WAYNE, NJ – The most important and influential employee of Wayne Township over the last thirty years will have his last day at work on Thursday, July 23. Neal Bellet, who has been working for Wayne for close to 32 years and has been the Business Administrator for almost 29 of those years, will walk out on Thursday afternoon, no longer in charge of the day-to-day operations of Wayne Township.
The Business Administrator for the Township is like the Chief Operations Officer of any business. Every Department Head in the town reports to Bellet, including the Chief of Police. It is his responsibility to run the town efficiently and within budget. When the Mayor and the Town Council have decided that they are not going to raise taxes for example, Bellet has had to figure out how to maintain services to the residents amidst rising costs and no increase on residential ratables.
“I can say unequivocally that no one has had a bigger, and more positive influence on Wayne Township than Neal Bellet,” said Mayor Chris Vergano. “He just solves problems, he's always calm about it, and he always has the best interests of Wayne Township at heart.”
If you’ve lived, worked or just driven through Wayne Township, visited its parks or shopped in its stores then you have experienced the results of Bellet’s leadership and vision and benefited from it.
While there are many who know the BA and understand his importance to everyday life in Wayne, there are many more who have never heard his name. This is because Bellet didn’t want publicity, preferring to do his job to the best of his ability and go home to his family.
He equates his role to that of a Left Tackle in football. “You only hear a Left Tackle’s name being called in a football game if he makes a mistake,” explained Bellet. “If he’s doing a good job, then his name is never mentioned.”
Search for Neal Bellet on Google and you will see that he has been successful in keeping under the radar. But not by everybody. He has received several awards by local organizations during his career including the ‘Man of the Year’ award by the Boys & Girls Club, as well as receiving the Foundation for the Handicapped “Niche of Usefulness” award.
The State of New Jersey has also recognized Bellet recently when a proclamation, sponsored by State Senator Kristin Corrado and Assemblymen Chris DePhillips and Kevin Rooney, was read to the state assembly announcing his retirement and recognizing his outstanding work.
Vergano read the State’s proclamation at the last Town Council meeting. “The Senate and General Assembly of the state of New Jersey are pleased to honor and salute Neal Bellet,” read Vergano. “The depth of Neal’s knowledge and breadth of his experience have been essential to the effective and successful functioning of this municipality. His many noteworthy accomplishments have improved the quality of life for the people of Wayne. Neal has established a model to emulate and has set a standard of excellence towards which others might strive. He is an individual of remarkable character and of uncommon determination.”
There are many in the Wayne Township government that will testify to the truth of these statements.
Paul Margiotta, the Township Clerk had many great things to say about the retiring BA. “He’s a man of integrity,” said Margiotta. “He’s made me a better leader, and he’s had a calming influence on me.”
Wayne Chief Financial Officer Heather McNamara added: “The best thing about Neal is his even-keeled personality, and his fairness. He has made me a better decision maker. He makes me think about things a little bit deeper and try to find ‘alternate routes’ to do something; or at least consider alternate routes to reach a better conclusion.”
"Neal has always been an amazing ally to the Wayne Police Department," said Wayne Police Chief Jack McNiff. "His support and concern for the safety and well-being of each Wayne Police Officer has remained steadfast for three decades, and we are truly grateful. On a personal note, Neal has been a mentor to me and has modeled leadership qualities that I will assume during my tenure as Chief of Police. I am very proud to call him my friend."
“I’ve always been a ‘big picture’ guy, and he has always helped me bring the big picture to life,” said Vergano. “He has made me a better Mayor.”
“Some have called him cheap over the years, or frugal,” Vergano said. “But that was him always thinking about what was best for the Township. And you can’t ask for more than that.”
A Business Administrator generally keeps his or her job as long as the Mayor that hired him stays in office. But not Bellet. If there is anything that exhibits his leadership, dedication, professionalism and competence is the fact that he has kept his position through five different Mayoral administrations, including several political party changes during his tenure.
Bellet was hired by Newton Miller and served through the terms of Dave Waks, Judy Olson, Scott Rumana and has been BA for Vergano for the last thirteen years. “It tells you the kind of guy he is and the kind of respect and trust that all the Mayors had for him,” said Margiotta.
Vergano was asked if he had any hesitation about keeping Bellet on as BA when he first became Mayor. “No,” he replied immediately. “None at all. He is one of the best to ever do the job, if not the best.”
Bellet grew up in Bloomfield, graduating from Bloomfield high school in 1977 before going off to college and earning a degree in History with a minor in Political Science from the University of Maryland. He came back home after college and worked on Wall Street for eight years as a broker and a trader but did not find the job rewarding and wanted something different.
His connection to Wayne came through his wife Lori who grew up here. The couple originally lived in Pequannock after they were married in 1983, then moved to Wayne in 1985. It was while living here that the future Business Administrator learned of a job opening with the township. Bellet applied, was interviewed and accepted a position as the Recreation Program Supervisor for the Wayne Parks and Recreation Department in 1989.
For Bellet, the position was considered temporary.
“it was my intention that this was going to be a brief stop,” he said of the job. “I felt that this would help me transition to something bigger and better, but I didn’t know what that was.”
During his short speech at the last town council meeting, Bellet said: “Little did I know that for me, bigger and better was right down the Hall, up a few stairs and a career in public service.”
He was moved from the Recreation Department to Purchasing where he said that he found a mentor in Elsie Dolan. “It was at this point that I started thinking that this might be some place where I want to make a career,” said the BA.
Then Mayor, Newton Miller promoted him to Assistant BA in early 1992, and by the end of that year, Bellet was promoted to and began his career as the BA.
It’s a big role and Bellet was asked if he was nervous taking on such an important job at a young age and with limited experience. “Maybe I was too young and naive to be nervous,” he said. “I always told people that I was very long on enthusiasm and energy, and a little short on experience. But I had confidence in my ability to learn, and to get along and to do the job.”
There have been many challenges for Bellet during his long tenure. When asked about moments in Wayne history that stuck out in his mind during his time as BA, he mentioned floods, blizzards and hurricanes first, but admitted that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most difficult time in his long career.
“As far as I’m concerned, [this pandemic] has been the biggest challenge for the Township,” he said. “The floods were bad for the people who experienced them, and certainly they were bad for us, but they were localized. COVID has affected everybody and has had a life of its own, so I would say this event is one for the ages.”
“During the early time with COVID we were all stressed out about how we were we going to get enough PPE and how we were going to take care of all the residents,” said Vergano. “Neal was always the calm voice in the room. That was just typical of him all these years.”
Margiotta added: “I'm certainly glad Neil was here [during the pandemic]. There was just a sense of stability knowing that somebody is at the helm that can handle anything. He could give you a sense of confidence that made everyone feel positive and that things were going to work out alright. Whenever we had meetings, he always said: ‘We’re going to get through this and come out the other side.’”
Bellet was asked to remember a moment from his early years that stuck out to him.
“I remember the first big flood we had when I was BA,” he said. “I believe it was 1993 or ’94. I had the flu, and I was tracking everything from home, getting memos dropped off at my house and I remember saying: ‘This is my first big event and I’m not in Town.’ Well, I was on the road to recovery, so I told my wife that I was just going to take a ride into town to attend the Office of Emergency Management meeting and find out what’s going on. She told me ‘Just go to the meeting and don’t go out anywhere because you’re just getting over being sick.’”
“Well, after the meeting, I ended up going down to the Old Wayne area at Hoffman Grove and we had one of those Duck Vehicles at the time that drove on the road and also in the water. I was in the Duck when we got stuck someplace and all I could think about was how can I explain this to my wife,” he said with a big laugh.
Some of the highlights of his career include spearheading a successful fundraiser to provide bullet-proof vests for the Wayne Police Department, and guiding the Township through the long, uphill climb out of the Great Recession.
“When [the great recession] happened in ’09 and 2010, we didn’t have any furloughs or layoffs,” he said with pride. “We didn’t have to defer pension payments like a lot of other municipalities did. It was tough, but we made it through. Not just because of me; we had a great financial team and Mayors, and everybody worked together.”
“I’m very proud of the fact that we have a ‘AAA’ bond rating,” he said. “When I first got here our rating was, I believe, a ‘AA.’ To me, our rating now is a great achievement and a testament to the kind of management we have at the township. Again, not just me but everybody.”
The Wayne Town Council gave their public thanks and goodbyes to the retiring BA during their last public meeting.
Council President Joe Scuralli said: “I don't even know what Wayne Township government is like without Neal Bellet. You're the reason why so many great business decisions were made in this town; why so many things ran smoothly; why we always got the best equipment; why we made excellent deals; why the credit rating is so high.”
Councilman-at-large David Varano said: “I’ve come to appreciate what it means to be the BA of a town as large and complex as Wayne. Seeing the level of dedication that you have, has been nothing short of amazing. You are the leader of the team that actually makes this town run seamlessly and successfully, day-in and day-out, and that is no small task.”
Third Ward Councilman Franco Mazzei said: “Your level of commitment will resonate in the halls of town Hall forever and those employees that look up to you will try to match that level of commitment.”
Bellet thanked so many people in his short speech, but his voice cracked, and he got choked up when he spoke about his father. “I would also like to remember, at this moment, my father Floyd for all the things that he taught me by word and by deed. If not for the strong moral and ethical foundation he instilled in me I do not believe that I would be before you tonight speaking just a few days short of my retirement. He was, still and will always remain my hero.”
He ended with: “As I close my almost 32 years of public service, all of which was spent with you here in Wayne, I would like to think that I'm leaving the Township a little better place than it was when I started in 1989 and that in the coming years people will say that I always gave it my all, and most importantly that I made a difference.”
Bellet has two sons, Daniel and Joshua who are both married, but have not given him grandkids, yet. “I’m waiting patiently,” he said with a smile.
He coached both of his boys in soccer when they were younger, and his passion for the sport led him to become a licensed referee. He is an avid reader of history books, a daily walker and a semi-professional photographer specializing in nature and street photography. You can follow his work on Instagram @nibellet.
On behalf of the people of Wayne (who either knew or had no idea that you had affected their lives so positively): Thank you, Mr. Bellet for your dedication and service, and for your unwavering desire to improve the lives of Wayne residents.