At RIOC, a tradition of lying is baked in, undermining the state’s own credibility and the public trust. But why?
by David Stone
As RIOC rushed into demolishing big swaths of Southpoint Park, their brightly hued email blast stuck in my head. Because one key line was a blatant falsehood.
The notice bragged that community input guided the state throughout. That’s a provable falsehood, and RIOC acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes knows it.
We went over that in his office, and he took notes. Never raised an objection.
But as the tradition of lying overlaps, a pattern emerges.
The RIOC Tradition of Lying
It’s odd that a state agency where no one ever stands for election and no one even needs consensus would lie so consistently.
Maybe it pleases the distant boss who never visits or maybe it’s something else. We know it happens, but we don’t know why.
Take the most recent example first.
It’s true that, developing the 2016 Fitzgerald & Halliday Plan for Southpoint, RIOC sought community input. Missing, though, is the truth. A gap of over three years passed between that and a totally unrelated plan.
Although then president/CEO Susan Rosenthal lied in a public meeting, claiming the new plan lined up with the abandoned 2016 version, the public played no role in it.
A backroom deal cut with a contractor, it bopped past RIOC’s drifty and drowsy board. With ease. The lie, which Haynes extended, won unquestioning approval.
And as pointed out previously, the only act easier than getting unanimous approval from RIOC’s board is falling off a log.
A history of lying… and cheating…
The last RIOC president who cared about telling the truth was Steve Shane, and no surprise, the board canned him in one of only two shows of hutzpah ever. It came, not from any misconduct, but at the behest of Hudson-Related and a greedy group pushing to cash in on privatization.
Members of the local political group served on the board and soon collected their haul.
Leslie Torres, next up in the big chair at 591 Main, exited after investigators caught her treating herself on the company credit card.
Her second in command, Fernando Martinez, spent time in prison for taking kickbacks on RIOC projects.
As aggressive as they were with Shane, RIOC’s board sat on its hands, blinkered, while Torres and Martinez enriched themselves.
Charlene Indelicato was better. A community developer by reputation, she had a knack for landing executive level hires while repeatedly breaking her promise to give the board adequate time for review.
The board approved them all anyway. Unanimously, while resident audiences groaned.
The Susan Rosenthal standard for RIOC lying…
The RIOC tradition of lying hardened under Rosenthal, once she took over from Indelicato.
And as a striking companion piece, the team of elected officials soon firmed it up as Boss Cuomo brought them to heel.
A close second, lying to Senator José Serrano about her dealings with Starrett and Manhattan Park, disclosed in a FOIL response, her handling of contaminated water was more broad.
But a fresh gimmick, a public relations officer, now shielded Rosenthal.
When the agency lied about a failed attempt at kicking the cat sanctuary out of Southpoint, they wedged poor Alonza Roberson, their first public information officer, into the frame. Read about it in Boohooing and Evasion.
When the dust settled, Robertson pleaded helplessness, telling me he was stuck with whatever the staff told him. And they told him an evolving line of crap.
So, by then, just two years ago, the lying was a RIOC tradition. Everyone was at it.
The Lying Tradition Today At RIOC
Acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes got a honeymoon from the media, starting with the day Boss Cuomo blew up Rosenthal’s job and left him standing in the debris.
Note: Tearing up Southpoint kicked in last Thursday, but his promised answers never appeared.
Dismay encouraged me to dig deeper into Haynes history at RIOC, and controversy started almost on Day One.
In a plot to wreck the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, Haynes, a raw recruit, served as an evaluator on bidding. And a change in his score sheet, one number doctored, leading to a tie that denied RIYP a win, stood out.
Although RIOC refused answering questions then, no surprise, Haynes later told me it was nothing suspicious. He doodled out of habit, and that’s all it was.
An absentminded doodle. Okay, believable enough, but there was more.
Still unsettled: contaminated water in playground fountains…
When Frank Farance discovered that, violating both state and city laws, RIOC piped non-potable water, contaminated with sewage and feces, into park and playground water fountains, Haynes played along with the coverup attempt.
As recently as this month, he defends it. And while the fountains are still off and the fixes absent, he plays a key role in rushing a terrible plan, demolishing Southpoint.
No public explanation offered, and of course, the drifty and drowsy board nods in happy union.
Lying about mold in the community center…
In 2017, RIOC shut down the community center after finding mold, and although the process was mismanaged, a move to reopen came quickly.
“RIOC had the Cultural Center tested for mold that developed because of recurring leaks over a period of time. The test results revealed a low-grade, non-harmful, mold located in multiple rooms of the facility,” then vice president Haynes told the Roosevelt Islander in response to an inquiry.
That comes from our report at the time, but it wasn’t true.
And it’s possible an overpaid consultant, Mike Russo, mislead him.
“The good news,” Russo says in the Roosevelt Islander’s video, “is that it’s not a harmful mold.”
Haynes nods approval.
In fact, over a half-dozen types of mold were present, but…
“Of greatest concern is Stachybotrys. According to moldpedia.com, Stachybotrys is ‘one of the most infamous toxic molds because it can grow in houses and is extremely dangerous to humans. Stachybotrys is known as a toxic mold because it produces toxins called mycotoxins.'”
Inspectors found it in both rooms. The facilities users, presaging the bad water debacle, were never told.
In fact, they were lied to by Haynes and Russo.
Is RIOC lying about Motorgate repairs…?
By now, would it surprise anyone?
Frank Farance, a systems engineer, activist and frequent RIOC critic, reported hazards by contractors repairing the parking garage.
Among many others, as we reported, blocked emergency exits, tripping hazards and poorly set up speed bumps…
Rather than answer Farance, RIOC chose a dodge, and Haynes got the call.
He emailed a “community update.” It was lengthy, but a key phrase gave Farance fits.
“We expect work to begin in about a week or so,” Haynes wrote. “Please note that all work will be done in strict adherence of New York City Building Code regulations.“
“Nope, they have already started ,” Farance weighed in.
“Everyone knows that from the RIOC Advisories, signage at Motorgate, construction crews on site, and concrete work already started. I saw a dozen or so workers yesterday … what are they doing if they haven’t started?”
Haynes was “…lying to us again.” His office is directly beneath the work area.
Conclusion: The RIOC Tradition of Lying
It’s a cliche, but it’s a favorite and worth remembering: People with nothing to hide don’t hide anything.
And they don’t lie about it either.
So, what the hell’s the point?
No evidence suggests that anyone, other than Torres and Martinez, gained materially from dishonesty at the top levels of RIOC. But nothing says otherwise either.
So, we’re left with a couple of things.
First, as with the cat sanctuary debacle, RIOC execs lie to protect subordinates making mistakes. And second, they lie while covering their own misconduct and that of their predecessors.
The history of contaminated water RIOC loathes confessing is a good example.
But the bottom line is…
Debate the tradition of lying, its sources and purposes, as you may, an underlying truth sheds light out of the darkness.
It proves, one more time, that RIOC represents only itself and its invisible Albany handlers, not residents, not the community.
And with all the elected toeing Boss Cuomo’s line and a hopelessly ineffective board, they easily get away with it.