Understanding what went wrong – again – with distributing public purpose funds starts with a single point. It’s an aggravating factor that’s existed for years. RIOC knows it but won’t fix it. While showing extraordinary generosity to its executives, the state agency under Governor Kathy Hochul is an unsparing cheapskate when it comes to the community.
by David Stone
What Went Wrong? RIOC, New York Community Trust and Deception
Updates: NYCT/RIOC Victims The Carter Burden Network and World Wildlife Foundation responded: CBN took the high road in a respectful statement and WFF simply said, “No, thanks,” to the combined “generosity” of the New York Community Trust and RIOC.
RIOC’s kinda like Frank Cross, Bill Murray’s stingy character in Scrooged. A highly paid TV network exec, he hands out cheap handtowels as Christmas gifts, including to his own brother. By the movie’s end, Cross has an epiphany and changes his ways, ala Dickens, but that won’t happen here unless some ghosts show up and haunt the cheapskates.
By making struggling nonprofits scramble for an embarrassingly small – at least, it should be embarrassing – pot of cash, RIOC forces them to battle each other because there isn’t nearly enough to go around.
Mostly, it’s genial but hopelessly degrading, begging for money while the state agency slaps itself on the back after releasing a trickle of generosity.
For the record, RIOC is legally free to give away 3% of its operating budget in support of nonprofits. That’s over $900,000, but they cough up only $150,000, just 16% of what they can. Multiple RIOC executives make more than that as individuals.
What’s missing? Heart, for one thing, and that’s a key to what went wrong again, this year.
Inept Design, But Why?
At first glance, the changes RIOC made in the public purpose fund granting process look good. Getting it out of the hands of a bungling stew of Residents Association Common Council members and RIOC employees, all with agendas and axes to grind, was good.
That’s been clearly explained, and the net result was the board’s stepping in and fixing the annual messes at the last minute.
For 2022, without community input, a secret decision process ended up recruiting New York Community Trust to handle everything, end to end, for three years.
New York Community Trust (NYCT) is a highly respected, much larger organization than RIOC with a good reputation for handling and distributing funds.
The only trouble is that NYCT doesn’t seem to know or care much about Roosevelt Island. And nobody outside RIOC’s bunker knows how they were chosen. Hochul, from the day she took office, promised transparency, but it’s a joke here. Not the funny kind.
The “Advisory Committee”
“The Trust convened an independent, five-person advisory committee made up of members of the Roosevelt Island community to review applications and make grant recommendations,” RIOC says, but it’s a lie.
“The committee members live or work on the island; have nonprofit and/or public service experience; and reflect race, age, and gender diversity,” RIOC adds, but that’s not true either.
As a final dodge, RIOC explains, “Members were anonymous during the review period to keep the process fair and confidential.” How exactly does more of the state’s extreme secrecy do anything more than seal off community input until it’s too late and the deal is done?
While multiple untruths are apparent in RIOC’s claims, for no known purpose, except deception, we really don’t know how this group was selected.
- Carlos Chavez, manager, Roosevelt Island Library
- Katherine Teets Grimm, MD, pediatrician, Roosevelt Island Pediatrics, Mt. Sinai
- Jennifer Ifil-Ryan, global director of experience at Nike; former director of education at The High Line
- Sharon Pope-Marshall, executive director of CIVITAS; Community Board 8 member
- Carl Weisbrod, senior advisor at HR&A Advisors; former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission
What Went Wrong? The Advisory Committee
After scratching your head, the first thing that jumps out is that only three of the five members live here. But it’s even worse because, although Roosevelt Island has nine distinct residential communities, every resident member lives in just one of them: Rivercross.
No complaints with Rivercross, but how is that diverse?
Another instant WTF is the bizarre lack of diversity. Roosevelt Island’s Asian population is around 30% according to the 2020 Census, but there is not a single Asian member of the Advisory Committee. Other demographics are bulked up, filling the gap.
As far as members go, no one is likely to find fault in choosing Dr. Grimm. She’s been deeply invested in the community for years, including serving on RIOC’s board after being voted in by residents.
Sharon Pope-Marshall also has a lot of community experience, from President of the Residents Association in the 1990s to Community Board 8 in recent years.
But the other three… Really?
Weisbrod’s a resident, but who can point out his role in any community activity? As a career political operative, what does he know about the struggles of our local nonprofits?
And the nonresidents…
Carlos Chavez, by all accounts, is a capable and well-liked library manager. Although not a full-time community member, he gets involved, but that’s naturally limited. He belongs to another community, one where he lives. He has limited time during working hours for engaging with residents outside his work.
Why was he chosen over dozens of community volunteers and activists? Who knows? It’s not that Chavez might be unfair. That’s unlikely, but informed? Of course, he isn’t. Far less so than many who call Roosevelt Island “home.”
But Jennifer Ifil-Ryan takes the cake. A successful career with Nike doesn’t translate into Roosevelt Island insight. Unlike RIOC’s even vaguest claims, a deep dive into her LinkedIn and Facebook pages shows a bright, popular and effective professional… with not a single connection to Roosevelt Island.
And inexplicably, despite the obvious flaws, the Advisory Committee never met with any of the nonprofit applicants, never giving one of them a chance to make their case, face to face.
So, how well-informed could they be?
What Went Wrong Wrap Up
Just about everything did. Instead of another bumbling RIRA/RIOC screw-up, Roosevelt Island got a hybrid mess that apparently is not accountable to the community or anyone else.
Toss in the disgraceful stinginess, and this all smells like a RIOC agenda, punishing critics and favoring loyalists while finding a way of letting an outside agency take the hit.
It just sorta fits, doesn’t it?
But this is no joke. One nonprofit, popular among residents, and filing a singular gap in need, is threatened with going out of business. Replacing the Wildlife Freedom Foundation will mean either spending a lot more money for RIOC, doing it themselves, or simply abandoning a decades-long commitment to the Island’s animals.
The Advisory Committee awarded WFF a paltry $1,000 for 365 days of essential work, a slap in the face and potentially a fatal blow. Another critic, the Roosevelt Island Historical Society, famous for filling in where RIOC fails, got slashed in half.
But possibly the unkindest cut was to the Carter Burden Network, a highly regarded group that built the first senior center in Manhattan. CBN rushed into Roosevelt Island in an emergency in 2016 after the city Inspector General caught the Roosevelt Island Senior Association robbing seniors blind. The Advisory Committee, in its wisdom, stripped $10,000 from CBN and gave it to You Know Who, the group that never confessed but lied about all the stealing on their watch.
We don’t know what RIOC had in mind, and maybe, NYCT is simply stupid but well-promoted. But we do know it was unfair, supported by lies and that this is not the best of Roosevelt Island, not by a long shot.
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