Hugs, handshakes, laughter, and a few tears marked the send-off for Mayor Russell Felter and township administrator James Leach on Sunday, October 21.
Casa Bianca was full of Jefferson’s movers and shakers as well as friends and family of the two men, who together have served the township for more than half a century.
Both District 26 State Assembly members, BettyLou DeCroce and Jay Webber, attended. DeCroce noted that she worked in local government in Roxbury Township before being elected to state office, and met with Felter many times over the years. She thanked the mayor and Leach for all their work.
“You can’t put on paper the effort they put into this town,” Morris County freeholder Thomas Mastrangelo said of Felter and Leach. “I believe they will continue to contribute their time.”
A county resolution was prepared for each of the honorees. Police chief William Craig read the extensive documents after noting how long they were, prompting Webber to say, “When you give that much time, you get eight paragraphs.”
Representatives of a number of township organizations spoke about the two, thanking them for improvements such as the conversion of the old Milton School into a senior citizen center.
The Wild Days of the Lake Commission
Kerry Kirk-Pflug of the state Department of Environmental Protection spoke of her time as liaison to the Lake Hopatcong Commission when Felter was its chair. “Interesting, challenging, and rewarding” was how Kirk-Pflug described those days. “I think of the best qualities of a public servant: loyalty, service, honesty, listening skills, and a sense of humor. Russ has them all.”
Felter turned to his wife, Tammy, and commented, “See, I have listening skills.”
“There were often competing interests and concerns on the commission,” Kirk-Pflug continued. “It takes effort and patience coming to solutions to these problems. He was always respectful of my opinion. I never felt he didn’t have my back.”
Now a liaison to local governments, Kirk-Pflug meets with many mayors, administrators, and clerks. “I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I kind of do,” she admitted, becoming emotional. Turning to Felter, she added, “Your community is not going to let you step away, but at least you’ll get to a football game without being asked constantly about the water level.”
Township attorney Larry Cohen has represented Jefferson for 37 years. “I’ve known Jimmy [Leach] as a sergeant, lieutenant, chief of police, and administrator,” he said. “And I knew Russ’s dad when he was police chief and then on the council.” He observed that Felter and Leach “always have the welfare of the town at heart.”
Cohen presented the two with copies of an 1876 map of the township, prompting Felter to turn to former mayor Horace Chamberlain and comment, “Horace, you remember this” – to applause from the crowd and laughter from Chamberlain.
Lee Moreau, captain of the Miss Lotta, represented veterans’ organizations. He presented Felter and Leach with Army blankets as remembrances. Leach is an Army veteran.
Martin Kane of the Lake Hopatcong Foundation commented that he first met Felter when the mayor was bartending at Gatwyn’s. He has ordered copies of a new aerial photograph of the lake for each of the two honorees.
Jessica Murphy of the Foundation remembered meetings of the Lake Hopatcong Commission when Felter was chair. “I was pleased to work with him,” she said. Turning to him, she added, “Thank you so much for everything.”
Council members Jay Dunham, Bob Birmingham, and Debi Merz, council president, all spoke. Dunham thanked Felter for the memorial to veterans at the municipal building and for all the times he assisted the Gold Star Mothers. Birmingham remembered working with Leach on the satellite post office. Merz gestured around the room, noting the many people from all aspects of Felter’s and Leach’s lives. She said the council would honor them in its own way later in the year.
Both men spoke of their work for the township.
Leach mentioned his years with the police department and 20 years as administrator. “For many years, I had a Russ Felter in my life,” he said. The mayor’s father, Russell D. Felter, was police chief before Leach served as administrator under Russell W. Felter.
“Russ never uses the word ‘I’,” said Leach. “It’s always ‘we.’ He knows it takes a team. He doesn’t have an ego, which is unusual for people in elected office.” Leach also spoke of Felter’s work to save Liffy Island, a 300-acre lakefront area that is now protected. He also pointed out that Jefferson homeowners pay an average of 11 percent less than owners of equivalent property in the other three lake communities, and the township’s bond rating is AAA+.
Felter started by praising Leach’s wife, Jill. “God bless you, Jill,” he said, prompting laughter from the guests. He spoke about the police department, which he believes does not get enough credit. He also commended the Department of Public Works and chief financial officer Bill Egan: “You can tell he’s a good CFO because he sucks at golf.” He had kind words for Cohen, the emergency services, and the council: “They don’t always agree, but always come out with a solution that’s best for the town.”
About Leach, he commented, “I can’t say enough about working with Jim.” He praised Joanne Meyer, the administrative assistant who works with him and Leach. “Keeping me organized is a full-time job.”
Felter also thanked his wife of 23 years, Tammy, and his children. “Thank you for putting up with me,” he said to the children. “I know I missed out on things.” He noted that his younger son, Jeff, cannot remember a time that his father was not mayor; his younger daughter, Morgan, was a year old when he was elected. They were present at the reception along with his older daughter, Melissa Glavich, with her children, Nina and Maddalyn. His other son, Matt, is out of state.
During Hurricane Irene, remembered Felter, he was directing traffic on Weldon Road when he got a call that a tree had fallen on his house. “It meant a lot when I saw people walking through the door,” Felter said, taking special note of former mayor Chamberlain, who served for 12 years. “Until you’ve been mayor, you can’t know what it’s like.”
He noted that he was first elected to the council a few hours after his father died. “He cast his absentee ballot that morning,” Felter remembered. His mother, Ava, is in a rest home and was unable to attend the reception.