Kathy Hochul

Can Gov. Hochul rein in RIOC? Early returns are not promising

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Early hopes that new governor Kathy Hochul might rein in RIOC dim as the local state agency hardens its battle against transparency and accountability. Hochul promised making both better across the state, but it’s all hot air so far.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Frosted windows and inaccurate signage are apt as RIOC hunkers deeper into bunker mode. Hochul’s high minded rhetoric falls on deaf ears inside.

A month ago in her first speech as governor, Hochul promised a “…new era of transparency.” She added a pledge for “…dramatic change in culture, with accountability and no tolerance for individuals who cross the line.”

But if she can’t rein in RIOC, one of the worst Cuomo-like offenders, can she control any of the others? To say the least, it looks about as promising as the Mets’s hopes for a playoff run.

Can she rein in RIOC?

Although Hochul gave state agency’s until October 20th for showing how they’d meet her directive on transparency, the message did not trickle downhill to RIOC or Roosevelt Island. The state agency that has never made a mistake hunkers down in secrecy as solidly and safely as ever.

RIOC’s recent response to a FOIL request filed in May shows more of the same old stonewalling against providing information.

Before going on, note that RIOC’s funding comes primarily from residents. If residents are not forced into footing the bills, there is no RIOC. Not a dime comes from Albany, yet the tradition of denying residents’ right to know is longstanding and unchanged.

Moreover, reliance on FOIL requests increases organically with the extension of RIOC’s media blackout.

About the foil request…

Troubled by scant but conflicting details RIOC grudgingly released concerning their Swift Rapid Testing site, we asked for more.

Please provide all documents, including but not limited to emails, meeting minutes, phone notes, letters, contracts and associated documents regarding RIOC’s arrangements for the Swift COVID Rapid Testing Site at 524 Main Street

Roosevelt Island Daily Freedom of Information Request, May 12th, 2021.

The request went on with specific details we hoped to clear up:

Please include 

  • correspondence and paperwork regarding any and all competitive bidding for this service, documentation of New York State Contract Reporter listing, comparative analysis among competitive bidders and any documents of any kind detailing how it was determined that Swift Emergency Medical was qualified for the COVID rapid testing.
  • documents regarding costs to RIOC and obligations of the contractor
  • documents and correspondence explaining any involvement, financial or otherwise, of the space’s leaseholder Hudson Related
  • source documents and correspondence used in determining facility usage reports. (At RIOC’s April board meeting, staffer Mary Cunneen reported over 500 tests per week. Please provide the source document for this claim.)
  • all costs to RIOC, including building out and maintaining the facility and pay and benefits for PSD officers onsite and barking for customers among passersby on Main Street. 
  • documents regarding compensation RIOC received for repeatedly promoting the site, including citing costs and benefits.
  • medical advisors guiding RIOC in its public claims about the effectiveness of rapid tests and their ability to allow an individual to return to normal family activities.
  • finally, explain how the PCR testing cost of $200 each, promoted by RIOC in multiple email alerts, was determined.

Please include any documents you believe might better make the public aware of circumstances surrounding the setting up and operation of this facility.

RIOC’s response…

After over four months, this is RIOC’s answer:

“Please be advised that we require additional time to collect and review the responsive records to ensure that they are not exempt from disclosure under Public Officers Law (“POL”) §87(2). We anticipate to update you with the status of your request within forty-five (45) business days from the date of this letter.”

Not a single document, in fact, has been released because RIOC remains in bunker built by Cuomo. But the net result is increasing suspicion. What is the bunker mode hiding, if anything? And if not hiding anything, what’s the point?

Conclusion: The reality behind why Hochul may never rein in RIOC

Hochul made big promises about reform, but in real world politics, there are obstacles.

Because RIOC’s been a patronage dump since before Cuomo, a number of key people remain embedded — and well-rewarded, regardless of competence — in the organization. Patronage also carries protections with it.

So, can Hochul really take them on or just blow more smoke?

But maybe we already have an answer. Since the new governor took office, RIOC hasn’t cleared up any visibility, and there isn’t the slightest hint of increased accountability.

Down here, 150 miles from Albany, in fact, it’s as if Cuomo never left office.

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