As Deputy Mayor Justin Arest said at Donna Conkling’s last Village Board meeting on November 23, “she might be unreplaceable.” Conkling, who has been the glue that held together Village Hall for the last 20 years, retired this week. In Conkling’s own words, “the Village Clerk’s office has the privilege of being the front desk of Scarsdale Village Hall,” and due to her position she got to know so many residents on a personal level.
Beyond handling taxi and parking permits, dog licenses, birth, marriage and death certificates, Conkling had the pivotal job of managing all elections in accordance with NYS law. At times it wasn’t easy. During contentious elections she found herself monitoring poll watchers, measuring the setbacks from the polling place for solicitors navigating complex regulations, the transition to automated voting machines and an ever changing roster of election sites. It could not have been easy but she rarely exhibited even the slightest hint of frustration.
She attended 20 years of Village Board meetings where she was responsible for recording the proceedings and publishing the minutes. That’s a lot of late nights. She served eleven mayors, hundreds of trustees and swore in police officers, firefighters and 165 volunteers on boards and councils – every year!
Yet Conkling took it all in stride and seemed to enjoy it too. In a video about her job on the Village website Conkling said, “Being able to make a small difference is professionally and personally fulfilling.”
At her last Village Board meeting Conkling received long overdue thanks for her years and years of service.
Mayor Jane Veron said, “Anyone who has met Donna knows that she is beyond compare. Always calm and steady, Donna is the behind the scenes engine that keeps Scarsdale running each and every day…. Donna fulfills all of her duties with grace and smarts. She is a font of information, understanding every nuance and detail of our Village, and she makes sure nothing falls through the cracks. Donna knows more than you could possibly imagine about Scarsdale Village, and she has been the constant through the ups and downs of Village life.” … “You are exceedingly capable, warm and wise. You are understated in your countenance and yet overachieving in your results…. you have devoted your heart and soul to your job. You have that magic touch, and we have been blessed by your presence.”
Randy Whitestone explained that he got to know Conkling during his many years of purchasing parking permits. He said, “She does her job efficiently and well… She has run elections flawlessly.” Turning to Conkling he said, “You represent what’s best in Village Government.”
Lena Crandall said, “Donna I am going to miss you.” Referring to an incident in 2016 regarding the filing of candidate nominee petitions, Crandall said, “If only I had listened more closely to the advice you gave me when I ran the CNC….Thank you for your many years of service to Scarsdale.”
Jonathan Lewis called Conkling, “Efficient, fact based and prepared.” He said, “We need more people like you in public service.”
Karen Brew said, “You have been a consistent force within Scarsdale for 20 years and we are the better for it….It’s always done with a smile. Thank you for so many years of exceptional service to the community.”
Samir Ahuja agreed. He said, “Your impact is felt across Scarsdale. We will carry your legacy forward. Thank you for two decades of service.
Justin Arest joked, “I am going through the stages of grief. I didn’t want to believe it at first – I think I may be at acceptance now. You are possibly unreplaceable.” He recounted a meeting he had with Conkling not long ago regarding the Village’s parking permit system. She suddenly remembered an elderly couple who always purchased a permit who she had not heard from this year. She made a note to reach out to them to make sure they were okay, saying, “There are so many wonderful people that live in this Village.”
Village Manager Rob Cole read Conkling’s lengthy job description and called her a “consummate professional.” He said, “Her accomplishments are too many to list.”
Resident Dara Gruenberg waited until late at night to comment. She said, “I have had the pleasure of working with Donna Conkling for the last several years in various capacities. She is warm, patient, so generous with her time, and always helpful. I don’t think I fully comprehended how much territory the role of the clerk covers or how much responsibility Donna has until I interviewed her for the Advisory Council on Communications video series “Village Voices”. If you aren’t sure what the duties of the clerk are, watch the video. You will be blown away. Donna has her hands in everything that goes on in the Village. As an aside, Donna did the entire script from memory in just one take! It was extraordinary! Donna, I will miss our chats and miss seeing your smiling face — now smiling eyes —when I walk into Village Hall. I wish you all good things in your next chapter, particularly spending time with your beloved and accomplished daughter (and your husband too!) Thank you for your selfless dedication to our community. You are one of a kind, and I feel so fortunate to have had the privilege to work with you. You represent the best of what the Village has to offer its residents.
Madelaine Eppenstein thanked Conkling “for her commitment and service above and beyond.” She said, “Congratulations on your retirement – it is a new beginning."
Mayra Kirkendall Rodriguez said, “I will miss you.”
Choking back tears Conkling had the last word. She said, “How can I possibly sum up these past 20 years which have abolutely flown by? I have served 11 mayors and 38 trustees, attended at least 500 Village Board meetings and written just shy of 11,000 pages of Village Board meeting minutes (sometime to me it seems like it should be more than that.)
...The decision to retire was very difficult. I spent many hours struggling with the concept of retirement and leaving a job that I loved.
….There are so many people to thank – my colleagues in Village Hall -- we have always been like family and have always worked together as a team to strive to provide the best service to the residents of this Village, a huge thank you to the mayor and trustees who give so much of their time and energy, working tirelessly to keep Scarsdale the outstanding and unique community it is. And of course, my deepest thanks to the residents of Scarsdale, many of whom I will miss tremendously.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for putting your faith and trust in me to serve as your Village Clerk for so many years. My heart is full this evening of so many memories--I will never forget any of you; thank you for allowing me to be part of your lives as you have been part of mine. It has been and honor and a privilege."
With that, there was a standing ovation and a long round of heartfelt applause for a woman who was a friend to all in Scarsdale.