For RIOC, the Mystery of a Grim April 2022 Board Meeting

From the moment it powered up in Zoom, RIOC’s April 2022 board meeting felt grim and weighty. Chair RuthAnne Visnauskas’s stand-in was in such darkness, you had to take for granted he was speaking. And longest-standing member David Kraut was clearly in a hospital room.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The Brief April 2022 Board Meeting

misted window with question mark
Photo by Julia Filirovska on Pexels.com

The mystery or mysteries of the April 2022 Board Meeting started early when RIOC emailed an advisory saying it would be almost entirely held in secret. An indecipherable world salad of reasons justified a meeting set up solely for an “executive session.”

When any New York State agency gathers a quorum for considering business, laws make public availability a must. But there are exceptions, and RIOC came up with every one they could manage:

“Discussion of the medical, financial, credit or employment history of a particular person or corporation, or matters leading to the appointment, employment, promotion, demotion, discipline, suspension, dismissal or removal of a particular person or corporation..”

Once your eyes stop spinning, you know they’re wildly dodging any revealing information.

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When they turned on the lights, the official group was smaller than usual. All of the voting board members were present, plus President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson. All were grim and unsmiling.

And there was no happy talk, no greetings, although David Kraut was visibly inside a hospital room curtain. No one asked him about his health or wished him well. It was like a woman walking down Main Street with nobody noticing she had a banana sticking out of her ear.

It was weird. And rushed. The Chair, lost in darkness, showed a “Let’s get this over with” attitude and nobody objected or slowed it down. Roll was called, and darkness quickly followed.

Anyone looking for signs about what they were hiding didn’t get much, leaving everything open for speculation.

Soooo, let’s speculate…

Speculation centered around the firing of Erica Spencer-EL, a 17-year employee who, it was rumored, engaged in a power struggle with Haynes. And lost.

RIOC does not can people for poor performance, and there is no solid evidence that Spencer-EL was fired. She may have quit or transferred or, since she’s still listed as RIOC’s media contact, stayed on. RIOC’s extreme and embarrassing embrace of secrecy leaves everyone guessing.

In any case, it’s unlikely the board would call a meeting over her dismissal. Numerous others have been kicked out – from CEO Susan Rosenthal to 19-year employee Karline Jean – without the board’s involvement. Not impossible, but unlikely.

The attack on Haynes

The other, more reasonable possibility: consideration of numerous charges of misconduct lodged against Haynes. Maybe they allowed him what they never allowed Rosenthal – a chance to defend himself.

Multiple investigations by the Inspector General have been underway in recent months, and last month, a frustrated group of inside whistleblowers released a ten page letter of accusations, demanding that Haynes and others be immediately removed.

Haynes is one of a small group in which board approval is required for actions involving his employment. It’s far from certain, but from the tone of the event and recent events, its the most likely of possibilities.

We promise to keep you posted with any updates.

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