HARRISON, N.Y. - Mayor/Supervisor Joan Walsh said in a statement that Harrison Police Chief Anthony Marraccini was deceitful in his tactics to sway public opinion by presenting a budget request to the town board that she says was already discussed. In the letter, Walsh accuses Marraccini of having too much "hubris" and failing to accept that the board could not financially meet all of his requests.
For more than 35 years, I have had the privilege to serve the public. It has always been my conviction one should serve wisely and to the best of one's ability. As a person who has dedicated a good part of her life to public service, it has always been important to me to listen to and try my best to understand perspectives other than my own and, to this end, diplomacy and respect are the essential disciplines to be practiced in order to survive and serve well and effectively in the public sector.
To this end, my 35-year career speaks for itself, including the four years I have had the privilege to serve as mayor for our town of Harrison. Through these years, I have both met and worked with various individuals whom I came to know professionally and personally, and they too share my sentiments and convictions that public officials must serve the best interests of the public.
Unfortunately, there are amongst us a few who are in public service who have different agendasagendas that make one ask: if not in the best interest of the public, then whose interest does it serve? Sadly, one of the town's department heads falls into this category. I am outraged at the attempt by a town department head to influence you, the town residents, while appearing to be addressing the town board.
I refer to the public presentation by Police Chief Anthony Marraccini, at the Dec. 1 Town Board meeting, of his budget requests for 2012. Since none of his presentation was new information to the board members, it was obviously an attempt to influence residents to ask the board to grant that department additional funding, over and above what had already been determined was necessary and affordable.
Hubrisif you look in the dictionaryyou will find the definition to be "excessive pride, arrogance," from the Greek word meaning "insolence". Police Chief Anthony Marraccini met all the definitions in his presentation to the town board regarding the proposed 2012 Budget at the town board meeting on Dec. 1 during the public hearing on the budget.
I say "his" presentation. However, Chief Marraccini chose to not attend the meeting. All department heads were advised to attend this public hearing on the 2012 budget, but Chief Marraccini chose, without explanation, to absent himself and chose, instead, to have a three-page statement read by one of his senior officers coupled with a Power Point presentation that the town board members had previously seen. Hubris.
That statement began: "It is unfortunate that once again I am put in a position to advise the Board of the perils of the mayor's proposed budget. As last year, I have evaluated this year's proposed budget and find it to be unrealistic, irresponsible and hazardous for the well-being of this community, its residents and the police officers...."
He then goes on for three pages to outline the department's difficulties, praising "his" officers for their "exemplary performance" and "selfless efforts," in these difficult financial times.
This was followed by a 30-minute Power Point presentation, as well as statements by senior officers regarding their areas of assignment. What he does not say is that there were scheduled work sessions with department heads and all board members in the preparation of this first version of the 2012 budget. This was not just the mayor's budget, but had input from all board members. There are a few other items that the chief chose not to share with the residents at the meeting and those who will see it on Channel 75:
He failed to mention that he made this same presentation to the entire board during a work session. And the entire board, not just the Mayor, chose to not respond to his requests.
He failed to mention that he came to at least six executive sessions of the town board with these same requests, and the entire board, not just the mayor, chose to not respond to his requests.
He failed to mention that in 2011 and before, the board did give the police department funding for eight new police cars, for electronic equipment to help them become more efficient and responsive, to cut down on the time needed for paperwork, to help make up for the loss of officers due to retirements and injuries.
He failed to mention, when asking for three more training days, that our officers already have five training days, paid at time and a half. Would these additional days be added to that cost?
He failed to mention that there was funding in the 2011 budget for three civilian dispatch personnel, as well as two more officers, which would have put five more officers on the streets.
He failed to mention that the hiring of these five peopleas well as any hiring in any other departmentwas contingent upon an agreement by the unions for changes in the town's health plan, an agreement for which the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), as well as the other unions, has withheld approval.
They want a "locked-in" clause, one with a guarantee that there will not ever again be any changes to the health plan. Ever! Such an agreement in 1988 brought us to the current crisis, and I will never agree to bind any future Board to such an irresponsible clause. Negotiations have been on-going since summer of 2010, with all other issues resolved except this one clause. I have been told that the unions were waiting for the election results before further negotiations. So be it. The new board will make this decision.
I can applaud the officers who made this presentation in Chief Marraccini's inexcusable absence. They were fighting for what they believe is needed for their department. We have hard-working, well-trained, dedicated men and women protecting our town, and the board has seldom refused a request for the newest and best for them. The reality is that today we have to choose carefully how to allocate our dollars.
There was an arrogance to the presentation. It ended by stating that it would cost households an additional 30 cents a day to fund their request. Thirty cents does not sound like much, but it amounts to close to $1 million dollars more or an additional 2 percent in the tax rate, in addition to the $15.2 million already allocated to the police department budget.
Our residents are already burdened with high taxes. The present 2012 budget weighs all options, and takes a responsible approach to all 2012 spending. It is that approach which brought us out of the fiscal mess that I inherited, an approach that Standard and Poor's recognized when they changed Harrison's financial outlook from "negative" to "stable" last fall based on our fiscal common sense during the last four years.
Plus, re-reading Chief Marraccini's statement as well as reviewing the documents presented, one might get the impression that it is only the police officers that are of importance to the well being of the town. I agree that they are very important, that we cannot do without them.
However, so to are the sanitation crews and the highway crews, the mechanics and the parks people. Their service is also essential. So is the work of the staff in the building department, in the comptroller's office and in engineering.
The police department must rely on the court clerk's office to process the summonses they issue, on the judges to hear the matters, criminal and civil, brought before them. The town cannot function without the staff in the municipal building, in public works. Their jobs are different, but all contribute to the well being of the town.
There Is a Solution:
If Chief Marraccini believes that he cannot safeguard our community with the officers now on staff, then perhaps we should follow the example of other communities and merge with the county police. The officers would still be stationed here, could still be under the command of Chief Marraccini, but indirect costs, such as health insurance, pensions and all training would be borne by the county.
This would result in a substantial reduction in Harrison's costs and taxes, without a change in our level of protection, and perhaps even allow us to increase staffing.
The presentation disclosed that the town has a master trainer in our police department. Merging with the county would give him more scope for his expertise with his salary paid by the county, as well as benefiting many more officers and thus all residents.
One of the people to whom I showed this article asked me why I was responding to these particular comments: "unrealistic, irresponsible and hazardous for Harrison." Others have said to me during the four years that I have been mayor that they do not understand why I just allow people to so freely criticize me.
My answer is that residents who come to town board meetings do so, generally, in good faith, and speak from their heart. Now, however, I no longer have to be patient, to be diplomatic, to turn the other cheek.
This past election has given me a freedom to speak in words that, as mayor, I would not use as it would have irreparably damaged a necessary working relationship. That no longer holds true.
This attack by Chief Marraccini, particularly on me but also on the other town board members, comes from one who should know better, who has cleverly used words to give false impressions, who may have put us all at risk by openly stating that his officers may not be able to protect our town, from one who is putting his personal judgment above the collective wisdom of the town board members.
It is well known that I opposed Marraccini's appointment as chief. I believe that his hubris this past week, as it has on other occasions, shows that my negative vote was not unjustified.
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