When Governor Kathy Hochul picked Kathryn Garcia as New York State director of operations, she sent a clear message. It wasn’t one that resonates happily with the current managers at RIOC.
By David Stone
Picking Garcia tells New Yorkers that Hochul means business. Politicians routinely promise straightening things out. Few really follow through, but if the new governor favors talk over action, she’d never have picked Garcia for operations.
The former city sanitation commissioner’s whole career and her reputation is marked by one thing: competent integrity in getting things done.
What Does The Director of State Operations Do?
“The state director of operations oversees all of 73 state agencies, authorities and commissions,” says an article in the Gothamist. That includes the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation.
To best understand how that lands along Main Street on Roosevelt Island you need to know that, over the last ten years while Andrew Cuomo held office, local managers had their strings plucked directly from Albany. Long fingers from the Second Floor controlled hiring, firing, spending and daily operations.
In her lawsuit against RIOC and the state, former president/CEO Susan Rosenthal described conflicts between local needs and political wishes. Her insistence on protecting the community, she says, contributed to her dismissal.
Because neither Hochul nor Garcia are anti-democracy bullies, that ends. And that leads to another truth making reality uncomfortable for current management.
Patronage Versus Competence and Experience
For years, RIOC’s board of directors griped about Cuomo’s minion telling them who to hire for key positions. But that frustration faded as spines were plucked, replaced with cartoonish Yes Men. All men. Finally, not a single woman survived on the board of directors.
But that covers only the needles on that cactus. More important is understanding why Cuomo picked his RIOC execs. Hint: Capability for handling the tasks at hand was not requirement #1.
When Cuomo slapped back the simple board request that they at least participate in the executive hiring process, he had good reason. Their criteria were completely different.
When the governor dismissed the idea of giving the board a list of candidates for mulling over, it was because he had fundraisers and political supporters to please. The board was silly, suggesting competence mattered.
And it’s not just executives, RIOC ranks feature many staffers who arrived onboard after a phone call asking for a favor. And they remain in place because the patron who put them there protects them. This explains why so many bad deeds go unpunished. And why, as a patronage dump, RIOC is all about payroll with the community an inconvenient afterthought.
How the Director of Operations Can Help
With Kathryn Garcia installed as director of operations, RIOC, for the first time, stands a chance of getting all four wheels on the road with a capable driver.
While we do not suggest that anyone lose their jobs, Garcia’s taking a long look at performance and qualifications is critical. In the past year, RIOC leadership has shown anything but sound decision-making and insight. But that could as easily be attributed to Albany’s interference as anything else.
The self-interested bunker mentality leading to media censorship followed by a virtual blackout, however, goes beyond even Cuomo’s information control. And it’s driven by patronage-protected managers never qualified for the powers they were given.
With Hochul’s support, Garcia should recognize the wisdom of upgrading local democracy. And act on it. Board elections are a minimum standard for a community covering all the bills. Apart from RIOC, taxation without representation went out with King George.
A thoughtful community might decide that some of the board members are fine, but maybe all of them should go. We won’t know until voters have choices and accountability matters over political allegiances.
Finally, the director of operations must look into corruption at RIOC. Secrecy has kept details out of view from journalists and activists. But some sunshine may make the shadows we’ve seen darken and grow more defined.
It where there’s smoke there’s fire, we might have a conflagration ablaze behind those long closed doors at RIOC.
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