RED BANK: SICKELS LAUDED FOR ‘COMMITMENT’
Stanley Sickels at Wednesday night’s council meeting, above, and on the scene of a fire in September, 2014, below. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s mayor and council gave a warm, low-key sendoff to the the borough government’s top unelected official Wednesday night.
Over a career in municipal operations that began in 1979 and spanned numerous paid and volunteer roles, Administrator Stanley Sickels was a “consummate professional” who earned a reputation that went “way beyond the reach of Red Bank,” Mayor Pasquale Menna told the audience at the governing body’s semimonthly meeting.
Sickels in March, 2015, and with his wife, Donna, at the Mayor’s Ball two months later. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
“Thirty-eight years is an extraordinary length of service. It’s also an extraordinary commitment,” Menna said. “He has left a mark in so many different ways.”
Menna described Sickels as uncomplaining, though his job as administrator — essentially, the town’s chief executive officer — often put him at the “fulcrum” of political pressures.
“Throughout it all, this man has had to listen to all of us, and at times, I think he would have preferred to be with his beautiful wife and extraordinary family,” said Menna, who has known Sickels since they were schoolboys.
“But he never complained. He always took the slings and sorrows of whatever issues we had with him, and he was the fulcrum of a lot of our issues, most of the time wrongly so, but he took it and he never complained. And he did it because he’s a consummate professional.”
Among the hats the borough native has worn are a number associated with his reputation as an unbending stickler for fire safety: volunteer fireman since 1973 and, in 1988, chief; fire inspector and fire marshal. Councilman Ed Zipprich said Sickels leaves the town safer.
As he heads toward his December 31 retirement, Sickels also leaves the council with key posts to fill: administrator, purchasing agent and head construction code official. Filling them is expected to test a long-debated premise: that replacing him would require more than one hire, at a cost far exceeding his combined salary.
When he announced his plans to retire a year ago, Sickels was collecting two salaries totaling $173,824 — three-fifths of it for his duties as construction official, according to borough records. Under a negotiated agreement, Sickels has since collected an additional $173,828.20 for unused sick time.
A search for Sickels’ successor, or successors, is underway, headed by Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer, who was absent Wednesday because of a work commitment. Menna told redbankgreen that the naming of a successor will not occur before the end of the year.
Menna read into the record a commendation that noted Sickels’ career milestones, including serving as administrator for the past 21 years, as well as various fire-safety awards he’s collected along the way. He was also inducted into the Red Bank Regional High Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame in 2002.
Sickels “has been an exemplary employee who has tirelessly served the Borough of Red Bank with integrity and dignity and has shown loyalty and dedication to the responsibilities of his position at a level that few employees have,” the proclamation reads.
Incoming fire Chief Stu Jensen thanked Sickels for having introduced him to firefighting when he became Sickels’ next-door neighbor. “He’s been a brother firefighter, a mentor and an inspiration to me,” he said.
Council President Kathy Horgan said that in her decade on the council, “some of our conversations have been stormy, I’ll be honest. But I always respected his knowledge and his institutional memory.”
Zipprich, too, lamented that the borough was losing a trove of arcane but vital knowledge.
“The only thing that concerns me is nobody knows Red Bank underground better than you do,” Zipprich said.