When current Councilman Steve Malfitano was mayor/supervisor, he held public hearings at different venues around town to gain resident input for the town’s master plan update.
Residents responded in droves and there was a great deal of valuable input received through the hearings that was integrated into the current master plan draft.
Harrison's proceeding mayor/supervisor, Joan Walsh, encouraged an open-door policy for residents to stop by and speak with her and used creative new forums such as e-mail blogs and newspaper columns to pass on information to residents.
Current Mayor/Supervisor Ron Belmont has continued most of these initiatives while adding a few of his own.
One of the most notable of these initiatives is his "Lunch with the Mayor" program. Since June 1, Belmont has been lunching at local restaurants every Friday and whoever turns up has his ear and his company over lunch. The only exception is the last Friday of the month, when Belmont celebrates the month's birthdays with his staff at town hall.
The choice of lunch venues for the program is determined by rotation through downtown, West Harrison and Purchase. The venues for each week are posted on the town’s website.
Anthony Delfino, owner of , suggested the lunches to Belmont after hearing about a similar program in Rye. Belmont jumped on board, but with some initial reservations.
“First I was nervous that no-one would show up and then I was nervous that they would show up and how I would be received when they did,” he said, with a laugh.
As it turns out, the response has been mostly positive and constructive.
“Some residents just come to introduce themselves and say, 'You’re doing a great job', which was a nice surprise,” he said.
Belmont found that the residents who join him are mostly concerned with issues specific to their home, neighborhood or particular interests, rather than with topics of a more general town nature or with the town administration as a whole.
“What I found is that most issues are very specific to the resident's home or living situation, ranging from individual neighborhood disputes, to a light pole that is out on their street, to flooding in their neighborhood,” he noted.
Some of these issues can be easily resolved and Belmont steps in to do what he can personally to resolve the issue quickly. Other issues are more difficult.
“Some residents come in with grievances that relate to things that took place 30 years ago,” he said. “All I can do then, is listen to what happened and plan to not make the same mistake again now.”
Since the program has been in place, Belmont has lunched at , , Silver Lake Pizzarette, and the Cobblestone Restaurant, among others. He has had up to six residents join him in any one week, other Fridays no one shows up at all.
“I have had the most participation downtown, a few people showed up in Purchase and none came in West Harrison,” he said.
When asked how successful he feels the program is, Belmont laughingly concedes that it depends on how rough the feedback was on that particular week and “how much agita” he has on the drive home as a result. Overall, he believes every venue for keeping communication open with residents is a positive one and he plans on keeping the program going indefinitely.
In addition to the lunch initiative, Belmont also spends the last Saturday of each month at the A&P Supermarket from 9 a.m. to noon, talking to locals who come in for their weekly grocery shop and making himself available to anyone who has issues to discuss with him.
Belmont does concede, however, that not everyone is happy with these communication initiatives.
“One resident contacted me to say that I might have more success if I would just stop taxing everyone so much, and stop going out to lunch!” he said.
Just goes to show that you can't please all the people all the time, no matter how hard you try.