UPPER DUBLIN — Paul Leonard has left the building.
The township manager behind the “buck stops here” desk for 26 years retired, effective Jan. 3.
“For 25 years and 10 months, I’ve taken responsibility for every pothole, injury and mistake. It’s a lot in a small town,” Leonard said Dec. 29.
“When do I not look at every light out and say it’s my job to fix it.
“I just turned 66 last week,” he added. “I never saw anyone come back and say they retired too soon.”
The EF2 tornado in September that affected 110 homes in the township may have been the final push.
“Thirty-five to 40 homes will have to come down,” he said. Fort Washington Elementary, the high school, the township building — “a $22 million loss” — were damaged and the look of some neighborhoods changed.
“The tornado really kicked my tail,” Leonard said. “The first few weeks were fine. I’m really proud of the emergency response part. The insurance claims, mitigation, recovery, cleanup was grinding. I found it to be exhausting.”
The “most difficult times” during his tenure “are associated with fatalities,” he said, citing two killed in 1997 flooding in Ardsley, police Sgt. Jim Miller’s death in a vehicle accident on Dreshertown Road and a woman who died in the tornado.
“You can fix buildings and streets. Pedestrians struck and killed on roads — those are things you can’t fix.”
Firefighting inspired career
An active life member of the Fort Washington Fire Company, Leonard said becoming a volunteer firefighter in 1978 was “one of the things” that steered him toward a career in township service.
Hired in Upper Dublin in 1996, Leonard previously spent 14 years in city management positions elsewhere and earned a masters of public administration degree.
Among his accomplishments, Leonard, who has 35 years’ experience in emergency management, listed the two flood retarding structures.
“The two dams have saved lives and property, no doubt about it,” he said. Also, “the fire company and police officers are trained on water rescue; they have the right training and right gear.”
Other major projects include the new township building, new fire station, preservation of about 140 acres of open space, sale of the wastewater treatment plant, purchase of development rights at LuLu Country Club, two dog parks, two turf fields, 5 miles of bike paths and conversion of the municipal golf course to a public park.
Known as a forward-looking manager, Leonard negotiated the first turnpike access slip ramp in the state, was the first in Montgomery County to move to automated trash collection, expanded and relocated the library, was an early adopter of brine for snow removal, changed streetlights to LEDs, installed solar panels at Robbins Park and some traffic controls, has negotiated a zip ramp into the office park and began getting into electric-powered vehicles and charging stations, with an electric robot-powered lawnmower on order for the dog park.
Leonard also pointed to his “professional, non-partisan” relationships with commissioners and “good relationships” with employee unions.
He credited his ability to accomplish so much to his wife, Cathy, for her support during more than 700 night meetings, lots of time away from his family, and giving up some of her own career ambitions.
“I’ve had a tremendous amount of support; everyone helped me,” Leonard said. “Upper Dublin has been very good to me and my family.”
“Paul put in 25-plus good years with Upper Dublin … the township is better off for it,” board President Ira Tackel said. “What made my job as a commissioner and board president was having quality, competent, knowledgeable people on the township staff.
“He worked very hard to put the township residents first and foremost,” Tackel said. “He was about maintaining equity for residents, but balancing the needs of the entire township, and he was able to accomplish that effectively.
“The township commissioners and staff in general have really been apolitical,” Tackel said. “We haven’t allowed politics to get in the way of progress for Upper Dublin and I think that’s important today.
‘Tough shoes to fill’
“We will get a lot of qualified candidates [for the position] because of Upper Dublin’s reputation,” Tackel said. An interim manager will take over Jan. 4 “to help us keep the ship on a steady keel until we hire a full-time permanent replacement.”
“He will be tough to replace,” said Bob Pesavento, a former township commissioner, who voted to hire Leonard, and chairman of the township Municipal Authority overseeing redevelopment and economic investment in the office park.
“He was a hands-on manager and I think that really made a difference for the township, rather than sit in an office and direct from there.”
“He’s very hands-on,” agreed Bob Danaher, a Municipal Authority member who has worked on numerous township projects. “If there was an emergency, he was there helping. He was very forward-thinking.
“Paul was very instrumental in getting us thinking about the renovation of the Fort Washington Office Park and all the revenue that would bring. It’s going to bring in millions of additional revenue every single year.”
“It has been an honor and a challenge to work with Paul as finance director/assistant township manager” during Leonard’s entire tenure, Jonathan Bleemer said. “Paul always prioritized the interests and safety of Upper Dublin residents first and foremost.
“He sought out innovative and out-of-the-box solutions to the many issues local government faces,” he added. “You won’t meet anyone with more integrity than Paul. I will dearly miss working with him.”
“He has done amazing things in the township,” said Deb Ritter, Leonard’s recently retired longtime office administrator, noting when 309 was being redone he “reviewed the plans intricately to ensure the ramps were correct and made suggestions to PennDOT,” which adopted them. “He is so intelligent, and the things he could remember were unbelievable,” she said. “He could take on so many projects and handle them all.
“He was a leader, not just for the township but for various organizations throughout the county. He was wonderful to work for; I so admire him.”
“He was probably the best person I ever worked for,” said Lorraine Narducci, his executive assistant for 25 years. “Everything he did, he did for the township. He was very unselfish and very humble.
“He was very understanding; he supported us. If anything went wrong, he took the call for it.”
“He was a great boss, very fair and supportive,” said Sue Lohoefer, who worked with Leonard for 13 years as director of Parks & Recreation. “He was appreciative of work from every employee. He demanded excellent service from folks, to show respect to each other and the community.
“He had the ‘it’ factor for emergency management,” she said. “There could not have been a better person at the helm” when the tornado hit. “His will be tough shoes to fill.”
Among numerous awards he earned, Leonard received a Gold Award for design of the Fort Washington Fire Station, a Golden Eagle Award from the Eastern Montgomery County Emergency Management Group and was named First Responder of the year by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce.
Leonard said he plans to remain in Upper Dublin and volunteer with the fire company. He and his wife hope to travel when the world opens up, and he may seek some temporary management work in the interim, he said.
“There have been some fun projects,” like the sheep brought in for 8 or so years to remove invasive species, he said.
“I’ll miss being able to open the door on a trash truck or backhoe and work behind the scenes. I’ll miss the responsibility; I like being in charge. It’s been a very rewarding career.”