Now a step closer to local RIOC control. Seawright bill passes


Local control is an American ideal for governing. Residents paying the bills should have a strong say in how their money is spent. Roosevelt Islanders have been denied that, but now state assembly member Rebecca Seawright forces a step in the right direction.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Local Control and How It Works – Or Doesn’t

For decades, Roosevelt Island has seen the most un-democratic of governing practices. All important decisions are made in Albany with little local input. Worse yet, no process for change exists. But a bill championed by State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright seeks a new day. It passed its first hurdle, yesterday, approved in her chamber.

Seawright in Lighthouse Park for The Girl Puzzle Opening.

Here is what she said, last evening…

“I’m pleased that the voice of the residents of Roosevelt Island will not only be heard but also be a force on the board for constructive change. We are one step closer to achieving that goal. Given the Roosevelt Island community’s unique governance structure under a State Public Benefit Corporation, resident perspectives and voices must be represented on RIOC’s board of directors.”

And she is right. It is just “one step.” Fully and fairly untangling the mess will take time, but finally, someone is tackling it. In fact, two are. State Senator José Serrano has a similar bill before his chamber.

In talks with The Daily, Serrano as well as Seawright expressed firm support of reforming RIOC, giving residents real authority. Governor Kathy Hochul’s position is unknown, but she has, so far, turned a blind eye as local conditions worsened. If Serrano’s and Seawright’s efforts pay off, they will need Hochul’s signature.

State Senator José Serrano on Roosevelt Island Day.

What Does the Bill Do?

Seawright’s bill tackles a pair of longstanding issues while breaking ground on another.

Five of the nine appointees to the board must reside on the island

This is similar to the current law, but additional provisions protect the rule from abuses practiced under Governor Cuomo. “The governor appoints four resident board members. The mayor appoints one resident board member.”

Clarifying residency requirements for the Board of Directors

The significant thing here is that it calls for their immediate resignation if they move off the Island. Last year, Cuomo crony Dave Kappel stayed on the board for two years after moving away. This tilted the balance away from local power, giving Albany more remote control.

Provide for the appointment of a successor within 60 days when a board vacancy occurs within an unexpired term

Bigger than it first seems, this strengthens local control by keeping resident seats in place. During Cuomo’s tenure, vacated seats stayed vacant for years, depriving residents of critical input and creating an Albany majority.

Require the posting of job vacancies on the corporation’s website

Here, Seawright breaks new ground. Both she and Serrano were surprised that RIOC shuns local involvement by failing to post job openings locally. This not only denies residents access to state jobs, it keeps local influence out of locker rooms and cubicles.

Seawright took a bow on Twitter.

The Future for Local Control

A separate bill requires Roosevelt Island residency for RIOC’s chief executive. If he or she does not already live on the Island, he or she must move within one year. But some things are still missing. Number one, residents still have no say in who fills even the local board seats. Under a previous administration, residents voted, and the state honored their choices. Cuomo ended that, and the results – a pathetic array of irresponsible Yes Men – harms local control indefinitely.

But before next steps are considered, the first – bills sponsored by Seawright and Serrano – must pass both houses and reach Hochul’s desk. And she must sign. That’s a start toward local control and a strong one.

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