Inspector General Complaints against RIOC became critical, this year, as the secretive state agency grew more remote, operating less like a public agency than a personal, protected property owner.
by David Stone
Hiding Behind Governor Hochul’s Empty Promises
Governor Kathy Hochul runs RIOC. Her name appears at the top of the letterhead. Although lieutenants in the Executive Chamber in Albany do the work, they work for her, and she is responsible for them.
When she took office in August, replacing Andrew Cuomo, she promised changes. Importantly, she said she’d require greater transparency and accountability from state agencies, including RIOC. Whether she was blowing smoke or the message never trickled down to Roosevelt Island, the facts on the ground grew worse. The local state agency is hunkered down like an obsessed feudal prince hiding his gold in a dungeon while invaders bang on the doors overhead.
Media inquiries and even Freedom of Information Law Requests go unfulfilled for months on end, and there is no route of appeal. The elected officials all know about it, but they can’t pry RIOC’s locks off the doors. Who knows what’s inside so worth hiding?
That’s what we’re hoping the Inspector General complaints will find out.
A Suspicious and Expensive Headquarters Move
Our fourth Inspector General complaint involves a suspicious move from 591 to 542 Main Street, last summer. It meant a change of landlords and, for the first time ever, paying rent.
For 45 years after its inception, RIOC worked rent free out of space in Westview. During their last lease renewal, RIOC agreed that, if their projected new home in Southtown wasn’t ready, they’d pay Westview $110,000 annual rent. They mutually deemed that appropriate for the space.
When their new home appeared nowhere near ready in 2021, RIOC instead spurned discussions with Westview, moving instead to vacated space at 542 Main, the former home of the New York Public Library and, briefly, Swift Emergency Medical.
Why make that move?
In a RIOC board meeting, Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson said it was simply economics. The new landlord, Hudson-Related, offered 542 Main at $76,000 per year, much less that the Westview deal. But neither Robinson or CEO Shelton J. Haynes nor anyone else on the staff attempted any negotiations with Westview. That was a critical misstep because, whille no one knows how Westview would react, RIOC plunged straight into an unsatisfactory arrangement with H-R.
Here are the issues posed in our Inspector General complaint:
- Robinson’s price comparison was suspect because 542 Main Street offered far less square footage, so much so that RIOC confiscated numerous community spaces to meet their needs. It wasn’t like peaches vs apples as much as it was between apples and grapes. This was not publicly reported to the board.
- Although there was no known competition for 542, RIOC agreed to pay Hudson-Related triple what NYPL paid for exactly the same space. That’s according to RIOC’s own records; so, they must have known. Why was RIOC handing over $40,000 more per year than the previous long term tenant? (H-R charged Swift only $1 monthly as a public gesture supporting COVID testing.)
We don’t know if the Inspector General, appointed by Hochul, will be anymore accountable and trustworthy than the governor has been, but we’re hopeful. There’s at least a fair chance that we might get some insight into whatever Hochul’s RIOC operation has been up to.
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