How low can they go before hitting rock bottom? Before someone steps up and says, “Enough?” Is there any bottom to the RIOC barrel?
By David Stone
How low can they go?
“We need a bank ASAP! I can’t travel nor can many others,” reads the ticket Rivercross resident Raye Schwartz says she registered with RIOC on January 29th.
Her request ignored, on April 9th, Schwartz wrote directly to RIOC president/CEO Shelton Haynes.
“Once again I’m pleading/begging. We really need a bank here. I’ve lived here for over 30 years and never have had such a situation as what we are experiencing since Amalgamated Bank closed this branch.”
Amalgamated, the only bank on Roosevelt Island, shut its doors, last September, creating a hardship for many vulnerable residents. That hardship was only heightened by coronavirus restrictions and fears.
In the immediate aftermath, Haynes pledged RIOC’s attention while vaguely mentioning that Hudson Companies, which manages Main Street retail, was on it too.
But nothing’s happened, and he’s not offered any public follow up.
This may reflect the state agency’s stated conviction that external communications are about “branding” and “marketing,” not real action. In other words, it’s more important looking like you’re doing something than actually doing it.
How low can they go in bunker mode?
Haynes, as recently as April’s board meeting emphasizes his commitment to working with all residents, but when we checked with Schwartz ten days after she reached out to him, that was proven false.
Did Shelton respond, we asked?
“None. Nada. Never. And it was not the first time I tried to contact him,” she answered.
And shortly thereafter, Haynes angrily lashed out at Historian/activist Judith Berdy as well as this newspaper over perceived grievances. He offered no evidence backing up his public attacks but failed to apologize or retract.
And then, other things forced us to wonder again, how low can they go?
Here’s where a possible clue to much of what’s screwy with RIOC, these days, reared its ugly. A long delayed follow up on Schwartz’s original request exposed how much of the state’s agenda has been turned over to the so-called “Communications Team.”
That’s the gang whose leader, Erica Spencer-EL, openly told the sleepy board that “branding” and “marketing” was the sum total of their external efforts. Not a single board member awoke from his nap and asked even one question.
It was like they were mesmerized because the dinosaurs were looking at PowerPoint for the first time.
“Wow! Look at that chart!”
Anyway, Communications Team charter member Jessica Cerrone, this week, without any other communication nixed Schwartz’s concern. She abruptly closed the ticket in RIOC’s system. But first, she tagged it as “Medium Priority,” with no resolution of any kind.
“Erica Spencer-EL also received this update,” it added.
“If you are a RIOC employee be advised I am a taxpayer and resident paying fees which are used to pay your salary,” Schwartz firee back. “And do not appreciate this.”
It could’ve been worse. Shielded by or maybe managed by the Communications Team, Haynes hasn’t given other residents the time of day.
How low can they go? Conclusion
RIOC has not answered media requests from The Daily since we documented multiple instances of Haynes lying in public, last summer.
And although the Roosevelt Islander has had an easier relationship with RIOC since the Haynes takeover, the editor complained to RIOC’s board about failures to respond and endlessly postponed meetings. This may signal the power of the Communications Team controlling the agency’s central agenda.
Just yesterday, the Roosevelt Islander reported frustrations growing in Southtown with RIOC’s burying complaints about poor grounds maintenance, stalling even a request to do it themselves.
And in March, the Communications Team’s denying PSD chief Kevin Brown from answering requests for information raised a furor. They also refused Residents Association Rossana Ceruzzi entrance to a grand opening for the refurbished Youth Center.
RIOC’s retreated into bunker mode before, but it’s never been as churlish or deep. Or as based on juvenile tactics of retribution and restricted access.
For residents, the situation is complicated because expected firewalls failed. Governor Cuomo’s handpicked board of
enablers directors is the epitome of spinelessness. And our elected officials, with the exception of the mayor, blow with the winds out of Albany.
If ever a revival of citizen activism on the Island is called for, that time is now.