In what may be a fatal blow to Roosevelt Island’s fading democracy movement, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Shelton Haynes as President and Chief Executive at RIOC. Its board of directors, theoretically responsible for executive hirings, genuflected north toward Albany.
By David Stone
In the years before Andrew Cuomo became governor, local activists won significant representation on RIOC’s board. A lingering wish list included a requirement that the state agency’s chief executive live in the community.
A series of maneuvers by Cuomo, leaving seats vacant for years, as an example, undermined hard won local authority, and this move fatally whisks away hopes for local leadership.
This loss matters because, unlike other state agencies, RIOC’s funding comes primarily from a RIOC tax quietly included in rents and other resident charges. The state does not contribute, while muscling management. Because the tax is not accompanied by a meaningful role in local governance, activists call it “taxation without representation.”
State assembly member Rebecca Seawright echoed that sentiment and, at one time, introduced legislation requiring local residency for RIOC’s CEO. She, along with state senator José Serrano, has since fallen in lockstep with Cuomo. That is, supporting anti-democracy and disregarding local values.
Cuomo appoints Haynes: a fait accompli…?
Following the ouster of Susan Rosenthal on Juneteenth, the climax of a hurried investigation now subject of a lawsuit, RIOC’s board got instructions from Albany, appointing Haynes without debate or review.
Because they acted in such haste when no emergency existed, the move appeared calculated, and few doubted Haynes’s eventual promotion.
Taking the reins, Haynes quickly shuffled the deck of managers, expanding authority for employees suspected of leading the attack on Rosenthal, pushing others out.
Is the past prelude…?
In his nine month tenure as RIOC’s leader, Haynes increased secrecy at the already too often hermetic state agency, and that’s likely to continue. Haynes, for example, abandoned the public relations function developed under Rosenthal.
At a recent committee presentation to the board, his staff defined community outreach as “marketing” and “branding,” bizarrely without raising an eyebrow. And that’s not good news for a public benefit corporation that gradually ditched the “public” part.
As acting president, he forced through questionable projects like the reinvention of Southpoint Park, reversing community wishes. Worse yet, he did so without adequate consideration of toxic wastes permeating the space.
He also allowed a vindictive assault on the Wildlife Freedom Foundation malingering for months before intervening.
Effectiveness is nearly impossible to gauge behind RIOC’s wall of secrecy, but indications are that Haynes values bureaucratic efficiency over policy.
Cuomo appoints Haynes…
Where do we go from here?
Let’s sum up. Cuomo continues pushing RIOC’s feckless board in the direction of his whims.
And Haynes’s permanent appointment? Completely without community input.
So, where do we go from here? Ask Albany.