Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

Joan Walsh, Harrison’s Next Supervisor, Shares Her Thoughts

Last Tuesday morning, December 18th, we sat down for about an hour with Harrison Town Clerk Joan Walsh to share her thoughts on the eve of moving down the hall to the Supervisor’s Office. Joan, of course, has been a long-term resident of Harrison Town Hall, having served a total of 13 years as Town Clerk. Always accommodating residents’ needs whenever and wherever she possibly could, Joan is respected for her
even-handedness and her high ethical standards.

Joan was moved to run against three-term incumbent Stephen Malfitano because she had come to the conclusion
that he was “ruining the Town.” During the campaign she spoke about taxes, and “the heavy burden” Malfitano’s projects, in recent years, had placed on Town residents. She deplored the millions of dollars that were wasted
on consultant fees and cost overruns.

During the campaign, she also criticized Malfitano’s stubbornness and his unwillingness to admit that some projects, such as his “Project Home Run,” a venture begun in 2002 to create two ball fields on land that the State had appropriated $6 million to Harrison and the City of Rye to rehabilitate and turn into a nature preserve what had been a “brown field”. By some estimates, the Town has spent nearly $10 million for a parcel that remains barren and sinking in several places.

Walsh was most concerned, however, about the “lack of openness with residents.” She cited the appearance and the reality of withholding information, not making full disclosures, at Town Board meetings; the lack of public participation and input in projects and, more importantly, in the drafting of a Master Plan of Development.

Now that she is about to take hold of the reins, she told us, “It is vital that we complete the Master Plan, a document that will be a picture of what exists and what we will need over the next 25 years.” She expressed particular concern regarding the Beaver Swamp area, the Quarry in West Harrison, the parcel involved in “Project Home Run” that she believes should be allowed to sit as the ground settles for five or even ten years.

With respect to the possible need for more ball fields, Walsh told us she would like to appoint a “Task Force On Recreation whose responsibility it would be to determine whether, in fact, there was a real need for more
ball fields; and, if so, where?” She mentioned Park Lane, Veteran’s Field, and the as-yet unutilized Klingenstein Property on North Street, as a few potential ball field locations.

Turning to another subject, we asked her, “What is your understanding of what has been going on within the Harrison Police Department?” She quickly responded, “The people of the Town are upset with the Police Department.” She went further, acknowledging that the outcome of the election may very well have had as much to do with residents’ dissatisfaction with Malfitano’s failure to deal with the continuing tensions and charges between the rank and file and Chief Hall and Captain Marriccini, as it had to do with any other issue. She said,
“The Townspeople are looking for a change.”

Then Walsh intimated, “I had Chief Hall in my office just yesterday. I told him I will be looking to have the Department accredited. He told me that they have been involved in that process but have not completed it. I asked to see the paperwork.”

Supervisor-elect Walsh then turned to another issue that she feels has been neglected, activities for seniors.
She explained, “Current programs involve bingo and travel.” Asked what kinds of trips were involved, she explained that day trips and overnight travel were presently enjoyed, but that the existing Senior Center is inadequate for the needs of the program which has grown to more than 200 participants, roughly 100
from downtown Harrison and an equal number in West Harrison. She made a commitment, declaring,
“I will see that the Senior Center on the grounds of the Underhill School is completed by summer.”

Pointing across the room toward the railroad station, Harrison’s next supervisor spoke of another high-priority for her administration. She explained that she wants to replace the large, unattractive parking area on the south side of the train station, along Halstead Avenue, which she described as a gap that is harmful to potential shopping and business in the Town, with a concept that she credited Steve Malfitano with introducing and
bringing along.

The project would involve commercial development on the ground level with three stories of residential
above, “in scale with existing nearby structures.” As we were wrapping up our conversation, Joan Walsh, still smiling, turned and said, “By and large, I want to make every effort to alter residents’ perception of civil servants, Town employees. I have worked with them for many years. I know them personally, I know them to be professional, hard-working, and knowledgeable, and I think it’s time the Townspeople come to know them that way as well.”

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