Dear Mayor Belmont, Deputy Mayor Cannella, Councilwoman Amelio, Councilman Malfitano, and Councilman Sciliano,
I came to the Town Board meeting last Thursday hoping to have a constructive conversation about transforming our Town’s Library through a Public-Private Partnership. I was truly surprised to instead spend most of our discussion defending myself against the accusation that I had created an unreasonable and artificial deadline that was too near for you to make a decision regarding our Proposal. I believe that this claim is unfair given the history of the project and our discussions about this Agreement, which I will recount to the best of my ability:
- My father, a lifelong Harrison resident, unexpectedly passed away in June 2008. In October 2008, the Town Board renamed the Downtown Library building: “The Richard E. Halperin Memorial Building”.
- Over the next couple of years, we collected substantial funds and commitments into the Halperin Foundation, established the Harrison Public Library Foundation, and worked with the Library Board on the architecture/design of the future building.
- We first met with Mayor Belmont soon after he took office in February 2012. At that meeting, I stressed the urgent importance of coming to an Agreement with the Town such that the Halperin Foundation and the Harrison Public Library Foundation could truly launch our fundraising efforts.
- Over the next several months, I met with Mayor Belmont and/or Deputy Mayor Malfitano approximately 4 times. At those meetings, we discussed the importance of coming to an Agreement soon.
- In June, the Halperin Foundation submitted a proposed Agreement to the Town Attorney and the Mayor. The Agreement was 3.5 pages long.
- At a Library work session on July 5 with four Councilmen present, I expressed my hope that we would have an Agreement signed by September 2012.
- Over the coming months, I reached out to the Town Attorney, Mayor, and various Councilmen numerous times. I was unable to get any comments, thoughts, or requested changes to our proposed Agreement.
- On August 2nd, I attended a Town Board meeting where I once again expressed my desire to come to an Agreement and, in fact, hoped to accelerate the timeline for coming to that Agreement.
- On October 10, I published an Op-Ed in the Harrison Patch, expressing my frustration that we had not received any comments or thoughts from the Town on our proposed Agreement.
- On November 14, I attended a Town Board meeting and clearly stated that if the Halperin Foundation did not have a signed Agreement with the Town by February 14th (3 months later) that we would move on to a different project.
- Approximately one week later, the Councilman leading discussions with me said that it was “premature” to submit an updated Agreement to the Town Attorney and instead requested that we produce a letter from an engineer verifying our claim that the basic infrastructure of the Library is outdated.
- After spending $2,500 to have Kohler Ronan Consulting Engineers inspect the building, we submitted the requested report to that Councilman on January 2nd. The report confirmed that the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection systems are outdated and would soon need to be replaced.
- After briefly meeting with the Mayor on January 4th, I submitted an updated Agreement on January 6th. The Agreement is still approximately 3.5 pages long.
- For the next week, I repeatedly called the Mayor to schedule a time to discuss the proposed Agreement with him and the Town Attorney. When I finally spoke to the Mayor on approximately January 14th, he assured me that a follow up meeting would happen no later than January 18th and that he would get back to me to schedule. I never heard back from him and the meeting did not happen.
- I attended the Town Board meeting on January 17th to respectfully understand how the Town Board wanted to negotiate and finalize the Agreement. My attempt to establish a collaborative plan and timeline was rebuffed.
- After that meeting in the hallway, a Councilman said that he would schedule a meeting over the weekend with a second Councilman and would get back to me. I never heard back from him and the meeting never happened.
- Separately on approximately January 16th, another Councilman assured me that a meeting with the Town Attorneys would happen on either January 23rd or January 24th. It is currently January 23rd at 11pm and I have not heard back.
In light of this history and where we are today, I would like to highlight and reiterate a couple of things:
- In consideration of our duty to our many donors, some of whom have been waiting for years, on February 14, 2013, the Halperin Foundation will withdraw its plan to donate approximately $1.1 million towards the renovation of the Library and pursue a completely different project. We are considering two projects, neither of which are in Harrison or would be accessible to Harrison residents.
- Please consider this a formal request to add this matter to the agenda for the February 7th Town Board Meeting. We will be showing up with many supporters. Regardless of your ultimate decision, I believe the public deserves an opportunity to share their thoughts and to understand your position.
- I would like to schedule a follow up meeting with you and the Town Attorneys as soon as possible so that we can move this Agreement forward. Please send me some proposed dates and times for this meeting in the very near future.
- As more residents become aware of this opportunity, there is tremendous support building for our Public-Private Partnership Proposal. After just a couple of days and minimal effort, we already have at least 700 signatures on our petition, which you have all received.
I sincerely hope that you will do the right thing and let us make my Father’s dream a reality to make Harrison better.
(This letter has been blind copied to a large number of Harrison residents).
With hope and optimism,
Ross A. Halperin