press that he decided to retire about a year ago because he thought the timing was “appropriate.” He has purchased a home in Mendham and is the president-elect of the Rotary Club of Glen Ridge.
“Leaving is bittersweet,” he said. “As much as I look forward to retirement with my wife, Jan, I will miss my colleagues at Borough Hall and in the Glen Ridge community.”
Rohal was thankful to all the mayors under whom he served, his colleagues on the council, the department heads, municipal employees and the residents who supported and assisted him during his tenure.
“I was fortunate to work with elected officials who were apolitical and put the business at hand first, and employees who valued their service to the borough residents,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine a better last day of work. The sendoff was unexpected. My thanks to everyone who participated, especially Mike Zichelli.”
Zichelli, the former assistant borough engineer, was sworn in by Rohal at the reorganization meeting and will succeed him as borough administrator.
“Mike can have a second career as an event planner,” said Rohal.