BY JANICE LLANES FABRY
Walk into Debbie Reisner’s office in the Town of Rye building on Grace Church Street in Port Chester and catch a glimpse of the framed quote displayed on a table behind her well-used desk.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”
The quote is from legendary tennis champion Arthur Ashe, who was not only the only black man to win the singles title at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, and the Australian Open, but a civil rights advocate and humanitarian.
One of the many hats Reisner wears isheading up operations for the Justice Court of Rye, which has jurisdiction in Port Chester, Rye Brook, Rye Neck, and at Westchester County Airport. Having expanded significantly after Port Chester disbanded its court system operations in 2021, the Justice Court of Rye is currently the “busiest court in the State of New York.”
Reisner also oversees all Town departments, Rye Town Park, Crawford Park in Rye Brook, and all their facilities. She plans the budget and manages a lineup of capital projects, including facility renovations, retaining wall replacements, seawall reconstruction, ADA-compliant ramp installations, bridge stabilizations, and tombstone restorations. Not to mention having 150 employees report to her and staffing all committees. In recent years, Reisner has introduced the Town’s first maternity leave program and an online tax payment platform.
Asked how she does it all, she said matter-of-factly, “I’m a systems thinker. Understand the outcome you’re working towards, unpack that, and break it up into digestible steps. Then help people get those steps accomplished.”
She attributes her ability to move things forward to the support she receives from her wonderful family and mission-driven co-workers.
Reisner worksintegrally with Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman, as well as Town Council Members, Court Judges, Rye Town Park Commissioners, City of Rye Mayor Josh Cohn, and Village of Port Chester Mayor Luis Marino.
Before working in local government, Reisner was engaged in various civic organizations. Chances are, that if your child was enrolled in the Rye Neck School District between 2001 and 2010, he or she was impacted by Reisner’s behind-the-scenes machinations as Cultural Chair.
“I tried to introduce age-appropriate cultural arts programs that dovetailed with the demanding curriculum and fit in with what teachers were trying to do,” said Reisner, whose two daughters, Heather and Sage, began attending Rye Neck schools when she and her husband Hunter Reisner, moved to Rye from the city 22 years ago.
A Scarsdale native, Reisner fell in love with Rye when a realtor showed her a house in Greenhaven. “I saw the house and Greenhaven Beach and knew I had found our new home,” she recalled. “I wasn’t even aware yet of the wonderful community we’d be moving into. We received such a warm welcome from the neighborhood, the Rye Neck School District, and people all over Rye City.”
Reisner, in turn, embraced her new community in a big way. In addition to becoming involved in the schools, she became Chair of the Rye City District 1 Committee, connecting Rye Neck residents to Rye City policy members.
“My goal was to establish familiarity and communicate the concerns of the people in District 1,” explained Reisner, who helped implement community-wide safety initiatives — restructuring traffic lanes, creating bicycle lanes, and adding sidewalks. “Working with leaders and administrators from the City of Rye was very productive.”
Reisner was also instrumental in revitalizing The League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook, and Port Chester. As president for eight years, she and her team expanded the institution’s reach by engaging men and women of different political perspectives.
That dedication to democracy was a catalyst for her to earn an Executive Master of Public Administration degree from New York University seven years ago. A year later, Zuckerman appointed her as Confidential Secretary, and, in 2020, the Rye Town Council appointed her as its first Town Administrator.
“My highest priorities are ensuring the Town runs smoothly and efficiently, both for the public and also for the people who work here,” remarked Reisner. “I place a very high value on ensuring that community voices are heard, on securing the financial resources necessary to address much-needed capital projects, and on making sure the Town’s facilities are accessible and environmentally sustainable.”
On the environmental front, Crawford Park is thefirst green zone in Westchester to institute 100 percent green equipment practices, while Rye Town Park has continued to adopt sustainable practices this season.
“Park attendance skyrocketed during Covid, and our parks have remained vitally important to the community, particularly with Playland under construction,” explained Reisner. “The many improvements and their beautification are a result of an incredibly strong team of people who move heaven and earth.”
Through various grants, both parks have received important upgrades. Rye Town Park has ADA-compliant ramps, new technology and cellular systems, reconstructed seawall and paths, and safer traffic patterns. Friends of RTP recently donated an Aeravator for the cultivation of the turf.
To conserve Crawford Park, Reisner invited members of nonprofit organizations and stakeholders to share their vision for the space. Following a needs assessment, she spearheaded a four-phase project that included the renovation of the picnic pavilion and the installation of ADA-compliant paths. An old playground was replaced with a Universal Playground, along with an adjacent sensory garden, to support children with disabilities. The classically beautiful Crawford Mansion was converted into a multi-purpose community center.
“My goal was to make Crawford busy all the time,” she said.
Reisner somehow manages to carve out personal time for exercise, tennis, and family. She confessed, “I’m happiest when Hunter and our daughters are in the kitchen with me and we’re all cooking together.”
Nevertheless, her affinity for public service is never on the back burner. “Helping to run things better gets me up in the morning,” she admitted.