Why did RIOC cancel its January board meeting with little notice?

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Why did RIOC cancel its January board meeting, scheduled less than a month ago? Is the state agency as rudderless as it appears with multiple challenges pending?

By David Stone

Roosevelt Island Daily News

Gauging the turmoil within RIOC, a state agency charged with developing Roosevelt Island, but seeming more than ever like a clutter of self-serving bureaucrats, grew more difficult after the ambush of Susan Rosenthal.

RIOC cancels January board meeting, and Rosenthal's lawsuit may be a factor.
Susan Rosenthal (R) with community liaison Erica Spencer-EL in November, 2019. Six months after leading an inclusive tree lighting event, she lost her job after Albany embraced flimsy charges against her.

Now, as walls against transparency thicken, understanding what’s going on is a guessing game. That became more apparent Tuesday when RIOC canceled its January 28th meeting. No reason given.

RIOC’s board approved the annual schedule less than a month ago in its December 29th meeting. But even so, they failed with New York public meeting law requirements mandating prior notices.

That called into question the viability of the meeting, and it’s hardly the first time. Another committee meeting, set for tonight, is already in violation but has not been canceled.

So, why did RIOC cancel its January board meeting?

It’s risky making guesses about an opaque agency repeatedly unable to meet even the minimum legal threshold for notices. But facing several crises while refusing to answer basic media questions, RIOC has multiple possible causes for going dark.

The biggest threat buzzing around RIOC is former president/CEO Susan Rosenthal’s lawsuit charging unlawful termination. She accuses an internal “cabal” with plotting her ouster on flimsy grounds.

Since the accusations against her appear as lame as she claims, the underlying reasons for attacking her are unknown. The case itself is fraught with racial undertones and suggestions of a purge orchestrated out of public view.

RIOC’s legal counsels respond within two weeks to her challenge.

Other issues rattling around RIOC…

  • As we reported, RIOC allowed board member Michael Shinozaki’s participation in multiple decisions in which conflicts of interest appear. This goes back as far as ten years.
  • RIOC opened a COVID-19 rapid testing site, last week, but refuses answering questions about who’s paying the bills and how partnerships are set up. The state agency won’t say how Swift Emergency Medical P.C. was chosen, although it has no known experience in this field.
  • More than six months after accepting his acting president/CEO position, Shelton Haynes lacks permanent status. If the state is considering a new executive, the search has not been disclosed.

RIOC cancels January board meeting but leaves the community in the dark…

Whatever is the cause of RIOC’s erratic behavior remains a mystery. Maybe all of the above, or maybe none of them.

It’s unlikely, however, that the state can continue like this indefinitely, however protected by elected officials and a passive board.

We may learn more from the Rosenthal lawsuit next month as her demand for reinstatement is strengthened by weaknesses in the case against her. Compromise may be in the offing and possible actions against the internal group managing the ambush.

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