You can make things better in our community, I realized recently, when two developments proved that awareness and action pay off. Sometimes. Life under the peculiar arrangement with RIOC ain’t easy, but it isn’t hopeless either.
By David Stone
The Roosevelt Island Daily News
You Can Make Things Better – The Cherry Trees
Ten days ago, I got a text: “A row of cherry trees just cut down.” It was from our friend and frequent news resource Rose Klein. But she was so pained by what she saw, she got the story wrong. Ugly as it was, the RIOC crew was hacking away healthy decades old branches, not whole trees.
After I got her text, I hurried out and checked for myself. I approached the crew. When they claimed they were “saving the trees lives,” it was clear that they didn’t know what they were doing. RIOC’s last known landscaping manager was nowhere in sight, and these guys seemed to be freelancing.
I quickly posted an article, then followed up with a notice that the debacle was worse than expected because the crew left the branches chopped off unprotected by any sealant.
But there’s a silver lining, at least so far because, after Rose Klein sounded the alarm, RIOC called off the crew. Only fifteen trees were seriously damaged, less than 20%.
The difference between the unbutchered row of cherry tree was evident, yesterday.
Clearly, you can make things better, Roosevelt Islanders. Speak up, and if you need help or protective cover, contact The Daily or our friends at the Roosevelt Islander blog. We can share your stories, and although RIOC still lacks enough character to admit mistakes or apologize for them, the state agency does sometimes react appropriately.
Here’s what we can look forward to, thanks to our conscientious reader.
Case #2: Fixing Public Purpose Fund Grants
For the last several years, Roosevelt Islanders and others have raised hell over the sloppy, contaminated way RIOC awarded public purpose fund grants. Originally designed for supporting community-minded nonprofits, they recently evolved into methodically rewarding loyalists, punishing others, exercising power politics and general unaccountability.
In the current fiscal year for example, RIOC approved an $11,000 grant to something called New York Foundation for the Arts- Piazzolla-100. There is no such organization, and Piazzolla-100 appeared to piggyback on the highly regarded New York Foundation for the Arts. NYFA is a grant-giving organization itself, supported by large corporate donors.
It’s unknown how Piazzolla-100 made this list. They are a nonprofit tango teaching organization, popular with some here, but they are not, by any stretch, a community group. The important questions are why they applied in the first place and who at RIOC approved.
For your reference, the originally approved grants… considering how you can make things better.
If no one spoke up, this travesty would’ve glided right through. But Roosevelt Islanders made things better because they refused to let this stand.
And it wasn’t just the tango. Scroll down a little. You see that RIOC wanted to throw $16,000 to the Roosevelt Island Senior Association. Objections arose because that grant appeared, in part, to result from taking cash away from the Carter Burden Network.
That’s bad enough, but consider that CBN was recruited for running the Roosevelt Island Senior Center on an emergency basis in 2016. The emergency? RISA, running the center for years, was found by the city as so corrupt and riddled with thefts they needed to be kicked out without notice. RIOC had even been one of their victims, giving out a $15,000 grant for equipment another agency also paid for. It’s unknown whether the money was ever paid back.
In the intervening years, RISA was in full denial and devoted resources to undermining CBN on a regular basis. Who screened them? How did they get in without once confessing or apologizing to the community?
But, After All, You Can Make Things Better
Resident complaints apparently made things better, although because of RIOC’s dedication to extreme secrecy, we don’t know all the details. But the state agency, without ever admitting wrongdoing, approved an outside takeover of the public purpose granting process.
And not only did they change, but quietly, a “special counsel” was brought in for the task. The idea is making the process fair and not poisoned by internal favoritism and incompetence.
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