Is RIOC’s new leader, Shelton Haynes, unfit for the job? He doesn’t think so. “I would expect more respect and appreciation for all of the work we do,” he said. That was the last line in an angry public email, attacking historian Judith Berdy.
By David Stone
Is Shelton Haynes unfit for the job of RIOC president/CEO?
Questions always were out there about Haynes’s skills, achievements and work ethic. They became acute when he filled in the gap after Susan Rosenthal got pushed out the job.
There was room for debate, but two recent incidents lifted his temperament for a leadership position into doubt.
Angry attacks, near meltdowns really, over relatively trivial matters suggest he’s in over his head.
On Monday, after the first weekend of cherry blossoms on Roosevelt Island, Judith Berdy reached out to Haynes by email.
Berdy is head of the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, but her contributions extend far beyond that. Her volunteer work on behalf of residents in our local extended care facilities, for example, is extensive. And hardly any news story getting attention across the East River seldom goes to press without requesting her comment.
Berdy is nothing, if she is not outspoken.
She wrote in an email: “Last Saturday we had thousands of visitors on the island to see the cherry trees. Aside from one lone officer at the Tram Station, there were no officers around monitoring traffic or pedestrians.”
The RIHS kiosk welcomes visitors in the Tram Plaza with a bird’s eye view of everyone coming and going.
“If the weather is as good as last Saturday, we will have more visitors this weekend.
“We need more port-a-potties, food trucks and staff around to empty overflow trash cans,” she advised, but she was just warming up.
“You and your staff are choosing to ignore basic safety and comfort for visitors and residents.”
‘I am tired of hearing that Covid is preventing staffing. By now, everyone should be here at work. RIOC has used Covid as an excuse long enough and it would be helpful if we got on board with running the island and not running away from it.”
Her comments were harsh, but not far off the beat of others circulating with growing dissatisfaction over RIOC performance.
Haynes angry reaction…
Political leaders absorb criticism as a matter of course because, really, you can never please everyone. That’s especially true on Roosevelt Island where RIOC wields authority without consent of those taxed for their operations.
It’s a delicate balance, and RIOC presidents have handled resident frustrations reasonably well.
But consider Haynes’s response. He posted it in a public exchange with local media copied.
“RIOC Public Safety department and NYPD 114th officers were present on Saturday as we had approximately 300+ visitors come to Roosevelt Island to enjoy the cherry blossoms,” Haynes began, gently enough, although acknowledging her concerns might’ve helped.
There was none of that as his apparent goal was lighting into Berdy. The rest of his message bristled with anger.
“You have been putting out false narratives and irresponsible statements about RIOC for months,” he wrote, but did not specify anything.
“I have also received correspondence from RIOC employees that you have recently called them with profanity laced tirades of concerns that you have.
“COVID 19 is never an excuse that we use and that is probably the most offensive and tasteless comment one could make. We have had several employees that have either contracted COVID 19 or had to quarantine after providing essential services to the residents of Roosevelt Island.”
He concluded, “I would expect more respect and appreciation for all of the work we do.”
He said nothing — and never has to my knowledge — about respect and appreciation for Roosevelt Islanders funding RIOC with taxes extracted from their rents.
Unfit for the job by temperament…
Haynes’s attack was juvenile, at best, and inexplicable from a senior executive whose $200K salary is footed by residents. But it seems to reflect reality in RIOC’s bunkered echo chamber, protected by Albany handlers, spineless local electeds and a board that can’t say, “No.”
Think about this.
Attacking a prominent member of the community, a pioneer, he pitched potentially slanderous accusation without any evidence in public.
And there was a bit of that Cuomo/Trump razzmatazz. Turn the muzzle the other way, and shoot down the accuser, never really answering the complaint.
Well, Haynes did actually attempt answering the complaint, but it was, in the end, so lame it made him look worse.
“…300+ visitors…?” Really.
He was off by a factor of around 10, but when offered a chance for correction, he doubled down.
The Roosevelt Islander, also on the email thread, asked if he meant “3 thousand” not 300.
“Yes, 300 was the number as I was in contact with PSD leadership all day Saturday,” he insisted.
In one quick dollop, Haynes emphasized his disconnection from reality and managed to make PSD appear incompetent.
Is this what mature, well paid leadership does?
No, because conduct like this makes one appear clearly unfit for the job, but this story doesn’t end there.
Contrast reflects on fitness…
Earlier in April, a senior Island resident contacted Haynes, pleading with him for help in getting a bank set up in the community. Amalgamated closed shop last September, and she detailed the hardships for seniors.
A few days later, I asked her if Haynes responded.
“None. Nada. Never,” she wrote. “And it was not the first time I tried to contact him.”
So, you can add indifference to the plight Roosevelt Island’s neediest to the pile of evidence for Haynes’s unfitness.
But wait. Didn’t you say attacks on local critics… like more than one?
An incident occurring the week before already had me wondering (again) if Haynes was unfit for the job.
The second critic he attacked was me, and the incident was so bizarre and juvenile I’d decided not to report on it until Haynes attacked Judith Berdy.
But he didn’t attack me in an email. He blew up in public, that is, on the East Promenade.
On a sunny afternoon, my wife and I walked north out of Southpoint Park. Approaching, I spotted a tall man in a suit, and when I realized it was Haynes, I saw an opportunity for resuming a dialogue.
Haynes predecessor and I were “frieniemies.” In spite of many disagreements, Susan Rosenthal and I remained friendly on a personal level. Business did not get in the way of my admiration for her.
When we met on the street, she always asked, “How’s it going?” and really meant it. She was sincerely interested and respected my right to do my work.
But my hopes for a similar relationship with Haynes were dashed pretty quickly.
We hadn’t spoken in person since last July, long enough that he didn’t recognize me at first.
When I reintroduced myself, he was friendly, raising my hopes.
We bumped elbows, and then, on instinct, I went for it.
“You know,” I said, “you’d get better stories if you responded to questions. When you freeze us out, you lose the chance to have your position included.”
He said something to the effect of “I don’t care what you write about me. I’m doing my job.”
So, I took the next step.
“I realize you have your job to do, but you have to respect my right to do mine,” I said, but I barely got it out.
A flood of grievances…
Haynes flipped. Floodgates opened, and anger gushed.
It was hard to follow and harder still to recall, but one thing stood out.
“I do my job with the utmost integrity,” he insisted, out of context.
That burned in because nobody with utmost integrity ever tells you because you already know it. Integrity’s like the single, high beam on a freight train. Nobody misses it.
But that’s not what made me think Haynes unfit for the job. The worst was yet to come, and it was strange.
“Do you want to know when our friendship ended…?”
To be clear, Shelton and I were never friends. Apart from a single meeting in his office after he became acting president/CEO, we’d done nothing more than pass greetings on the street.
But this was something I wanted to hear.
Which article lit his fire? The one where I documented his lying on multiple occasions, once on a video?
No, it was far more bizarre.
“You posted my children on Twitter,” he said. “My underage children,” he emphasized.
Unfortunately, I knew what that was about, but I’d never expected he’d twist a goodwill gesture into something unethical.
Not long after my article Why Can’t RIOC Now Shake Its Tradition of Lying?, I saw a tweet by Haynes, boasting about his son’s basketball achievements. He added at least one photo. There may have been more, but this is nine months later. I don’t remember.
As a father and grandfather, I’m a fool for doting dads, and I saw a chance to show Haynes that my reporting wasn’t personal. It was work, not family.
So, I did what I’ve done many times on social media for others as well as my own relatives.
I gave Shelton Haynes a pat on the back. I clicked the heart under his tweet, and letting others know what a proud dad he was, I retweeted it.
Now, I tried explaining, but he kept shaking his head and muttering about “posting my underage children.”
“I didn’t post it, you did,” I finally told him
“You put it on your thread,” he argued.
“No, I didn’t. You did.”
In case you’re unfamiliar with Twitter, a public post is, well…public. It appears on your followers’ threads without restrictions. That’s the nature of social media, and if you don’t want to share, you just don’t post.
Easy peasy, but not for Haynes.
“You retweeted it,” he insisted, scrambling for justification, but by then, I got it.
“You were just looking for a reason, Shelton,” I told him as we parted in opposite directions.
And then, I repeated it, making sure he got the message.
Unfit for the job…?
No one in a position of authority uses something as lame as that to justify blackballing public media is really fit for the job.
First of all, it hurts RIOC by cutting the state agency out of having its voice heard, and it’s worse than petty.
And, yes, I apologized for any misunderstanding, trying to explain social media over his repeated objections, but Haynes wanted none of it.
He had his reason, and he wasn’t letting go of it.