Can Shelton Haynes handle RIOC? It’s a small deal in the greater State scheme of things, but Roosevelt Island needs better leadership. Can he supply it?
By David Stone
Plagued by internal freelancers, overly politicized, the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. varies from capable to chaotic, depending on who’s at the reins…
And how much staff support they have. Or don’t.
Can Shelton Haynes Handle RIOC?
In person, Shelton Haynes comes off as not quite right for the State agency under his control, putatively and for now. He seems too nice, too self-effacing for the ego-driven operation HQ-ed at 591 Main.
His immediate predecessor, president/CEO Susan Rosenthal, was forceful. She controlled conversations, often with a soft touch of humor, just as often with an edge.
She wasn’t shy about dressing down subordinates in no uncertain terms, and her many management terminations sped by with razor-sharpe precision. Key people vanished in a day, no reason publicly offered, questions brushed off.
Imaging such brusque manners from Haynes isn’t possible. Not that he can’t or won’t. It would just seem to require a personality transplant.
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Trial by Firing
On June 19th, Shelton Haynes’s world flipped several chapters in one day, the timing far from ideal. Out of town, handling a family emergency, he got the call. Susan Rosenthal, his boss, fired without notice, left him acting president/CEO at RIOC.
A Southerner whose mild manners and warm, open smile stands out in New York where neither is common, he did not hesitate. His mind is lightning fast. It bubbles with ideas, and they rush out in volume.
Smart ideas, that is.
If challenged to an IQ duel with Haynes, decline. You will almost certainly lose.
That much said, we’ve had a good chance to see him in battle during his first month. Time waits for no one and neither do the competing energies on Roosevelt Island.
And in spite of much promise, the early returns are not good. Not even passable, for now.
Here’s what we saw.
Settling the Wildlife Sanctuary Brawl
Rosenthal invited controversy when she abruptly fired two managers in early June, just a couple of weeks before joining them in unemployment.
After RIOC freelancers brought chaos to the community in a 2018, ham-handed attempt to evict Wildlife Freedom Foundation‘s Southpoint Sanctuary, animal lovers rallied in support. And it’s been an emotional focus ever since.
Jonna Carmona-Graf, one of the managers axed in June, was handling Southpoint Park’s redesign and the sanctuary relocation it demanded.
WFF leader Rossana Ceruzzi mapped out a move that took into account how awkward orienting animals to new homes can be. Her geese, ducks, opossum, cats, etc. would get time to acclimate sensitively.
But Rosenthal threw things into chaos, ordering a near immediate move, even though the new shelter had not been completed. Again, supporters rose up in resistance.
Enter Shelton Haynes.
With Rosenthal gone and even though he’d barely had time to warm his new chair, Haynes added the task of resolving this crisis to his twelve-hour days.
His thoughtful, respectful style paid off. This week, WFF began easing its charges into their new homes.
Enter Seawright and A Southpoint Disaster
Haynes inherited a badly handled and controversial plan for redesigning the popular Southpoint Park. It was going to be miserable whoever is in charge.
Sadly, he also inherited state assembly member Rebecca Seawright.
An underdog in her bid for reelection, Seawright’s everywhere at once, claiming victories unearned and fighting dirty.
Jumping into the vacuum left by Rosenthal, offering assistance, Seawright seized RIOC’s most pressing issue as her own. For Haynes, it was a lesson in who’s in charge.
And it isn’t him.
A Seawright hosted “forum” with Haynes granted him five minutes of the scheduled hour. The first twenty minutes were gobbled up by candidates kissing each other’s behinds with praise.
Next day, Haynes conceded that he should’ve had more time, but all questions generated by the forum were directed to Seawright, not RIOC.
Can Shelton Haynes Handle RIOC? A Big Deal in Southpoint
When I met with Haynes and in follow up emails and telephone calls, he vowed fixing RIOC. Openness, a rare item during previous reigns at RIOC, was a cornerstone.
He would communicate. He promised.
But he didn’t.
By far, the biggest challenge Haynes faced is the controversial redesign, essentially destruction, of Southpoint Park, and he handled it badly.
In terms of openness, very badly.
Haynes does a Rosenthal…
As the imminent destruction of Southpoint Park as we’ve known and loved it rushed closer, held off now only by a two-week delay placating angry protestors, Haynes handed off to Seawright and CFO John O’Reilly onsite.
That was understandable.
Unknown to most Islanders, Haynes, along with a dozen others at RIOC, was abruptly forced into coronavirus quarantine, three days after the awful town hall.
But we were in daily communication. In fact, he called me as he packed up his office for however long it would take to get positive COVID-19 results.
Because unexplained, weirdly secret toxic waste tests were suddenly exposed, I scrambled, emailing him a series of question. The risks were serious, and if not fully explained would strongly suggest shutting down the project.
That happened on Monday afternoon, and he responded within the hour.
“Both John (O’Reilly) and I have been in meeting most of the day and we will regroup and provide an update tomorrow.”
They say that “tomorrow never comes,” but it did anyway. Along with this message:
“I need a bit more time to get back to you…”
Next day, he proudly announced that the Southpoint Project would start on Thursday, but he didn’t get back to me.
He still hasn’t, other than objecting to my email saying he had “gamed me and got away with it.”
We’ve been there before, and the name on the door was Rosenthal. Before that: Indelicato, Torres… After Steve Shane was ousted to please Hudson-Related and a handful of money-grubbing locals, openness never returned.
And Truth Exposed by Small Things
The question of whether Shelton Haynes can handle RIOC is reflected, too, in small things with bigger implications. And by that we mean, can he successfully wrestle the day-to-day bad behavior of entitled employees?
Susan Rosenthal had a hell of a time with them, losing her job to a subordinate ambush, but can he do better?
This one gets a conditional fail.
If you can’t stop illegal parking…
On July 8th, one resident finally had enough of RIOC’s entitlement, openly parking illegally, blocking handicapped access, smack dab at its own front door.
“We will address accordingly,” Haynes quickly promised, “while ensuring that our staff are adhering to parking rules and regulations. Our Public Safety department will increase their monitoring of parking compliance on the island.”
But a week later, there was this…
But a week later, there was this…
Again, Haynes promised to get the illegal, privileged parking “corrected,” but a staff resistant to control, long feeling entitled, may make that nothing more than words.
If Shelton Haynes can’t handle RIOC’s little ones, how can we expect him to handle Cuomo, Seawright, a drifty board and Hudson-Related?
It’s early, and maybe he’ll come around.