Shelton Haynes with Erica Spencer-EL, September 11th, 2021

How Shelton Haynes And Friends Took Control of RIOC


Shelton Haynes and friends got control of RIOC in the shadow of Governor Cuomo’s racist stunt, firing President/CEO Susan Rosenthal. How did that happen in June, 2020, timed for Juneteenth? We know more now, although much remains secret. Following are some pieces to the puzzle and what they imply for a fuller picture.

By David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Now, It’s Haynes and Friends in the Offices

Earlier we reported on how Shelton Haynes found his way to RIOC, including eyebrow-raising, previously unreported facts learned with the help of inside informants. Today, we’re reporting on the convoluted picture of how he got to the top where he rewarded his friends.

During Charlene Indelicato’s last weeks leading RIOC, she got directions from Albany for placing Haynes in an open management slot in operations. Grumbling shopworn complaints, an already spineless board, legally responsible for hiring and firing, played along. Unanimously.

Because the Governor’s Chamber guards its operations like the secret code for an H bomb, we never got a look at Haynes’s résumé. Would it have mattered, had the board known how slim his résumé was? Or about serious financial mismanagement at the DeKalb County Housing Authority, where he says he was Chief Operating Officer?

The truth is, probably not, because RIOC board members ceded power to Team Cuomo, years before, welcoming authoritarianism for Roosevelt Island.

A patronage hire, Haynes walked through Roosevelt Island for five years without leaving a footprint. It’s hard to cite any significant contributions, in spite his being recruited ahead of thousands of others for a six-figure salary post.

“He’s incredibly insecure. He blew up at me several times when he thought I didn’t kiss the ring enough,” one coworker says. (This source requested anonymity because of RIOC’s history of retaliation.)

Core responsibilities were often handled by consultants. Robert Russo, for example, got $175/hr and appeared before the board with project details while Haynes stood by. Russo left when RIOC hired LiRo, a construction and consulting firm with deep roots across New York State. And when CFO John O’Reilly joined the executive team at 591 Main, a big plus was his construction experience.

Susan Rosenthal
Susan Rosenthal during her tenure at RIOC

The Company You Keep

Haynes barely warmed up his seat and hung pictures before becoming a key player in destroying the Roosevelt Island Youth Program. For 40 years, RIYP managed the Youth Center, but RIOC suddenly discovered a previously unknown requirement demanding bidding.

Acting as a scorer for an RFP about running the Youth Center, Haynes altered his score in a way that resulted in a tie. This denied RIYP an outright win.

Activist Frank Farance’s FOIL request found Haynes’s scoresheet with one number written over, leading to the tie. In his own defense, Haynes blamed his habit of doodling. He absentmindedly doodled a 4 into 6, he told The Daily.

Taking one more step…

Suspicions hardened when, as RIYP executive director Charlie DeFino battled to defend himself and save his group, Haynes joined with RIOC community liaison Erica Spencer-EL in reporting that they witnessed DeFino drunk on the job during an unplanned visit.

But they never made a report at the time when it was relevant, a violation of both their duties, if it actually happened. DeFino denied it vigorously. But in the end, any defense was of no use. The state had a plan in place, and that eventually played out. Haynes and friends were instrumental in setting the stage.

Even faced with overwhelming community support, board members loyal to Governor Cuomo overruled resident members, denying RIYP a new contract, putting an abrupt end to the 40 year old nonprofit.

To our knowledge, neither Haynes nor Spencer-EL faced any consequences for their failure in timely reporting what they alleged as a serious, onsite risk for kids.

In fact, within a few months, Spencer-EL took control of the Youth Center as a department within RIOC. While RIYP operated on a $200,000 annual grant, the board now agreed, without protest, to Spencer-EL’s request for $750,000. And that eventually grew with program use falling sharply.

Finding a Supporter in Susan Rosenthal

As day-to-day manager of RIOC, Rosenthal, a longtime civil rights activist, threw her weight behind increasing employment for people of color. She nurtured those already on board. handing out raises and expanding authority. Haynes and Spencer-EL both benefited

Haynes got a lot of leeway and plenty of help not necessarily work related. He was not known for his work ethic or his availability. But we’re holding back the personal details out of respect for both party’s privacy. Safe to say, however, that Rosenthal treated him like a trustworthy friend or a relative.

“I tried warning her that he couldn’t be trusted, but she wouldn’t listen,” a coworker told The Daily. “Shelton was always tough to get ahold of and quick to anger if he was questioned, or pinned down on his unresponsive nature.”

All the while the “cabal” out to undermine RIOC executives kept at it. Rosenthal swears in a lawsuit that “cabal” is not her word but one Albany interviewers used. She was warned about them before taking a job on Roosevelt Island.

The Roosevelt Island Daily can’t confirm any organized group within RIOC devoted to undermining management. But local observers were aware of regular internecine squabbling and power plays.

But nothing before approached the demolition job that saw four white managers, including Susan Rosenthal, fired or forced out in a single month. Had the folks fired been of color, an investigation might’ve ensued, but probably not as Governor Cuomo was deeply involved.

Shelton Haynes with Erica Spencer-EL, September 11th, 2021
Erica Spencer-EL and Shelton J. Haynes on September 11th, 2021.

Shelton Haynes and Friends and Their Month of Takeover

Haynes says he was surprised when the move to fire Rosenthal rushed through. Publicly, it took only a week, but Haynes and friends were active well before. Although any involvement with the “cabal” is undocumented, Haynes, in fact, had a reorganization plan ready to go, one that saw new authority handed over to Spencer-EL, among other Haynes loyalists.

That Haynes was willing, maybe eager to immediately take her place after Rosenthal’s unseemly and illegal dismissal works against his claims of innocence. Plus, there is no record of his opposing Albany’s sleazy move against Rosenthal.

And then, as it becomes clear that Haynes along with his Albany handlers overlooked misconduct among Rosenthal’s accusers, suspicions harden into disgust.

How It Went Down

Karlene Jean was unhappy with Rosenthal, and according to her lawsuit, Rosenthal believes it was because of a job reassignment. Soon after, in early June, 2020, she sent out a mass email, accusing Rosenthal of being a racist. Rosenthal never faced charges like these before. Quite the opposite, her reputation for activism on behalf of people of color was well-known.

But one resident doubts Jean wrote the email. Although complexly arranged, it contained numerous illiteracies, but that wasn’t the clincher.

“Karline can’t even write a business letter,” the Roosevelt Islander told The Daily, having personally witnessed a hapless effort.

Some suspect an inside ghost wrote the letter and let Jean take the heat. But in the end, there wasn’t much heat. And, in fact, public accusations of racism or sexual misconduct go strongly against guidelines, but the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) never batted an eye.

Jean did not, as far as we know, face any more disciplinary action than Haynes or Spencer-EL did after helping steamroll RIYP.

Suggesting broader involvement, although Jean had not made her claims directly to GOER, as the state employee handbook requires, GOER treated it as if she had. And although Albany officials found her accusations frivolous and not actionable, an assigned investigator inexplicably asked, What else have you got?

And Jean or someone else she turned the investigator onto had plenty.

Then, the wheels spun the rest of the way off.

Haynes and Friends: Digging Up Dirt or Inventing It?

It’s not clear how Haynes and friends played any roles, but the rewards came fast.

Far beyond the original complaint, the investigator caught a shitstorm of accusations against Rosenthal. It hit during a series of telephone calls between the investigator and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson (multiple times), Haynes (at least twice), Project Manager Prince Shah, Human Resources Director Tajuna Sharpe and Assistant Council Arthur Eliav. That’s according to reports filed in Rosenthal’s lawsuit.

Also critical was a tape allegedly made surreptitiously by one of the accusers.

But none of the explosive accusations now on the table were ever reported before. And that’s a problem for RIOC and the state because it means current staff committed extensive violations of GOER ethics requirements. Or they made things up.

Tajuna Sharpe, for example, accused Rosenthal of sexual misconduct involving off-the-cuff comments. But she never reported them before, although the state employee handbook requires it of managers. As head of human resources, surely she was aware of the handbook’s guidance.

Was it or any of the other salacious dirt verified by anyone? And if Rosenthal made bold racist comments, why weren’t they known before? And what about the mysterious tape? Made by an employee on the job, it belongs to RIOC, but over a year later, they can’t find it.

And the apparent absence of disciplinary action has scalding implications.

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark?

In Hamlet, Marcellus (an officer) says “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” Ever since, the phrase has been used for suspicions about something obviously wrong but not yet explained.

If the slipshod, targeted investigation isn’t enough, the sudden elevation of Haynes and friends is damning. But keep in mind, these are only the details we know about.

Haynes himself jumped up to the position from which his loyal manager was improperly deposed. During the following year when he won the permanent position, he managed raising his salary higher than any predecessor received. And that happened while RIOC struggled with a pandemic-inspired financial crisis.

Erica Spencer-EL

Immediately after taking over Rosenthal’s job, Haynes added Communications Director to her existing titles of Youth Center Director and Community Relations Manager. Three executive titles rolled into one.

Although she had no corporate communications training or experience, Haynes put her in charge of Public Information Officer Terrence McCauley, a fifteen year veteran. McCauley quit soon after.

The peculiar case of Altheria Jackson

Although RIOC and New York State have firm rules against nepotism, Jackson was brought in from Virginia where she worked in real estate to work under Haynes. Documents show a relationship between the two going back at least ten years to when they both worked at the Atlanta Housing Authority.

Jackson filled Haynes’s responsibilities after he was promoted to Vice President. She took home a six figure salary, but then there was more. Just three weeks after Rosenthal’s departure, RIOC announced that she now oversaw the IT department along with Programs and Operations as Assistant Vice President.

Tajuna Sharpe

Susan Rosenthal’s most aggressive accuser, Tajuna Sharpe, is listed as Human Resources Director in RIOC’s most recently published organizational chart. But she was promoted recently, without assuming additional responsibilities, to Assistant Vice President.

Shelton Haynes and Friends Conclusion

white and brown wild duck on water
If it looks like a duck… Photo by Pixabay on

Not only has Haynes rewarded himself and his friends with salary bumps, but he’s also granted himself perks no other RIOC executive ever demanded.

He awarded himself, for example, a remote office on the second floor of the historic Blackwell House. It’s not ADA compliant; so, meetings can’t be legally held there. A PSD officer stands guard, and his office is accessible only by keycard.

More astonishingly, along with increased salary and a private remote office, Haynes commands a restricted four-spot prime parking area all his own: The New York State Shelton J. Haynes Parking Area.

Almost everyone’s heard the axiom: “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” What we’ve got here is a whole gaggle of ducks.

Also from the Roosevelt Island Daily

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