RIOC’s feckless board, smug and self-absorbed, strolled gracelessly, irresponsibly out of 2021. Will 2022 bring more of the same? Worse? The board did not inspire optimism. In fact, fresh danger signals broke the surface.
By David Stone
The Roosevelt Island Daily News
Smug & Self-Absorbed?
Really, what could you expect from a bunch of lazy guys – yes, all guys* – who started the year canceling a Zoom meeting because of…. wait for it, please… “inclement weather?” Had their intention been surreal, a little humor… but no, humor rarely lightens this listless crowd of enablers. A circus pony could’ve come up with something better. At least the pony’d be frolicsome, not sluggish and indifferent.
*Yes, women command the two ex-officio seats but aren’t really participants. They parrot the company line out of Albany and, unlike the boys, don’t have any investment in the local community.
As the shorter than usual meeting melted away, the guys – unanimously, of course – passed a budget that doesn’t square with known facts; added a another six-figure salary to the bloated payroll; voted in an even more leisurely calendar for 2022; and sidestepped the community they’re obliged to serve, the one, that is, paying all the bills. But the worst came first.
Public Comment Session
This mess is in the lap of Governor Kathy Hochul now. After swinging open the door for Governor Cuomo’s forced exit, Hochul promised a new era of transparency and accountability. None of that got far enough downriver to dampen RIOC’s hunkered secrecy, her words – at least in our neck of the New York woods – just another word salad tossed toward reelection, not change.
Before every board meeting, RIOC opens the floor to residents wishing to address the group. These days, a participant reads comments aloud on Zoom. While RIOC is clear that they are not obligated, they honor the tradition. But they might not continue it for long after hearing the monthly barrage of criticism.
For at least the second time, they failed to read comments from the Roosevelt Islander, protesting their secrecy over the Sportspark drowning in May and about the poorly managed COVID testing van. They offered no reason.
One resident accused the board of negligence in not overseeing RIOC’s bloated executive salaries, a role assigned them in enabling legislation. And another complained about poor traffic management, a common theme.
The Roosevelt Island Daily News lodged three statements intending to go on record.
But no one on the board paid any visible attention. With not a single return comment, the board sat like dour bumps on a log, which they largely are. The display of indifference to community concerns would embarrass most public authorities. But not this one, which pledges allegiance to Albany.
Our comments and why we made them…
The Daily had no intention of bumping the smirks and frowns off the faces of the smug and self-absorbed board. Too big a task for any mortal. We put facts on the record, leaving the board without a track for denial. That especially goes for the ex officio members representing Budget Director Robert Mujica and Homes and Community Renewal head RuthAnne Visnauskas. As state employees, they must report credible information about misconduct.
Let’s see how far that responsibility goes. In the meantime, here are our comments…
- Documents show that Shelton Haynes obtained outside consulting work in North Carolina in the summer of 2018. There appears to be no record of his receiving required JCOPE State ethics approval. We’ve requested comment from both Mr. Haynes and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, but neither were able to provide requested records.
- Freedom of information requests to RIOC have not been answered in keeping with the intent of the law for providing openness and are not in line with Governor Hochul’s promised transparency. Simple requests go unfulfilled for over six months, and responses are nearly always incomplete. Whether intended or not, RIOC’s failures prompt suspicions that the corporation has much to hide.
- We have corroboration of *multiple RIOC managers withholding information that should have gone immediately to GOER but was withheld until it could be used to attack an executive. Withholding evidence of racial discrimination or sexual misconduct violates GOER rules, but the violators, rather than being punished for misconduct, appear to have been rewarded with promotions and increased salaries.
* Based on sworn statements by state investigators in Susan Rosenthal’s lawsuit against RIOC.
As a next step, The Daily will follow the advice given by multiple sources and report evidence of possible misconduct directly the the State Inspector General.
Lucy Lang was appointed Inspector General in November, and according to their website, she is “Responsible for ensuring State officials and employees meet the highest standards of integrity, efficiency, and accountability.” We’ll see if that holds any more water than the Governor’s promises.
What Else Dig the Smug & Self-Absorbed Board Do?
- The board passed a $32.3 million budget that does not square with reality. It funds 139 employees, for example, as it has in previous years, yet their active roster, as of September 2021, shows only 121. And unlike other years, the budget does not disclose high paying executive salaries.
- Lazier than ever, what once were known as monthly board meetings are now down to eight. As casual observers see, that’s because the fix already appears to be in place before the board goes public. Why waste time with public exposure and accountability?
- The board approved Debra Kustka as Vice President of Operations. A mystery remains over the future of Haynes’s close friend of many years, Altheria Jackson, who pulls down $159K a year as an assistant VP in the same department, although her qualifications have never been clear.
The End of 2021…
For RIOC, it’s only the end of the third quarter, since their fiscal year begins on April Fools Day. That may explain why no “Happy New Year!” cheers went out to anyone outside their Zoom frame.
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