RIOC: OMNY Stalled, Insurer Quits Over Employee Lawsuits

RIOC: OMNY Stalled, Insurer Quits Over Employee Lawsuits

Whatever else RIOC is, it’s really bad at showing itself in the best possible light. Good things get done – the recent tree plantings, for one – but secrecy hides most of it. And questions arise over what the state agency is hiding, good and bad.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

RIOC’s June 8th Audit Committee, Bad News Leaked Through

Shelton Haynes with Erica Spencer-EL, September 11th, 2021
17 year veteran Erica Spencer-EL (L) with Shelton J. Haynes on September 11th, 2021, was among the many abrupt, unexplained departures under Haynes.

Audit and other board committee meetings are critical elements in opening up the state agency’s internal deliberations because they are a prelude to full board approvals. The prelude is really where the action happens. Once the committee approves, the full board nods, “Yes,” as reliably as bobbleheads.

New York State agency board members accept a defined level of accountability. Their responsibilities include knowing what’s going on within their agency and, as fiduciaries, safeguarding the interests of the people who depend on them. The latter is a core element in serving the public trust.

But with RIOC, the board routinely gets an “F” because seldom is any real depth of understanding evident and because the board is routinely content to swallow whatever thin gruel executives spoon up for them.

Because RIOC under Shelton J. Haynes maintains a posture of extreme secrecy, withholding documents and negotiating in secret, we can’t tell you much about the final audited budget. That’s, from any point of view, bad, and not just for the public – for RIOC too.

Withholding vital information from Roosevelt Islanders footing all the bills and paying the salaries is both foolish and suspicious. Unless there is something to hide, it serves no one.

But two significant things leaked out. And both make RIOC look bad.

OMNY for the Tram is Going Nowhere. Fast.

Discussing a budget shortfall caused by lower than expected Tram ridership, CFO John O’Reilly told the committee that discussions had not even begun for a contract bringing OMNY card readers to the Tram.

The current contract covers only MetroCards and is so out of date that it allows the MTA to walk away with around $1 million in RIOC revenue it doesn’t earn. But RIOC has shown little urgency about it because, truth be told, they are so awash in excess revenue they waste more millions every year.

Committee chair Howard Polivy did meekly ask about it but tailed off with a readymade excuse, letting RIOC off the hook for answering. He mumbled about how good it would have been to have an escalator clause in the old contract. But as usual, no one was held accountable for the failure that persisted for ten years.

O’Reilly said that the MTA was in control – a peculiar admission – and that they vaguely promised discussions sometime this summer. OMNY for the Tram is not expected until at least next winter.

That’s an awful piece of intergovernmental dysfunction that seemed to trouble no one. It’s not their money, after all. It’s yours.

Haynes Employee Chaos Costs Actual Cash

President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes’s spate of hirings and firings has been in the news almost from the day he took charge. But O’Reilly suggested to the committee the the dismissals were all justified. He and Haynes, though, may be alone in that assessment.

But he added, “Anyone can file a lawsuit,” suggesting some of those filed against Haynes are frivolous. No one on the committee checked him on this or the extreme rate of management turnover.

No names were given, but RIOC watchers are aware of many suddenly disappeared as if sucked up by UFOs. Some are suing, and that’s costly.

While O’Reilly and apparently Haynes, who did not attend, find the multiple employment lawsuits of small concern, RIOC’s insurance carrier doesn’t. Beset with much greater than expected risk under Haynes, their current carrier quit the account.

This sent O’Reilly’s department scrambling for a replacement. Because RIOC withheld all the relevant documents, The Daily can’t reliably report on any increased costs. But one big thing changed.

The new carrier, Chubb, refused to accept the $250,000 deductible RIOC previously enjoyed. Now, the state will have to eat a million dollars in disgruntled employee claims before the insurance covers any of it.

If this shocked the board, it wasn’t evident, but it’s clear that objective underwriters do not buy O’Reilly’s rosy outlook on the Haynes employee debacles.

Audit Committee Shrouded in Secrecy. Again.

If records that are scheduled to be discussed during an open meeting are available under FOIL or consist of a proposed resolution, law, rule, regulation, policy or any amendment thereto, the record is required to be made available…

“Records to be discussed, New York State Right To Know Handbook

Moreover, RIOC’s public announcement said, “To review board materials, notices and minutes, please go to: www.rioc.ny.gov/336/Meetings-Notices.”

But no board materials were ever released. The Daily asked President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and General Council Gretchen Reynolds as well as the entire board about it by email before the meeting began. But not one person responded.

Wrapping Up

The board committee’s nonchalant acceptance of escalating costs coupled with shaky performance continues serving Roosevelt Islanders badly. A recent change, adding Fay Christian to the board, is not nearly enough. Governor Kathy Hochul must do more.

Hochul promised greater accountability and transparency, but RIOC has gone in the other direction. Some of the shenanigans under Haynes would have embarrassed Andrew Cuomo and his team.

This dims hopes for a more community-oriented RIOC and accountability in respect for the $25 million-plus Roosevelt Islanders are assessed each year, paying RIOC’s expenses.

Kick in a few bucks and help The Daily meet expenses.

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