Scarsdale Mayor Carolyn Stevens chaired her last meeting of the Scarsdale Board of Trustees on Tuesday night March 22nd. Here are her remarks to the public, her fellow Board members and the Village staff: This is my last Board meeting as Mayor – and as tradition would have it I will take time to wish those leaving the board adieu and thank them for their service, and to reflect on our time on the Board. Thanks first to my husband and family – who have been so supportive and encouraging; for listening to me discuss all sorts of issues they really weren’t interested in such as cracks in retaining walls, the lack of a foundation in a corner of the public safety building, tax caps, storm water, and the height of village shrubs.
Second to the residents, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve. I have been both honored and humbled. I have truly regarded it as a privilege, and I tried to remember that each day. The Village is facing a threat that it has not faced before – one that strikes at the heart of our mission -- to be a place that provides excellent public education and the best public service while keeping a handle on cost. For those of you who don’t believe that I would suggest that you come to budget meeting and follow the discussion as we go over the budget line by line. Over the past decade the mandated costs for pension, health care, worker’s comp and wages have all risen at enormous rates because of state laws that tie the hands of local municipalities in the bargaining arena. Our pension costs have risen over a 1000% since 2003 with a reduced head count. The danger is two fold – these mandated costs keep growing at rates way above CPI or even the tax rates that we have set and at the same time the State wanting to impose a 2% tax cap. I assure you that if the bill as passed by the State Senate and being pushed by the Governor becomes law it will be the end of the services and schools we have known them in this community. The very things that sustain the value of your homes will be lost. We will be forced to cut staff and services; we will not have money for capital projects or to maintain our facilities. We will have to start charging fees for things now covered by your taxes. I could go into further detail but this is not the time. I will provide the details at a public presentation of the budget. The people you have elected need your help. We need to let the governor and our legislators know that this is not a good solution to the property tax issue.
Tonight is about the people I have served with over the last two years. I have been blessed with a group of smart, hard working, dedicated individuals who have each brought their own unique talents and perspective, who have shared them collaboratively and worked toward consensus in the best tradition of the non-partisan system. Their egos and preconceived notions were left at the door of the Trustees Room and they approached problems with open minds, a willingness to be educated, the flexibility to change their minds, but with the conviction and comfort to express their opinions openly. You always displayed good humor and I will miss you all. I think of the Board a little bit like a chorus or an orchestra; each member has their own unique sound or voice and the best sound is produced when each can be heard -- but never to the extent that one overpowers the others. Each has studied the notes (the material provided to us) and voices their views, while listening to the other voices.
Kay and Jon…this was your first year on the Board and both of you have made wonderful contributions to the functioning of the Board. Kay – your level of commitment and caring is evident in your words and actions. While you started off quietly you have gained confidence and have started to find your own voice; and a lovely one it is. Having watched you run BAR meetings in the past, probably the hardest Board to chair in many ways, I know how quietly forceful you can be and how sensible you are in finding solutions. With your planning background you bring a special set of skills to a Board of so many lawyers. I know you will continue to be a wonderful asset to the Board and will add to the harmony.
Jon… I had never met you until you came on the Board, which I found surprising. But the best surprise was to find that you are an incredibly quick study and a wonderfully analytical thinker. Your ability to grasp the facts and to get to the heart of the issue without losing site of the details is terrific. You must have excelled in kindergarten because your ability to play well with others deserves a gold star. You are always polite and courteous and one of your best traits is that you really listen to others. Your voice has been strong and clear but never overpowering and you performed with grace. I will miss your good humor.
To Bob (Steves), congratulations on your re-election. I have known you for years and my original impression of you was right You are smart, thoughtful, kind and generous, and have a strong commitment to giving back. You do it all with a humbleness and dignity that makes everyone around you sing better. You make people want to be better, an inspiring leadership quality. Over the last two years, your financial background has been incredibly helpful and will be even more so if we are faced with a tax cap. You know that little rhyme you have about taxes and fees? It will need to be set to music so all can learn to sing it. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with you.
Richard, you are another one that I did not have the pleasure of knowing before I came on the Board, but getting to know you has been really special, and I mean that in only the best way. Your voice is loud and strong by nature but you always moderate it and you listen for the harmony. You have a sharp mind and a wit to match and add depth and acute analysis to any discussion --but also lighten even the most serious of discussions. Those talents are special and you add your own timbre to the music.
David… As Chair of Finance you have served us well. You have added your own steady, calm and quiet beat to the conversations. You are always the diplomat, who looks to build consensus but keeps the beat by bringing things back to dollars and cents. Behind your quiet exterior is a rather wicked sense of humor, always delivered with a chuckle. You brought your lawyerly skills to bear, asking thoughtful questions and demonstrating a keen understanding of all issues. Your voice helped improve the harmony.
Miriam – Let me once again congratulate you on your election as Mayor. In the past two years I have learned that you have a clear voice, but you also listen carefully. You ask thoughtful questions that always move the ball along. You are our parliamentarian who makes sure we always do out parts correctly. I know that you value process and understand that a large part of this job is understanding the process and making it clear and open. It is process that gives our decisions legitimacy. I know from our discussions that you are passionate about Scarsdale and will work hard to make it better.
But no chorus or orchestra could produce anything without all those ‘behind the scenes’. I want the residents to understand that we have one of the best professional staffs in the state and perhaps the country. How do I know this? From attending WMOA meetings and talking to other mayors, supervisors and managers. They are constantly telling me what a great, knowledgeable staff we have. How do they know? Because they interact with them and know their level of professionalism. There are many former Scarsdale staffers filling positions around the county and state. When I attended NYCOM meetings I realized how much the staff has taught me over the many years I have worked with them. I realize how generous they all are with their knowledge and the pride they take in keeping us informed. I recently met a professor from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the University of Albany – who not only knew several of our present staff -- but also told me about many staffers who had worked in Scarsdale and gone on to other positions throughout the state and nation.
Suzanne Busby : Suzanne - I have met at least three other village or town officials over the last two years who all take credit for your being such a great Recreation Department head. As my children were active participants in your programs and I use the recreation facilities I can see why they would want a piece of reflected glory.
Donna Conkling: Our Village Clerk – Thank you for the great job you did running this year’s election – trying to make sure that there were no irregularities and to accommodate the unexpectedly large turnout. Many of you may not know that we have become ‘wedding central.’ I have lost count of the number of weddings Donna has set up in the last two years. I especially want to thank you for making us all sound well spoken and literate when you do the minutes.
Mary Lou McClure; our Treasurer – You do your job so well and are so capable, conservative and miserly with the residents’ money. Your understanding of the Village finances is incredible as is your knowledge of the budget. I especially want to thank you for your patience with me. I have learned so much from you.
Jim Macri; the head of our Water Department: Most residents don’t know you so they have no idea how dedicated and hard working you are, and how you look after our water system with loving care. Nor do they appreciate your intimate knowledge of the system and how to maintain it.
Nanette Albanese: our Village Assessor – you have been on the firing line for the last two years as we have seen the number of filings for grievances more than triple. Even when residents seem intent on blaming you for the economic downturn your professionalism comes through. The work you have done on explaining why the village needs a revaluation and your work on the County Reassessment Commission has gone a long way in helping the Village and the County work towards a more fair tax system.
Nunzio Petrosanti: Village Engineer and Head of the Building Department; You are involved in every building project in the Village and there are a lot of them. You also spend many late nights with our land use boards, sometimes only to have a construction meeting early the next morning. You take your service to the Village and residents seriously and understand issues of public safety.
Paul Zeicheck: Thank you for all of the incredibility difficult work you have done this past two years as the Village’s Project Manager on the Public Safety Building and the bridge. It has not been easy keeping these projects moving. Having sat in on a couple of meeting with the construction folks on the Public Safety Building I know you did not have an easy time yet you were always calm and professional.
Benny Salanitro: Between the horrible windstorm last March and the record snows this winter, this past year has put you and your crews to the test. You have devised inventory systems that have saved us some serious money and you have done an incredible job. A special thank you for shepherding me around in some of the worst storms and keeping me safe.
Liz Marrinan; You are patient, cheerful and smart . You are another staff member who has taught me so much over the years when I was on a land use board and served as trustee and mayor. Not only do you know the planning aspects; you appreciate and understand the importance of the process. The Planning Board, the ZBA, the applicants and the public all need to understand the so that all can be comfortable with the result.
Christine, Carla and Helen – thanks for taking messages and reminding me of appointments but also for the tact that you exhibit when folks call to complain. You are on the front lines and get folks at their unhappiest. Your politeness – often in the face of rudeness is appreciated. I particularly remember how you fielded all the calls from residents during the storm about a year ago – sitting in the cold and the dark – as resident’s complained about their situations.
Angela: our assistant Village attorney; and Rita, Justin, John, and Steve who work in the Manager’s Department; Over the last two years it has been such a pleasure to work with all of you and to watch you grow in knowledge, professionalism and confidence. You are always willing to help; no task is too small or too big and you are always eager to learn. I thank you for your service to the Village and it residents but also for all you have done for me. I wish you all the best in your careers.
Mike DeLong; Head of Human Resources: You too help to educate the Board, even when we don’t realize it. At the three NYCOM conferences I attended in the last two years I realized how much I learned from you. I sat at a lecture on a labor issue and heard the legal counsel explain a tricky issue and then say “Scarsdale is the only community in the state that gets this right.” I knew the material in the employment lecture before I sat down --maybe not the names of the cases the lawyer was citing, --but the principles. Thanks for making us all so smart.
Wayne – gosh Wayne –we are both a lot grayer now than when we first met and you explained the proper role for a Trustee. Do you think our gray hair has anything to do with the aggravation inherent in our positions? The longer I have worked with you the more my respect has grown for you as an attorney and the more I have learned from you. You sit year after year as counsel to Board after Board filled with attorneys of all ilk, corporate, A&M, bankruptcy, litigation, real estate, etc. And all of us walk away impressed with your knowledge and understanding of legal issues facing the Village. But it isn’t only your legal advice I have found so valuable. You are a true counselor, have good common sense and a remarkable calmness. I will miss your advice and counsel.
Steve Pappalardo: Deputy Village Manager - When I first came on the Board I think it took me a year to learn to spell your name but not to realize how smart you are. You are the Village’s institutional memory. In a place that turns over its Board every year, that is invaluable. But you are so much more than that. You are the consummate professional, believing in good government principles and practicing them. I have loved and learned so much from our ‘philosophical discussions’ about government and how to make it better. Your practical approach to issues and in depth knowledge of everything going on in the Village makes your advice invaluable. The Village is so lucky to have you. On a personal note I will miss our talks, your patience, your advice and sense of humor.
Al Gatta: Village Manager: What can I say? I think I have spoken more to you in the last two years than my husband. But all kidding aside, I do not think our residents appreciate how lucky they are to have you as a manager. I am always amazed when I go to conferences I hear, “ you have a great manager – Al Gatta.” The other mayors and supervisors in Westchester are always looking to you to see what you are doing about an issue. The County has reached out to you to work on two major projects on reassessment and storm water. Your knowledge of the Village budget and its finances are amazing. You constantly monitor the village’s financial picture and saved us from serious financial issues when you realized that revenues were going to fall short of projections and froze spending mid year. And you have managed to steer us through the worst economic downturn in the history of the Village without affecting services at a time of huge increases in mandated costs and shrinking non-property tax revenue. I know our tax increases have been higher than we would have liked. But if the pension and health care costs had not increased, even with the drop in non-property tax revenue, tax increases would have been minimal. You have put together one of the best and most professional staffs around. Some of the things that have impressed me the most are that despite your many years in government – you love it. Your enthusiasm is remarkable. Also your love of this community comes through when people spend time with you. You really want Scarsdale to be the best-run community. I really could not have done this without you. For our government to work well the relationship between the Mayor and Manager needs to be a real partnership. Your ability to adapt every two years to another style speaks volumes about the type of person you are and your professionalism. Thank you for all your encouragement and advice, for pushing me to get involved in some of the issues outside the Village and for becoming a real friend. I will miss you all.