Birthday wishes for a 22-year veteran of Planning Board provided a rare opportunity for members to recall a difficult yet inspired period in the township's history.
Board attorney Edward Liston wished Sanford Krasky a happy 90th birthday before the board concluded its regular June meeting on Monday night. He also recalled working side-by-side with Krasky and member Donald Czekanski to rebuild the township after Joe Portash robbed it of millions and a new form of nonpartisan government was voted in by residents in 1990.
"I was just a spear carrier. The leaders were Don and Sandy," Liston said.
Come this July, Liston, Krasky and Czekanski will have served 22 consecutive years on the board.
"We came in at trying times," Czekanski said.
"Yes, we did," Liston responded. "Joe Portash and his gang had looted the treasury. The citizens of Manchester Township lined up on July 1st to pay their taxes earlier so the town wouldn't go broke. And that's something I personally, having been in this county since the 70s, never will forget.
"I think it's an honor and a tribute to the citizens of this town that they stepped up in the face of, literally, having their treasury looted by a felon," Liston said.
Czekanski and Krasky volunteered on the board at the same time.
"Most of us, quite frankly, we're panicked as volunteers," Czekanski said. "We had very little experience in the public sector — a lot of us were in the private sector. It was a very new experience for us. We were flying by the seats of our pants."
The township was working to approve its master plan, which was completed in 1993.
Getting it finished "was a chore in and of itself," Czekanski said.
The newly formed body travelled throughout the township, giving presentations of the master plan to residents. Czekanski said that, along with Krasky, members visited about 13 villages to talk about the plan.
"When we went to Whiting with the master plan, you and I were almost tarred and feathered," Krasky said. "But we finally convinced them that this was the thing to do."
The work was "hard," Liston said, and the unpaid board members showed their dedication to Manchester at a critical time. Faith in the township's government was shattered and residents thought things could only be done through corrupt means.
"There was no master plan and the secret provisions of the zoning ordinance was kept in Joe Portash's desk and they only came out when one of his friends came in and wanted an approval," Liston said. "So we really started almost from scratch."
That period of township history was valuable, according to the attorney, in that it offered a chance for officials to educate residents about how their government operated. It also offered the start of a new era of transparency.
"It is not a back room type of operation for those who have influence," Liston said. "I've been a lawyer for 43 years now and that particular set of events was one of my proudest as a lawyer. We got to talk to people about government and how land use works."
Krasky remembered planning meetings at the time were "packed" by residents and regularly lasted until 11 p.m. Manchester is bigger now, its population having grown from about 36,000 in 1990 to over 43,000 in 2010. Meetings these days have fewer applications and sometimes adjourn within 20 minutes of beginning.
"The township, basically, now is built," Krasky said.
"When you overlap the Pinelands and [Coastal Areas Facilities Act regulations] and all the environmental restrictions on the unbuilt portions of the town, we're getting close to built out," Liston said.
Board Chairperson James Vaccaro thanked Krasky and the others "for your dedication to Manchester Township and your dedication to this board."
"We're proud to serve this town as it rose from the ashes and all of the wonderful things that have happened since then," Liston said.
Krasky had a few words for the board when presented with a birthday cake.
"When we first started here, I had hair," he said.