April 22nd, 2021, did RIOC’s board stumble and eventually fumble a great opportunity for community engagement? Here’s how one bigmouth, weak reasoning and iffy claims messed up the chance.
By David Stone
Did RIOC’s board stumble, bumble and fumble… before even starting?
The agency, long considered detached from the community, can handle criticism in either of two ways. Welcome it as a chance for engagement or reject without consideration.
Sadly, RIOC picked the reject button. The trigger finger belonged to the performer previously known as David Kraut.
This started ahead of RIOC’s April board meeting, in time set aside for public comment.
Chief counsel Gretchen Robinson read off a hefty series of mostly critical public comments, but then, the former David Kraut came out swinging. He lashed out at critics as ignorant and local media as amateurs.
This reprised previous exhibitions where he discouraged anyone from appearing a second time, publicly humiliating them in harsh tones. His thorny pushback left people stunned because they hadn’t come equipped for battle.
For example, Kraut got after me once because I had the nerve to ask if a committee would return after an executive session. For executive sessions, media leave the room, and it was a question of going home or hanging around.
My question somehow offended the thin-skinned Kraut. Twice. Before Jaci Flug, then chief counsel, answered the simplest of questions… and I could go home for dinner.
And because the former David Kraut’s angry outburst, at the April 2021 meeting, was so peppered with inaccuracies as to make it worthless, we’ll not honor it by reporting any other details.
Except that it was a disgrace and an embarrassment for RIOC, an agency subsidized by the residents he habitually insults.
And that someone ought to tell him to put on his big boy pants and STFU. He’s much too smart to, also, be so unwise.
CFO John O’Reilly cleared as much fog as possible, describing how his staff handled a precarious period in finding affordable insurance. It’s lasted more than a year, so far.
It’s a tough challenge, but here again, O’Reilly showed himself worthy of every dollar RIOC pays him.
If more RIOC staff and board members did their jobs as he does and without bullying or ego, the Island would be a better place.
But then, why did RIOC’s board stumble, dozing through a weird PPF presentation?
Earlier, RIOC and RIRA put their heads together and came up with an atrocious distribution of Public Purpose Funds. It was as hairbrained as it was off the rails.
But owning up to fierce criticism (and failing to acknowledge it) brought a second chance for getting it right.
Mostly they did, too, but several things still came up WTF-worthy.
Fixing, more or less, the grossest errors…
For reason beyond surreal, RIOC continues misclassifying tango lessons as somehow connected with the prosperous New York Foundation for the Arts. The foundation sports a long list of profitable supporters, including American Express and Consolidated Edison.
They are not a community organization, and in fact, they hand out grants themselves. But RIOC believes they should get some of our limited resources.
Making matters worse, chief counsel Robinson waded in with an explanation about taking them out of the limited PPF loop of resources. RIOC, instead, will find a way of paying them for performances.
It sounded shaky and possibly illegal, accidentally blurting out the secret part.
But it got worse.
Without any rationale at all, O’Reilly announced increasing funding for the Carter Burden Network (CBN) that should never have been cut back in the first place. This brought them even with the Roosevelt Island Senior Association, a group that so wrecked the senior center with thefts the city begged CBN to come in for a rescue.
RISA was falsely identified as a first time recipient, but, in truth, they got PPF money for years until disqualified because of malfeasance. As part of a felony plea, their top manager admitted double-billing RIOC for an appliance, a $15K hit.
And then, RIOC cut them off because their federal tax exempt filings, prepared by the same manager, were riddled with falsehoods.
Now, although RISA not only never confessed but actually publicly lied about the disaster, they came to RIOC for limited off-hours activities.
An observer addressed it best:
“So, to say that RISA will do the same as what CBN does but at night, is ridiculous. They do no meals or case management. They don’t have every night there or all weekends, because RIDA has some. I bet all those new people don’t even know anything about the history or what the organizations are about. That they got away with integrity questions is amazing to me.”
A little provincial favoritism maybe?
And then, there was the rambling explanation about zeroing out money for the Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association (RIVAA). All well and good up to the point where it removes the awful process of giving RIVAA PPF money and immediately taking it back as rent.
But then, O’Reilly talked about some unspecific negotiations with Shops On Main manager David Kramer and a “$23,000 pool…”
This sounded like RIOC fudging numbers and playing games with Kramer, as often alleged in the past. Probably the only character less trusted than RIOC locally is David Kramer.
Residents who pay most of RIOC’s expenses deserve a better explanation, but they won’t get it.
Did RIOC’s board stumble here? Of course, they did, nodding drowsy approval without questions.
With the exception of Michael Shinozaki, who barked “No!” when his vote came up. But he didn’t explain his objections. So…
But then, the Rapid Testing Center takes the cake for evasion and dubious claims…
Obfuscation started immediately in this section of the meeting.
Mary Cunneen, responsible for quality control but for some reason reporting on the Swift Rapid Testing Center, did a quick evasive sidestep.
In setting up a much needed testing site in the community, Cunneen mentioned getting a referral of six potential vendors from the Department of Health. When she next said RIOC went with Swift, an operation with no prior experience in running a testing center, instead, without explanation, red flags flew.
Did RIOC’s board stumble again…? They did, not one asking for info on a deal likely to cost residents half a million dollars or more.
Was the board that dopey and unwilling to do their jobs, or did they already know facts withheld from residents footing the bills?
A memo posted before the meeting showed RIOC paying Swift over $68,000 per month. And Cunneen asked the board to okay a total of $$319,750.00, money already spent, taking the costs only to the end of March. April, also already spent, and an extension through May, brings the total nearly $140,000 more.
Now add in the costs associated with setting up the center. The purchasing record shows $24K in various costs associated with renovating the old library. But the price tag on an “EMR system designed specifically for Roosevelt Island” is never revealed.
All this without a word of public discussion, a board vote and with most of the details hidden behind RIOC’s wall of secrecy.
More than simply expenses…
Cunneen’s memo asked for the money “Based on the community need and success of the clinic…” But wait a minute.
Answering a question from Shinozaki, she said the clinic, open only four days weekly, handles an average 566 tests in that time, that is, over 140 per day.
Problem? The Department of Health, responsible for keeping track, never showed showed that many tests for all those living in our entire Zip Code at any time, before or after the center opened. In fact, when it opened, the cumulative number barely budged.
Recently, weekly tests for residents in the 10044 are in the 350 to 400 range.
And honestly, as observers, it seems to us that that steady flow of people getting tested must execute the gift of invisibility, coming and going. Those doors are mighty inactive whenever we pass.
Wouldn’t a reasonable person ask about the discrepancy? Would a conscientious public servant address it voluntarily? Do they imagine no one’s watching?
We also don’t know how RIOC picked a totally inexperienced group over the state’s recommendations. Or, more importantly, why? If there’s a perfectly good reason, why not say so?
And we don’t know what deal RIOC made with Hudson-Related, which collects rent for the space as part of the Shops On Main deal. What concessions were made?
We’ll repeat for the record: People with nothing to hide don’t hide anything. This rule suggests RIOC has mountains hidden.
And all this begs for an official investigation. Somebody, please?
Finally, did RIOC’s board stumble, bumble and fumble…?
You bet they did. And not only was a chance for community engagement lost, a raft of new questions about how they spend our money arose.
Raise the question again… Is RIOC a public benefit corporation or an employee (and friends) benefit corporation?
While its board failed miserably again at doing its job as overseer of operations…
It’s almost as if they forgot their oaths as fiduciaries for protecting Roosevelt Island from state overreach and/or misconduct.