According to messy letters sent to needy, local nonprofits, last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo is back along with, maybe, retaliation. Written by RIOC Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, it justifies withholding promised funds on questionable grounds.
By David Stone
Messy Letters and Bad News for Needy Nonprofits
RIOC’s long been criticized for stingy, strangely targeted public purpose grants. Excessive demands for reporting from groups struggling for survival highlight a Big Me/Little You strategy edging close to bullying.
Needless-to-say, RIOC does not hold itself to similarly high standards, but this year’s assaults may set a new standard for mean.
Note: Although we can quote from the letters, we cannot share copies because doing so would expose informants. The state’s ingrown practice of retaliation prevents it.
Just below the letterhead, new, messy letters cite “Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor” as its authority. And in a spirit true to the former governor’s style, it follows with nearly impossible to follow gripes for denying promised funds. Gretchen Robinson signs at the bottom.
In starchy, ungrammatical, often awkwardly run-on sentences, the messy letters slap the nonprofits on the wrist for minor changes put in place while dealing with the pandemic. Because there is no wrongdoing implied, the demands are bureaucratic time and resource wasters, but maybe something else.
Sources tell us they suspect retaliation’s playing a role.
As we reported last year in the wake of protests led by Wildlife Freedom Foundation director Rossana Ceruzzi…
“Soon after the protest march, as Langan tore apart the natural shorelines, RIOC suddenly discovered a state regulation its legal department says requires WFF to pay $400 in monthly rent.
“This mysterious regulation never cropped up before, and it strangely does not apply to other Island groups granted free space from RIOC. And none of them do the rescue work WFF does for free or anything like it.
“RIOC legal counsel Gretchen Robinson laid down the law, and she played hardball, refusing any and all negotiations, according to reliable sources, and setting a firm deadline.
“Significantly, Robinson said all three longstanding sanctuaries, not just Southpoint, would be ripped out, leaving the animals homeless. This was a threatened death sentence against the defenseless.”
Significantly, the foundation is one of those refused appropriated, but long overdue funding
Another targeted entity, already punished with greatly reduced funding, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society is led by Judith Berdy, a frequent and well-informed critic.
Exceptions to the Rule
During this same period, another PPF grant recipient received funds, although supporting activity in no way associated with their approval. They did not raise Robinson’s ire. And there is no record of RIOC board consideration.
But there’s a troubling exception to the rules endorsed by Robinson. Reporting after an April board meeting, we wrote…
“For reason beyond surreal, RIOC continues misclassifying tango lessons as somehow connected with the prosperous New York Foundation for the Arts. The foundation sports a long list of profitable supporters, including American Express and Consolidated Edison.
“They are not a community organization, and in fact, they hand out grants themselves. But RIOC believes they should get some of our limited resources.
“Making matters worse, chief counsel Robinson waded in with an explanation about taking them out of the limited PPF loop of resources. RIOC, instead, will find a way of paying them for performances.
“It sounded shaky and possibly illegal, accidentally blurting out the secret part.”
In other words, when a favored group can’t meet the guidelines, Robinson promises an alternative method for giving them money.
Robinson’s Messy Letters and the Future
In normal organizations, there’s a chain of command with traceable accountability. But RIOC is far from normal. The governor’s chamber in Albany, however distanced from the community, controls most operations through nameless overseers. And locally, internal silos are self-managed in a rough alignment allowing CEO Shelton Haynes cover in a “the buck stops there” operation.
This makes the future of needy local nonprofits unpredictable. Couple that with a lackadaisical board and detached elected officials and you get Cole Porter: Anything Goes.
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