Lawless RIOC must get out, and it needs to drag the HOLE with it out the door. Crucial failures accelerated since Boss Cuomo kicked Susan Rosenthal out. The only hope is a complete do-over and start again.
Opinion by David Stone
Realistically, RIOC isn’t going anywhere. The state passed laws and signed deals creating it. It was a handoff between State agencies, and that won’t be reversed.
But spiritually and emotionally, RIOC must get out and start afresh. Albany overseers have hidden for too long, mismanaging from afar, and local emphasis, attention to people, must return.
Why RIOC Must Get Out
Calling for RIOC’s dismissal or, really, reinvention rises from causes both near and far, but the overall issues are simple.
Let’s put it this way. RIOC never absorbed enough of the community, and it grew like a second head disconnected from its other head and its shared heart.
It’s so damned un-American, it belongs in another world where leaders never listen. They only protect themselves, but it should never have gotten this way.
Yes, political leaders are accused everywhere of not listening to constituents, and it’s always somewhat true. But the Roosevelt Island crew takes the cake.
Developing reasonable local empowerment could’ve set the stage for success, long ago. But politicians turned RIOC into an insulated piggybank instead.
Failing firewall #1: The HOLE
From Albany bosses just before Governor Andrew Cuomo, residents won the right for a locally dominated board of directors. That’s a firewall, or should be, buffering against Albany’s excesses.
But Cuomo figured out how to undermine the progress of local democracy. And instead of a responsive board of directors, we end up with a HOLE: A Herd of Local Enablers, at the beck and call of Team Cuomo.
Crafty Andrew wielded his power to appoint new board members by not using it. As retirements of three women members tipped the balance of power, he calmly left their seats empty.
This enabled such furiously anti-local actions as blowing away forever a 40 year old institution, the Roosevelt Island Youth Program. And at the same time, it brilliantly empowered internal malcontents, tripling the budget while reducing services.
Most important, it got the locals out and the outsiders in.
While local board members voted 3-2 to keep RIYP, Cuomo’s two appointed overseers overruled community sentiment.
The HOLE becomes whole…
After Boss Cuomo watched three female board members retire, he finally moved to fill out the seven member board. He replaced the women, each with deep community roots, with three men, only one of whom had been locally active in anything.
“He appointed who?” was a common refrain.
Recognized as a weak-willed boys club that will never rock the boat, the new guys made whole the HOLE.
We’ve done our research. Our diligent team here at the Daily/News dug deep and found that the only time any of these men voted “No” on anything put before them, he misunderstood the question.
Earlier research also discovered that the only thing easier than an unanimous vote from this board of
enablers directors is falling off a log.
Simply put, Cuomo’s brilliant management of the board sealed its detachment from the community and its humble obedience to him.
That firewall is over, demolished, torn down, obliterated, but what came next is worse. RIOC now operates according to its own rules, not laws, and it all started with canning Susan Rosenthal.
Why Lawless RIOC Must Get Out
Everything about ambushing Rosenthal stunk, looking like a set up carried out by insiders grasping for power. (You can read about that fiasco here.) But it happened so fast and behind closed doors that the way it violated established law slipped by.
Although a plot had been in the works for weeks, Team Cuomo — on Juneteenth — announced firing Rosenthal by way of a press release shared only with the Post.
But wait a minute. Hiring and firing executives is the legal responsibility of RIOC’s board of directors, assuming they have one. And according to the official record, the full board never met on that day or any other nearby.
There was no Open Meetings Law required public notice, and no minutes of any meeting exist, at least not publicly available as legally required. Consequently, there’s no assurance that any quorum existed or that any votes were taken.
Note: After the Roosevelt Island Daily called out this abuse of authority, RIOC posted a June meeting on its website, but not until September 2nd. In the video, board member David Kraut eagerly moves for naming Shelton Haynes as “interim” president without ever mentioning how or why the spot was vacant. Cuomo’s always acquiescent board of enablers happily votes “Yes.” Unanimously.
No record on legally required public notices or availability for observing has ever been produced.
Topping off that hubris, someone or something immediately elevated Shelton Haynes as acting in replacement of Rosenthal. Again, there was no public record and no accountability and the HOLE grinned charmingly along.
After we raised some hell, the board of
enablers directors officially anointed Haynes a couple of weeks later, never apologizing, never admitting any error.
And so, it continued…
In the coming weeks, under Haynes, RIOC brashly moved ahead with destroying Southpoint Park, against strong community resistance, and blithely ignored warnings about toxic waste throughout the park. Both incidents raised questions about corruption and self-dealing.
But no problem, said the HOLE.
And the second assumed firewall, our elected officials, proved easily handled from Albany. In the end, the Democrats tooled up Haynes appointment and concerns about Southpoint and turned them into a thudding election campaign bore.
They should be ashamed of their negligence, but what we’re missing here is a simple capacity for shame itself. They ain’t got any.
In the meantime, a series of RIOC committee and board meetings took place, but none met the requirements of Open Meetings Law.
That, since the agendas now generates from the law department — tellingly exactly where the plot for firing Rosenthal incubated — RIOC essentially determined, through its own legal staff, that the laws don’t apply to them anymore.
Conclusion: RIOC Must Get Out
It will take leadership not currently in place. Reimagining RIOC as a responsive agency serving the community, not its own special interests, requires creativity.
And creativity requires independence, freedom for Albany’s political, paralyzing injections of self-interest.
How do we get there from here? We don’t know, but we did it before. And if we did it once, we can do it again.
It starts with electing better representatives. All those in place now — Seawright, Serrano, Kallos — get their orders from Albany or, at least, require Team Cuomo approval. That won’t work
There’s hope in the rising tide of new breed politicians hitting the scene, and immediately, there’s a good chance that Seawright will get booted from the State Assembly in November’s election.
And Kallos term limits out, this year.
What’s lacking is organized local power lost when the Residents Association common council fell apart. And with the old guard counted on to act as community pillars aging out, there’s a question about who might take their places.
While it’s clear that RIOC must get out, it’s not so clear who can or will wield the picks and shovels.