Christopher Marion's relative might be partially responsible for leading him to the town manager job in Scotch Plains, or at least getting him familiar with it.
Before moving to Massachusetts for his first job in municipal government, Marion had the chance to stop in Scotch Plains on the way and meet with then Township Manager Tom Atkins, who was an acquaintance of his wife’s cousin.
Marion kept in touch with Atkins periodically afterwards, and would also run into him at events and meetings of the NJ Municipal Managers Association when he worked for New Jersey municipalities.
"Tom is very respected in Scotch Plains and throughout the state," Marion said.
Atkins retired in 2008 after 28 years of service to the town, and since then, Scotch Plains has had a bit of a rocky time getting back on its feet.
Michael Capabianco was hired to replace Atkins, but after only six months on the job, he unexpectedly resigned earlier this year. The town’s governing body appointed construction official and zoning officer Robert Lacosta and executive assistant to the manager Madeline Rutkowski to serve as acting co-managers in the interim until a permanent manager was hired.
After a months-long search process, the township announced at its May 26 meeting that Marion, 37, had been chosen to become the new town manager. He comes to Scotch Plains from West Windsor, where he currently serves as business administrator.
While he doesn’t take his post in Scotch Plains until next Monday, June 29, we thought it was appropriate before he arrives to take a closer look at his past and gather insight into who he is, what he’s done, and what he will bring to Scotch Plains.
Marion shared his story with Patch last week.
An Early Plan for Public Service
While he has lived and worked in several states, Marion’s roots are in New Jersey, where he was born at JFK Medical Center in Edison.
He didn’t live here for long, though, before his family moved on to several other states, including New York, Connecticut, Idaho, Washington and Michigan.
Marion graduated from Grand Rapids Catholic High School in Grand Rapids, MI, but for college he decided to head back to the East Coast and enroll at Villanova University, just north of Philadelphia.
It was there, he said, that he began planning for his career in public service.
During his senior year in particular, Marion said a U.S. government professor named Craig Wheeland became a big influence on his decision to pursue a municipal government career.
“It was in his ‘Governing in the City’ class when I decided on a career in city management," he said.
Marion received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Villanova in 1993. He then went on to enroll in a master’s program at the University of Delaware.
A Career in Town Government
Marion’s first job out of graduate school was in Mansfield, MA, where he took a position as the assistant to the town manager and served from August 1995 to January 1997. He next moved on to a job as a management analyst for Lower Merion, PA, where he worked for three years.
"As a management analyst, I worked on a number of projects for public works, finance, police and operations," Marion said.
Marion left the job in Pennsylvania in 2000, the same year he met and married his wife, Stephanie. He was also hired as assistant business administrator in Marlboro, NJ, that year, so the couple moved to the Garden State, where they have been ever since.
One year after taking the job in Marlboro, Marion’s boss, former Administrator Joseph Orlando, took a job in labor relations for the state Administration of the Courts.
That left the business administrator position open, and Marion was chosen for the job. Hired only eight days after his birthday, the moment was bittersweet, he said, because his father, the late Ronald Marion, died at about the same time.
During his tenure, Marlboro was embroiled in political scandal with the resignations of its former mayor, Matt Scannapieco, and then township attorney, former state Sen. John Bennett. Bennett was never charged with a crime, but Scannapieco was convicted of bribery and put in prison.
"It was the best-worst job I ever had," Marion said, explaining that it was a very "volatile political environment."
But the political and criminal scandal in Marlboro did not deter him from making friends within the Monmouth County community, where he worked from 2000 to 2004.
Marion says that he still maintains friends with former co-workers and residents there.
In 2004, Marion was hired as the business administrator in West Windsor. According to the West Windsor-Plainsboro News, Marion is credited with bringing stability to that job and with helping improve relationships between the council and administrators.
His job was a particularly tough one this year as West Windsor dealt with tough budget issues not unlike those in Scotch Plains. The West Windsor-Plainsboro News reported last month that West Windsor Councilman Charles Morgan filed a request for an investigation into Marion and Chief Financial Officer Joanne Louth for their analysis of his proposal for a lower tax rate.
Marion said this wasn’t a determining factor in his resignation, and in fact, when he did announce that he was leaving, Morgan had nothing but kind words for the business administrator.
“I’ve worked with several administrators. Nobody is better at it,” Morgan told the West Windsor-Plainsboro News. “Nobody comes to the table with more diplomacy, more energy and more intellectual skills than Chris. It’s a profound loss.”
While he’s sad to leave West Windsor, Marion says he’s more than ready to come to Scotch Plains and get busy. Some top priorities he’s already set are "getting up to speed on the municipal budget, learning about township operations, meeting with department heads and employees and setting an agenda for the upcoming year."
While his first day on the job is one day before the township adopts its 2009 budget, Marion says his focus will be getting started on the 2010 municipal budget.
"The budget process begins in August, but for a new manager it begins in July,” he said.
Mayor Nancy Malool said earlier this month that she hopes he’ll also bring a boost to employee morale.
“It has been an extremely difficult year for us,” Malool said. “I anticipate that when Marion begins, our healing process will begin in the township.”
While he knows it won’t be easy, Marion says he is ready for his new position, and is looking forward to meeting township employees and residents.
“There is something special about the community and you get that from the people who live here, and from former township residents who once lived here,” he said.
Marion calls his family the most important aspect in his life, and says that he thinks his children have made him a better leader and more understanding to staffers’ family needs.
He and his wife, Stephanie, have two-year-old twin boys, Michael Joseph and Liam Christopher.
"My boys are my main interest," he said.
When he’s not busy being a father, Marion is also a sports fan, especially of the Philadelphia Eagles, for which he is a season ticket holder. He said he also roots for the Philadelphia Phillies and for the Villanova University basketball team.
While his family will continue to live in Freehold for now, he says that he is excited to make Scotch Plains his work home.
"I think there is a strong sense of community in Scotch Plains, and it is evident from the meetings that I have attended and walking through town," he said.