Another ugly RIOC incident took the state agency to a new level of mean, powered again by the usual suspect. But this time, the victim speaks out.
By David Stone
I mean in the age of George Floyd, a black woman calling the police on another black woman …..and for water!!! Ridiculous….China Bushell, Roosevelt Island Living Library & Think Park Gardens
I am so sorry that you had this vicious, rude, and disrespectful experience that you described in your email with Erica Spencer-El. She has a terrible reputation with so many RI community members as being an extremely cold, mean-spirited communicator and person. Hopefully RIOC management and the RIOC Board will talk with her about this incident so that an apology will be offered to you for your treatment, and the police report will be expunged from your record.Bonnie Ora Sherk, Founder & Director, Life Frames, Inc. & A Living Library
The sad irony here is that Spencer-El is RIOC’s director of community relations, but it reflects the tenor of much of the state agency’s frequent community confrontations.
How this ugly RIOC incident evolved…
“Last week I had an encounter that shattered my belief about what this Island and the Community Groups of this Island stand for. As you all know, for three years I’ve been asking for water. Not once, not twice but numerous times, I’ve asked RIOC to assist us with water,” Bushell began her report.
The gardener, absent a water source, has “been lugging bottles full of water, in my car, from home. A ridiculous concept, but RI Living Library needed water.”
Both Bushell and Sherk described years of efforts at getting RIOC to set up a water source. But both found the state agency rich in promises while short of delivery.
Last Thursday, May 20th, Bushell arrived on Roosevelt Island and found a critical situation in the garden. Through no fault of hers, this started what ended up as another ugly RIOC incident, another involving Erica Spencer-EL.
“We’ve had a heatwave producing a long dry spell,” Bushell explained. “So when I walked into our Garden this past Thursday, lugging water, I realized that our trees and most of the garden was thirsty and dried out. My several gallons of water had not watered our Garden. Two of the trees were dying, so I had to act quickly.”
The gardener’s desperate efforts and a confrontation with RIOC’s Community Relations Director
What happened next is chilling but not out of character for RIOC.
Scrambling after an available source for water, in hope of saving the garden, Bushell found herself at the unlocked gate behind the Youth Center.
Spencer-EL claims director status over the Youth Center as well, but sources tell us that a review of her resume showed her unqualified.
“Her resume didn’t check out,” president/CEO reportedly told more than one RIOC employee. Nevertheless, nothing changed.
The search for water leads to confrontation with Spencer-EL
“I headed for the spout I used last year during the Pandemic,” Bushell says, “where the Contractor had hooked me up… behind the Youth Center.
“As I was attaching my hose, a security guard came out to ask what I was doing. I explained that I used this water source all of last year and that I was in desperate need of water. He looked as though he understood.”
PSD assigns an officer to the Youth Center, and Bushell mistook him for a “security guard.”
The officer empathized, but RIOC’s reigning Queen of Mean did not. She went overboard, showering this ugly RIOC incident with community relations venom.
“A woman came out and told me I was trespassing and that I had to leave. I explained who I was and how desperate I was,” according to Bushell.
“She looked at me and told me I’m trespassing, and I would have to leave. She explained she was Erica and that Ms. Bonnie (Sherk) should know better.
“I then asked her, if she could make an exception today because all the plants were dying.
“‘Plants are living creatures and need water, please help us ‘ I begged.
“She looked me in the eye and said ‘No’. Not even for a one time deal. I then told her that we are a small community and should help each other. She refused and told me to leave, ‘You’re trespassing!’
“I left despondent. Upset and still desperate, I ran back to the Garden.”
But once Bushell returned to the garden, the incident continued because Spencer-EL now called NYPD.
I wasn’t at the Garden for five minutes, before the security guard shows up…” with a police officer. “Apparently Erica filed a complaint with them and asked for them to write me up.”
Note: Although neither Spencer-EL, Haynes nor PSD chief Kevin Brown responded to requests for information, Haynes has reportedly denied Bushell’s claim that NYPD was called by Spencer-EL. However, multiple residents report witnessing them near the scene.
Because RIOC operates in secrecy, does not answer media inquiries and refuses releasing Public Safety reports, we cannot confirm or reject NYPD presence. But if the officer charging Bushell with trespassing was only a senior officer, the effect is the same.
In a painful irony, Spencer-EL also swept up control of RIOC communications, last year. This allowed the state agency to inaugurate a campaign of inappropriate secrecy and misinformation… And enabling her restriction of access to RIOC’s mishandling of this incident.
No one has apologized to Bushell or the organization, so far.
“I mean, in the age of George Floyd, a black woman calling the police on another black woman …..and for water!!!“
After being charged with trespassing, Bushell appealed to her boss.
“I’m trying to create this year’s respite, as I did last year, on the Island, and I have to search, beg and look for water. I have to listen to a woman who runs the YOUTH Center, tell me I’m trespassing, instead of allowing me to use the water once, in a time of drought and a heat wave.
“And the fact that we are all funded by the same entity, where is our comradery? Where is our Community?
“It’s water!!! I wasn’t stealing her plants or invading her space. I was using one of two working water outlets available to me.
“To this end, I’m still upset! For the life of me, I can’t understand how anyone would deny me one of the only sources of water in my area during a drought and heat wave. I can’t understand how someone, who is supposed to help youth, and can’t share water…
“Her attitude, her sending the police after me is Unacceptable and Uncalled for.
“I don’t know the politics of the Island, and I have tried to create relationships, because we have one goal: to help, improve and support the people who live on Roosevelt Island.”
This goal, as demonstrated in this ugly RIOC incident as well as others, is not shared by the state overseers.
Conclusion: Years of RIOC Neglect Yield an Ugly Incident. Now what?
Founder Bonnie Ora Sherk, in response to our inquiry, shared details of a decade long effort to squeeze water out of RIOC.
Starting with then CFO Steve Chironis, continuing through multiple managers up to and including current CFO John O’Reilly, promises were made, hopes built up, but no water flowed.
Albeit, none showed cruelty at all like the Queen of Mean.
Sherk left us with two wishes.
“At any rate, as you can see, we have been trying to get water – a basic need – to this site – for at least 10 years. Perhaps this year, someone at RIOC will see the light and prevail.”
There’s some reason for hope, but not optimism, after a decade.
“Hopefully RIOC management and the RIOC Board will talk with her (Spencer-EL) about this incident so that an apology will be offered to you (Bushell) for your treatment, and the police report will be expunged from your record.”
This is less likely as RIOC rarely apologizes for anything, let alone acknowledging any misconduct. And its board, packed together and fueled, hasn’t enough spine to challenge a fart in a windstorm.
And Spencer-EL’s claims to authority within RIOC after Susan Rosenthal’s apparently racist inspired dismissal have made her one of the most, if not the most, powerful figure within the snake pit at 591 Main Street.
Both president/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and the board facilitated her elevation within the state agency. Neither is likely to take her on now.
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