(OP-ED): After 40-years, New Jersey financial hero (my Dad) is retiring from government
This is a story that needs to be told and shared because what he has done has impacted so many people and towns across the state of New Jersey and made so many lives better.
He has made direct change everywhere he has been working in local or for state government.
Whenever he moved to the next chapter, things were always in a better place, a place where towns need only find a way to build on success instead of searching for it.
In a span of 40-plus years, from 1982 to 2023, Frederick Ebenau has tackled some of the biggest financial challenges out there and did so by embracing them head-on, never backing down from a challenge but running with it, having all the confidence in the world to rectify any issues and make it all better.
During that time period he worked as a CFO/Treasurer while also serving as Business Administrator/Assistant BA in stops along the way in Paterson, Camden, Fairfield (Cumberland County), South Orange, Manchester, Ocean Gate, Toms River, and Berkeley.
He was a State Fiscal Control Officer in Camden, Fairfield, and Manchester.
In the 1990's, he went to Fairfield to clean up one embezzlement scandal and did so in just six months time and after that, went full time in Manchester Township working on cleaning up the massive embezzlement scandal there and restoring financial order.
There were two stops in Ocean Gate and Berkeley, once in the 1990's, and most recently over the last several years as part of a shared services agreement between the two municipalities where he was CFO.
He came into Toms River in 2004 at a time where they transitioned from a committee form of government and served as the business administrator until the end of 2007.
On January 31, he'll be retiring from working in government.
This past Friday night, Berkeley Township Mayor Carmen Amato and the Township Council presented him with a proclamation highlighting his 16-years there and who he is as a person.
He has been a financial genius able to look right into any problem, know how to address it and help make things better.
To share every story could fill an entire book and then some, but here's a few.
Here are some highlights of his stellar career in New Jersey government.
Life Lessons Learned
My Dad has always advised me and my siblings to be people of integrity, high character, respectful towards others, and taught us how to work hard, be a leader, be our ourselves, have faith and pray, and so much more.
He also gave me his height (lol) -- both of us stand at about 6'5.
How Fred Ebenau changed New Jersey finances forever
He has always had a genius financial gene, able to look at something, issue both small or large, and know exactly what it was, what needed to be done, and how it could help so many people and towns.
Upon graduating from William Paterson University in 1978, he began his self-employed tax accountant and preparer career (still active) and received his C.M.F.O. license in 1986.
Years later, in a 2007 interview with Sam Christopher of the Ocean County Observer, while working in Toms River government, he said:
"Being a chief financial officer, accountant, and town administrator is a very good profession. One of the biggest rewards is knowing you can make a difference for all people. But hard work and dedication are needed."
The roads through local and state government in New Jersey
From 1982-1989, he served in a variety of roles in the City of Paterson from Project Fiscal Officer for the CETA Program, Director of Sewer Assessment Division, Director of Ambulance Billing, City Treasurer, Custodian of School Funds, and Director of Finance.
In a resolution passed on April 25, 1989 by the City of Paterson, the council said, in part, "the City Council recognizes his knowledge of all areas of Financial Management, specifically, enforcement of State Statutes governing Tax Assignment Sales and initiation of a policy to lower delinquency Sewer Collections through direct appeals to each delinquent account resulting in both instances a significant increase in revenue for the city."
There were many accomplishments and feats achieved in Paterson.
Years later, he told the Ocean County Observer in February of 1994:
"We doubled the sewer account revenues by collection efforts, proper billing. I went to the biggest companies in the city, knocked on their door and threatened to shut off their sewer service. We achieved a 95-percent tax collection rate, excellent for an urban city."
He also helped Paterson become one of the first to make refunding bonds common practice:
"We saved $652,000 on a $15 million bond issue."
The next chapters featured stops in South Orange, Fairfield, and in Camden.
He made a curious discovery working as a state employee sent to Camden to help improve their finances with the state being interested in looking into how Camden was handling finances and that led to the discovery that $379,000 in city checks weren't cashed, according to May 28, 1989 report by the Courier Post, adding that the city issues checks found were not cashed by vendors, welfare recipients, and health care providers for a three year period.
He also helped the City of Camden overcome other issues during his tenure there.
Cleaning up in Manchester Township after embezzlement scheme
It was another challenge and, essentially, a rebuild.
It was also an assignment closer to home after my parents and three older siblings moved from north Jersey to Toms River in 1988 while he was still working in Paterson, then came the Camden assignment by the state and into Fairfield, but when there was an opportunity in Manchester, he put in his name.
In Manchester, he came in after the 1990 embezzlement scandal in 1993 to clean things up and restore order and taking on the roles of Acting Executive Director of the Manchester MUA and then Director of Finance, CFO, State Fiscal Control Officer, and soon thereafter, Business Administrator into 1996.
Former Ocean County Prosecutor and current Ocean County 10th District State Senator Jim Holzapfel said at the time, that this was the "biggest municipal corruption scandal in state history", according to the Ocean County Observer in a 1994 report.
There were municipal records dumped in a landfill by a township truck, county and state investigators found that $2.25 million had been embezzled by the former Manchester Township administration and then Mayor Joseph Portash, according to the Ocean County Observer, but it was suspected a lot more was stolen for years.
In speaking with the Ocean County Observer in February of 1994, my Dad said:
"There's a tremendous amount more misappropriated , stolen, but no records to prove criminal actions. My guess is closer to $10-million was stolen, and it went on a lot more than the seven years the indictments covered under the statute of limitations."
After uncovering what happened and what was going on, it was time to restore order and rebuild.
"I had to hire, train and educate all new people in the finance office. The former workers were caught up in the scandal."
He also had to then bring back trust and relationships so people and businesses and others would want to do business with Manchester Town Hall.
In Ocean Gate in the late 1990's, he came in to help in cleaning up another embezzlement mess after Ocean Gate CFO James Haluszka gave himself raises and broke the law in several others ways including siphoning $1,281 in borough finances, according to the APP/OCO at the time, and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Taking on the role of Business Administrator in Toms River Township
In 2004, he moved on to Toms River being appointed as the Township Administrator under Mayor Paul Brush and serving in the role into 2007.
There was a change in the form of government, but he told Jean Mikle of the Asbury Park Press at the time, that he embraced the change and challenge.
"I'm not one to reinvent the wheel. I just want to make it better, to improve efficiency here. I don't want to go in and change everything all at once."
In that same article, then Toms River Mayor Paul Brush said:
"What impressed you most about Fred is his professionalism and how he conducts himself in meetings and with others. He is authoritative, he's knowledgable, but he never tries to dominate the meeting. He wants to hear all points of view."
Finishing up career as CFO in Berkeley Township
In 2007, he moved on to the next challenge being appointed to the role of CFO/Treasurer in Berkeley Township and for a period of time, interim Business Administrator, which later became Assistant Business Administrator along with the CFO/Treasurer title.
He guided Berkeley Township through the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy and most recently the Covid-19 pandemic and the financial hurdles that came with both to keep the town on its feet and maintaining one of the lowest tax rates in Ocean County.
In the proclamation handed out last week, Mayor Amato wrote:
"I wish to thank Fred for his countless hours of work and dedication for the 16-years he served the residents of Berkeley Township."
His self-employed Accounting practice continues to grow and thrive and he is looking forward to continue working with individuals, families, and businesses.
He'll also continue his service to God and church as a Deacon at St. Justin the Martyr Parish in Toms River, as part of the Diocese of Trenton.
Above all, he's looking to spending more time with his family, and that's what matters most to him.
I love you Dad.