Shouldering Responsibility…A Mayor Reflects

Mayor Brian Smith Irvington New YorkStarting your second year in office, what has surprised you?  What have you learned?

Much of the job of Mayor of Irvington was what I expected: dealing with residents’ issues, overseeing the Village departments and spending a lot of time on the budget.  One thing I learned this year is that in addition to these obvious items, the Mayor is also responsible for maintaining, and hopefully growing, the tangible and intangible items in the Village that make it such a special place to live.  This is a huge responsibility and one I do not take lightly. Irvington will always be an expensive place to live, but for that cost, you get a wonderful Village.   I cannot think of a better place to call home.  One thing that makes Irvington so amazing is all of the special events.  Unfortunately, the funding for the special events are some of the hardest things to justify with the Spartan budgets of the last few years.  That is why one of my proudest achievements of the past year was the creation of the Fund Raising and Community Events Committee or FACE for short.    I met, early in my first year, with Recreation and Parks Superintendent Joe Archino to brainstorm ideas to restore his department’s funding that had been cut, and he proposed fundraising, rather than cutting programing.  I came up with a list of my dream team of Irvington residents to serve on the committee and everyone whom I asked agreed to serve.  The FACE committee has certainly lived up to my lofty expectations:   their first event, the Penguin Plunge into the Hudson River, netted almost $70,000.  That sizeable amount has gone a long way towards restoring special events like the 4th of July fireworks as well as such great programs like senior transportation and the Friday night open gym program for our teenagers.

It has also been important to stick to the most important items.  The fact that we started working on the budget last July, when the details of the new 2% tax cap law were finalized, was a key reason that were we were able to come up with a budget that was significantly under the tax cap but did not have a large impact on services.  As long as I am in office, I will do everything I can to keep tax increases close to the rate of inflation.  We are also very lucky to have a very strong Village Administrator (Larry Schopfer) and Treasurer (Brenda Jeselnik) that take the lead on the budget process; without their full cooperation and dedication, it would be very difficult.

What have been your biggest challenges being mayor?

Two things come to mind.  First, by far the hardest decision I had to make this year, or since I have been on the Board of Trustees for that matter, was voting to lay off three long-time employees of the Department of Public Works.  While I have been very aggressive in trying to find ways to save money for Irvington, I had always hoped that any reductions to staff would be from attrition, like last year when we had four employees take advantage of a New York State early retirement buyout.  These layoffs were a little different than usual in that the Board was approached by Village management and the layoffs were recommended.  Usually the Board of Trustees would be looking for savings and layoffs would be forced.  In the end it was very difficult to argue against the layoffs as management made a very convincing case that it was in the best interests of Irvington and would not impact services.  The fact that it made sense did not make it any easier since, in a Village as small as Irvington, any reductions in staff mean changing the lives of people that you know and respect.

The second difficulty has been the effect on my family.  I have two young children, Bella (10 years old) and Ronan (6 years old), and my time spent in meetings or other events has been tough on them.  While it has been hard on them, I think they know that I love Irvington and they understand I am trying to make it as wonderful a place to live as I can.  It has been hard on my wife Keira as well, especially when a few angry residents were sending baseless attacks on my character via blast e-mails.  While I knew negativity like this was part of the job, I had naively hoped that it would not happen to me.  I was very disappointed that it upset my wife so much, but the vast majority of residents have been very supportive.   I think that the great thing that came out of the ugliness was having many residents from all political backgrounds reach out to offer their support.  I openly welcome disagreement and questioning of our decisions, it is often vital to getting the best solution.  The debates can be civil and productive, like the discussions that the Board of Trustees have at meetings.  I am very happy to have such a wonderful Board to work with, four other individuals who also love Irvington.  We may disagree at times, but our debates are open, honest and avoid the ad hominem attacks that do not advance anything.

What can we expect in your second year in office?

While I am still finalizing the Village’s priorities for the year, we are going to continue to have lofty goals.  Those goals will include: having another responsible budget, finalizing the revisions to the sign code, starting projects that will reduce flooding in the Village, expanding our affordable housing laws to encourage more affordable housing, opening up the O’Hara Nature Center, revising the tree code, establishing an historic district, examining ways to revitalize Main Street as well as looking at how to run a more energy-efficient Village.  That is a lot to do in the next ten months, but the Board and Village staff will do our best.

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