Is RIOC board legal? We asked, got no answer, but there’s a new boss in town…

Is RIOC board legal? We asked, got no answer, but there’s a new boss in town…

Does the RIOC board meet the legal minimums established in the state agency’s founding document? Because it doesn’t appear to, we asked and got the usual silence, but anti-social practices may end with the new governor.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The question is not trivial, and outgoing Governor Andrew Cuomo may have finally stretched the rules too far.

What is the role of the board of directors? Essentially it is the role of the board of directors to hire the CEO or general manager of the business and assess the overall direction and strategy of the business. The CEO or general manager is responsible for hiring all of the other employees and overseeing the day-to-day operation of the business.

Iowa State University, The Role of the Board of Directors

Profit or nonprofit, public or private, the roles don’t change.

What’s different with the RIOC board?

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. is singular, a corporation set up for acting like a government for a small political subdivision.

One striking feature is that it’s wholly undemocratic in nature. Rarely in America is any community forced to pay the coast of governing without voting rights.

RIOC board, pre-pandemic.
RIOC board, pre-pandemic, including David Kapell, far right, and Jeffrey Escobar, second from left. Neither is currently a resident of Roosevelt Island.

But a group of pioneering residents sought change and, in 2006, won. After a protracted battle, in fact, New York State amended RIOC’s enabling legislation.

Addressing the makeup of the RIOC board, the state firmed up two department heads as members, but injected some democracy in the rest:

“Of the seven public members, two members, one of whom shall be a resident of Roosevelt Island, shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the mayor of the city; and four additional members shall be residents of Roosevelt Island.”

Just before Andrew Cuomo became governor, his predecessors expanded that, honoring local elections for board membership. But it wasn’t long before Cuomo started undermining that progress.

Playing power games…

Micromanagement and patronage out of Albany wrenched control back north. The governor was not into sharing power with anyone, and he quickly asserted authority, kicking one elected member off the board, replacing him with a nonresident.

In a sign of things to come, Cuomo’s first appointee soon fled under a cloud of suspicion.

And, tellingly, was not replaced.

Over the next years, the governor consolidated power simply by not filling vacancies. But at the same time, he stretched the law, keeping friendly board members in place long beyond their terms.

It finally dwindled down to a five member board, including two permanent state department heads. Unanimous approval of everything up for a vote was assured.

Each member shall serve for a term of four years and until his or her successor shall
have been appointed and shall have qualified…

RIOC Enabling Legislation, Amended 2006

As of this writing, one RIOC board member has been in place for 27 years and was never elected.

Change for the RIOC Board, 2018

In June, 2019, Cuomo relaxed his sphincter momentarily, appointing three new board members. Each was approved by the state senate, but no public discussion or vote preceded the appointments.

So, David Kapell, who lives and works in Greenport on Long Island*, took a chair. And Conway Ekpo, an attorney living in Southtown, joined him. Since neither were previously known for having any community involvement, they were collectively known as “Who?”

(*After The Daily pointed out how his nonresident status on Roosevelt Island led to an unacceptable board composition, NYS Homes and Community Renewal, which oversees RIOC, scrambled, adding Roosevelt Island as a second residence for him on its website. But numerous other websites make clear that the claim is false.)

Jeffrey Escobar, the third appointee, served three terms as president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association.

Because the board then counted four resident members appointed by a governor, plus one recommended by Mayor Bloomberg, it met the requirements, if not the intent of the law.

But the pandemic changed everything, including the board…

After the coronavirus pandemic ground public life to a halt, Escobar moved with his family to Long Island City. RIOC made no notice of the change, hoping perhaps that no one would notice.

But we did.

Tossing the Question to RIOC and RIOC Responding, Sort of…

“It appears that the RIOC Board of Directors, as currently established, does not meet the legal requirements…” we wrote to chief counsel Gretchen Robinson and president Shelton Haynes.

That was on Tuesday. But although neither answered, they responded.

Kapell suddenly gained a new residence in addition to his home in Greenport: Roosevelt Island.

But it’s not that easy erasing history and fact.

Whether it’s his LinkedIn profile, the webpage for his real estate business or a Long Island nonprofit where he serves as a consultant, Kapell has one residence: Greenport. Except for the finagling within the Cuomo administration, Roosevelt Island never gets a mention.

As a semi-humorous side note, in an affidavit supporting Susan Rosenthal’s lawsuit, a process server tells a tale of chasing Kapell from RIOC’s main office to his supposed Roosevelt Island residence to, finally, Greenport where papers were served in his home.

Because Cuomo and his minion either missed or ignored this violation, any action is unlikely until he leaves, next week.

But hopes are high that Kathy Hochul will work on correcting this among many Roosevelt Island RIOC problems. One thing for sure, she can’t be more callous toward the community here than Cuomo was.

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