ROXBURY, NJ – The Roxbury Mayor and Council – and several members of the public - took a few minutes at the May 23 council meeting to thank and praise retiring township manager Christopher Raths.
Although Raths doesn’t leave office until May 31, the Tuesday night session was his last council meeting. When the governing body next convenes - on June 13 - Raths’ replacement, John Shepherd, will be at the helm.
Raths, who has been township manager for 16 years, is “a very special person,” said Roxbury Mayor Mark Crowley before presenting him with a plaque of appreciation. “It’s very exciting to me to be the mayor and be able to congratulate Chris Raths for what he’s done in the last 16 years and I know I speak for the council and every resident … we’re grateful for everything you’ve done,” Crowley said.
He said Raths’ dedication to the township “has been fantastic,” and he said the proof of that is displayed during every Memorial Day parade. “You walk with Chris (in the parade) and everybody knows him by his first name and Chris knows everybody by their first names and has something nice to say to them,” Crowley said. “That shows you commitment to the township.”
The mayor pointed out that, during his tenure, Raths “persevered through” at least 15 council members. “May I say they’ve all been the finest people I ever work with,” joked Raths, provoking audience laughter.
It was a quip that played well with comments that came next from Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline, the panel’s newest member: “Although he’s not elected, Chris is by far the best politician of this whole group,” Kline said. “He always knows the right thing to say and it comes from a base foundation of treating people with respect and having a positive outlook, whether it’s finding a creative, problem- solving approach to a municipal issue or just smiling and wishing somebody a good day.”
Roxbury councilmen Jim Rilee and Fred Hall, the only members of the current council who were in office when Raths was hired, lauded the manager for steering Roxbury through some very difficult situations, primarily Hurricane Sandy and the subsequent odor issues at the former Fenimore Landfill.
“Chris is good friend of mine,” Hall said. “I’ve known him a very long time … He hasn’t disappointed us from the day he walked in here.”
Hall said a municipal manager can best be judged by whether the town got better during his or her tenure. “The best way to look at this is, if you look back over the years, did you leave Roxbury better than it was when you first got here?” he said. “I think that, without hesitation, its absolutely the truth; through thick and thin, I think Chris has done a great job for the township.”
Hall said dealing with Hurricane Sandy and the Fenimore issue “took the life out of Chris and he did it for the betterment of the community and he did a real good job in handling that and other events.”
Rilee went so far as to tell Raths he has no peers statewide. “I’ve constantly said, and I talk to many people, that you are by far the best manager in the state,” Rilee said.
Roxbury Councilman Bob DeFillippo said it was “amazing” to work with “somebody who truly loves the community and the people who live in the community,” and said Raths displayed calm strength during very difficult times. “You were a steady hand and held the town together,” he said. “We owe you a debt of gratitude for that.”
Councilman Gary Behrens said Raths “set the bar” for management, adding, “It’s going to be tough for anybody to beat you and go over that bar.” Councilman Richard Zoschak agreed: “When I got here almost 14 years ago … I was green and you taught us a lot. Your experience has brought this township and this council up to a level I don’t think anybody can match.”
Raths was thankful, but said it was his skilled staff that really deserved the praise. “All I do is try to stay out of the way,” he said.