RIOC’s Latest Scandal Spreads With Reports of Animal Abuse

RIOC’s animal abuse scandal attracted the attention of national media as the New York Post picked up on our story. The state agency, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo, again embarrasses a community, offending responsible citizens.

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island News

This time, RIOC’s animal abuse scandal is so perilous even Cuomo stalwart Rebecca Seawright dipped her toe in with mild criticism.

“This is the time we should be suspending rent, not establishing it,’’ she’s quoted in the Post.

Before RIOC's animal abuse scandal reversed course, the state supported WFF.
WFF executive director Rossana Ceruzzi sets up a new shelter built by RIOC in August. In September, following environmental protests, RIOC reversed course, threatening dismantling of the sanctuary after only two months.

Seawright is in a pitched fight for reelection agains Liberal/Republican Lou Puliafito and progressive Democrat Patrick Bobilin.

Bobilin has not commented on the scandal yet, but Puliafito has this to say…

“Once again Rebecca is politically protecting the ‘company store’ while deflecting from the issue which is bad faith negotiations. RIOC and WFF had an oral agreement before the sanctuary move. Then RIOC did a 180 after the move… in retaliation for WFF standing up to RIOC with the Save Our Shoreline Rally and petition of over 7k of the signatures.”

So, Really, What’s Going On Here?

Looked at as history, the RIOC animal abuse scandal perplexes. With the exception of an internal 2018 wild cat attempt at forcing out one sanctuary by shutting off its water in mid-summer, RIOC enjoyed a mutually supportive friendship with WFF and its predecessor, Island Cats.

RIOC and WFF worked so well together, needy animals found help at two new, upgraded sanctuaries in just the last year. One, near Octagon Park served as a model for a larger home in Southpoint.

RIOC acting president/CEO Shelton Haynes managed construction, working closely with Ceruzzi. But in turmoil following the as yet unexplained firing of Susan Rosenthal, control of the agency appeared to fall out of his control.

From afar, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Albany operation oversees RIOC, in apparent violation of legislation founding the agency, empowering internal staff associated with the coup that brought down Rosenthal.

But puncturing the cordial relationship, a rally in Southpoint Park, partly led and organized by Ceruzzi, contested a radical remake of the open space.

Marches pass the wall built to contain toxic waste in Southpoint Park. It stirred anger leading to the RIOC animal abuse scandal.
Protestors marched on July 11th, but won only a two-week delay.

Another face of RIOC stirs the RIOC animal abuse scandal…

For reasons unknown, in spite of protests and new toxic waste concerns, RIOC was hellbent. They started tearing apart all of Southpoint’s natural habitat, two weeks later. It was the last remaining on Roosevelt Island, and it leaves numerous species without suitable breeding zones.

The conversion, launched without community support, making the area into Brooklyn Bridge Park North, went ahead. Questions about toxic wastes, which a 2014 study suggests permeate the park, went unanswered.

But stung by criticism, RIOC changed courses. Now, instead of strong support for animal rescue and care, the state agency moved in the opposite direction.

Now, they wanted the sanctuaries out, and acting president Haynes faded into the background.

On the attack…

The attack against WFF links to RIOC’s legal department, the same area from which ambushing Rosenthal emerged.

Shortly after the protest march, RIOC “discovered” a state regulation it claims requires rental fees from WFF. Always opaque, they never explained why the regulation suddenly applied nor why it doesn’t apply to other local nonprofits using RIOC land.

And in her demands, chief counsel Gretchen Robinson took a “take no prisoners” hardline. Although a contract she drafted contains unorthodox clauses, she refused any negotiations.

Among the oddities, Robinson included a clause requiring Ceruzzi’s personal, not corporate, liability for the terms. Needless to say, her pro bono lawyers refused it.

Robinson’s response, on behalf of Cuomo, Haynes and RIOC: Get out in thirty days, no compromise.

No reason has been advanced by RIOC that’s more convincing than the obvious –retaliation for the protest.

Who can resist RIOC’s animal abuse?

A pair of firewalls are in place, but neither appears effective in doing its job.

The first line of defense against state overreach and/or corruption is its own board. In years past, local residents fought for and won majority representation, but Cuomo figured out how to get around it.

After taking office, assuming responsibility for appointing board members, Cuomo sat on his thumbs, allowing retirements to transfer control to his own tools.

Then, in a splashy display of cynical, undemocratic action, he appointed three reliable “yes men” he counts on to toe the line. Jeffrey Escobar, David Kappel and Conway Ekpo have not once voted against a single RIOC action.

And only the foolhardy expects it in this instance. If any change takes place, it will come out of Albany, not the boardroom.

The second firewall is… wait for it… our elected officials. That is, Seawright, state Senator José Serrano and city council member Ben Kallos.

While both Seawright and Kallos came into office promising reforms, each is solidly in Cuomo country these days. Their actions belie much interest beyond getting reelected.

As with Trump, our only real recourse is public opinion spoken loudly.

They are not listening voluntarily.

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