How would the new residency laws affect RIOC?


New residency laws aimed at changing RIOC are now in committee in both the State Senate and Assembly. Prompted by resident concerns, Senator José Serrano and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright teamed up in the effort.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

AM Seawright and Sen. Serrano with activist Frank Farrance on Roosevelt Island Day in 2018. Both support Roosevelt Island residency requirements, but past administrations frustrated efforts.

“The measure is part of a series of reforms to bring great accountability and transparency to the operations of the board,” said Seawright.

Residency for RIOC‘s CEO has been a goal for Island activists for decades, and the new residency laws would require that. The Senate version says, the CEO “…must be a resident of Roosevelt Island or become a resident within 6 months of appointment…” Seawright’s office lengthens that to “a year.”

In either case, the change is radical. Both recent CEO’s Charlene Indelicato and Susan Rosenthal told The Daily that they would not accept the job under those conditions. Current CEO Shelton J. Haynes’s position is unknown.

One potential affect: the state might consider residents for the job for a change. In the past, although the board of directors is responsible for hiring and firing, they’ve done neither. The executive chamber in Albany dictated everything, and the local directors bent the knee. Change is unlikely because so much political patronage is in the package, but it could get better.

What else is in the new residency laws?

While RIOC’s board has a long way to travel before becoming accountable, there are steps in the right direction. Along with strengthening the requirement that residents retain a five member board majority, the new residency laws require “…their immediate resignation from the board upon the termination of such residency.”

This addresses a current thorn in the community’s side after Dave Kappel refused to vacate his board seat after moving out of The Octagon after a rent increase dispute. If the bills become law, he’d go. Period.

Addressing a tactic used under Governor Andrew Cuomo, the bills by Seawright and Cuomo also require filling vacated board seats within “60 days,” Seawright announced. Under Cuomo, leaving vacancies unfilled for years tilted the board into a state controlled majority.

But the most interesting twist…

In a clear sign of alienation, RIOC has not disclosed job openings at any level to the community. The Daily stressed that point in conversations with both Serrano and Seawright. In response, the new residency laws include a requirement for “…public posting of Corporation employment vacancies.” Seawright’s version specifies posting vacancies “on the corporation’s website.” That can add a local flavor to RIOC’s workforce if they follow the rules in good faith – never a certainty with this group.

Conclusion: What comes next…?

The new residency laws are a giant step for the community, if they become law. But that is not certain. Now that Seawright and Serrano have gotten the new residency laws into committee – in both houses – they need to shepherd them out among a flock of competing others. Then, they must get them up for votes, which demands working with leadership.

But even after gaining Assembly and Senate approval, what looks like the biggest hurdle awaits. That is, Governor Kathy Hochul must sign them. Hochul has not shown, after five months in office, any interest in changing RIOC. An increasing number of executives are now protected by political patronage, and in an election year where the patrons have greater leverage, the governor may be loathe to muddy the political waters. Her early endorsements for reelection and recent staggering haul in campaign contributions look a lot more like her predecessor’s than any symbol of change.

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