By Mark Porter
for Montclair Local
On Montclair Township’s website is the declaration that the Municipal Clerk’s Office is “your doorway to local government.”
For the past 30 years, Linda S. Wanat has been its doorkeeper.
As of this coming Monday, April 1, Wanat will retire from the office she’s led since 1989, departing from that figurative doorway and from the myriad municipal tasks she’s overseen.
Commendation and congratulations
Wanat’s final Township Council regular meeting occurred on Tuesday, March 19. Local government officials praised her, and the six council members in attendance approved a proclamation “in recognition and appreciation of Linda S. Wanat, valued Montclair Township employee.”
With sections read by council members to the audience, the proclamation teems with Wanat’s accomplishments. The document cites her mandated duties, and also notes her many involvements in promoting organizations within Montclair and spotlighting the township within the United States and in Montclair’s Sister Cities.
In its “be it resolved,” the proclamation stated, “Linda added to the life of the municipal community with the thoughtfulness, kindness and friendship she provided to both residents and colleagues.”
Red Sox fan in the Yankees domain
As he concluded the proclamation, Mayor Robert Jackson interrupted himself in listing Wanat’s “myriad pursuits in travel, reading, theater, and support of the Boston Red Sox…”
“I don’t know about that one,” noted Jackson, a NY Yankees fan.
Raised in Connecticut, Linda Wanat told Montclair Local that, in the Nutmeg State, “you can go either way” between the Red Sox and Yankees.
In Meriden, Wanat attended games played by a minor-league baseball team, the InSilcos, sponsored by the locally based International Silver Co. A 17-year-old player on the team, Jimmy Piersall, from nearby Waterbury, had earned money babysitting Wanat. When he graduated high school as a basketball phenom, Piersall was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
“That’s how I became a Red Sox fan,” noted Wanat.
In her many decades residing in New Jersey, Wanat’s maintained her American League loyalty to Red Sox Nation in spite of incessant haranguing by Yankees fans.
During her final public council meeting last week, former Mayor Ed Remsen summed up his accolades to Wanat with a boisterous “Go Yankees!”
Moving to Montclair
“My whole life has been serendipitous,” said Wanat. A double major at Boston University in child psychology and education, Wanat then earned a Master’s in psychology at Columbia. And she’s nearing a PhD that she may someday complete. She was a teacher in Newton, MAMass., buttressing her Red Sox loyalty.
Her then-husband was a medical resident in a New York City hospital, and a fellow doctor invited them to visit Montclair.
“It was fall. It was beautiful with all the trees,” she recalled. “We were charmed by Montclair.”
Later, as a single parent, Wanat was hired as “chapter development director” for the American Liver Foundation, with an office in Cedar Grove. For several years, she worked for the foundation, expanding it from four to 26 chapters. “I got to witness the first liver transplant,” she noted.
Wanat then worked at Montclair State College for three years, handling the school’s daycare center policy and its divestiture of South African investments. She then did a stint as director of development with the Mental Health Association of New Jersey.
Learning that Montclair Township Clerk Constance “Connie” Arnott was retiring, Wanat applied for and was hired to be Arnott’s replacement.
On Jan. 3, 1989, Linda Wanat started as Montclair’s municipal clerk.
Three decades of dedication
The official responsibilities of a municipal clerk are:
- Secretary to the governing body; in Montclair’s case, the Township Council
- Secretary to the Municipal Government
- Administrative and licensing officer
- Election administrator and registrar of voters
- Custodian of records.
“I taught as an adjunct at Rutgers for 21 years in the Blaustein School of Government [in the municipal clerk certification program],” Wanat said. “During visits by students, I always asked who wanted to be a municipal clerk when they grow up. No one ever raised their hand.
“The array of duties is monumental,” said Wanat. “You interact with the different departments, the governing body and the public … Things are often left up in the air. You have to learn to juggle a lot.”
For Wanat, the tasks extended far beyond the state mandates. She has overseen Montclair’s enduring Sister City relationships with the London borough of Barnet; Graz, Austria; Cherepovets, Russia; and its newest Sister City, Aquilonia, Italy. She’s partnered with the Adult School of Montclair and the regional League of Women Voters.
During the past two decades, as the state Open Public Records Act has become more defined, the Municipal Clerk’s Office has been deluged with information requests.
Wanat’s assisted in annual events such as the 4th of July Parade, and worked with colleagues on Montclair’s 150th anniversary celebration. Wanat has sworn in 30 years’ worth of police and firefighter recruits, along with the many residents elected to seven 4-year lineups of the Township Council. Wanat and her office daily handle dozens of tasks intrinsic to the local government. “The array of duties is monumental,” she acknowledged.
Saying “the elections part of the job has been one of my favorites,” Wanat has been a forceful advocate for citizens to cast their ballots.
Her office registers people to vote, and it conducts municipal elections. For numerous years, as each general election approached, Wanat would write a guest editorial for The Montclair Times urging residents to cast their ballots.
In 2003, the International Institute of Municipal Clerks awarded its IIMC Quill Award to Wanat.
Three years later, the New Jersey League of Municipalities bequeathed to Wanat its 2006 Clerk of the Year Award.
“You name it, she’d done it,” noted Montclair Communications Director Katya Wowk. “Essentially, she’s the go-to person. If you need to know something about government, talk to Linda.”
Montclair Recreation and Cultural Affairs Director Pat Brechka has overseen annual activities such as the parade, coordinating with Wanat. “She epitomizes ‘the township clerk.’ She puts special touches to everything,” observed Brechka, herself a mainstay in the municipal government.
“This job lets you touch so many areas of the town I love,” Wanat said.
Residents have perceived the Municipal Clerk’s Office as a literal search engine.
“Within the first weeks of taking the job,” remembered Wanat, “we got a call from a resident asking if we could give her the names of babysitters because they had just moved in.”
Records, licensing and data coordinator Holly Maykow recalled when “a parent came in and told us their kids somehow registered their pet to vote, and they needed to undo it.” Maykow and Wanat recalled the pet as being either a hermit crab or a snake. No worries that a reptile or crustacean cast a ballot, noted Wanat, as the application was incomplete.
Often involved with former resident Juliana Belcsak in sustaining the City Sister program, who she cited as an inspiration, Wanat called these relationships “an unexpected benefit of this job.
In Sister Cities in England, Austria, and Russia, “what really stood out was we shared the same concerns. They had the same problems as we did. We had so many commonalities … The friendships that were forged during my visits continue to this day.”
Time to keep going
“I’m exploring volunteer activities,” said Wanat of her life that begins on April 2. “I’m a big fan of the Montclair Public Library. And I enjoy traveling. I’ll probably do more of that.
“A real bonus is watching my four grandchildren grow up,” she said, referring to Hope, Christopher, Jackson, and Arya.
Wanat’s two sons are Christopher and Peter James.
Wanat said she will miss her colleagues — Deputy Municipal Clerk Juliet Lee, Principal Clerk Melissa Cheung, and Data Coordinator Holly Maykow — and the other municipal employees.
During the council’s farewell ceremony, her colleagues and other local officials and the audience members gave Wanat a standing ovation.
“You, beyond anyone I’ve come in contact with in public life, demonstrated a decorum, just a magnanimous nature that’s unmatched,” Jackson said. “You truly exemplify the very best in government service, but more importantly, the very best in being a human being.”
Wanat addressed the residents she’s served: “It’s been rewarding, often challenging, but always, always fulfilling.”