Do enablers Make the Shelton J. Haynes Era Possible at RIOC?

Do enablers Make the Shelton J. Haynes Era Possible at RIOC?

Shelton J. Haynes took control of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) in June 2020. Two years ago, according to court documents, he unseated Susan Rosenthal as part of an organized scheme approved in Albany. He had help. He still does.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Shelton J. Haynes and His Enablers

After discouraging resident participation, Shelton J. Haynes delivers a brief tribute on September 11th, 2021.

No doubt Haynes and his supporter see it differently, although that’s hard to tell because of how they’ve walled themselves in. But an aggressive phalanx of adversaries, some of them former allies, tell a story of corruption, intimidation, misuse of funds and more.

They say a loyal team of supporters enables Haynes in a corrupt operation as more details are coming into public view.

“Having worked at RIOC with many Presidents, General Counsels, and other executive staff, I can confidently state that the Current Executives are by far the most corrupt and incompetent individuals ever to run the Corporation,” 15-year RIOC in-house counsel Arthur Eliav wrote in a letter to RIOC’s board.

“The rot begins at the top,” he added

Those “Current Executives,” the enablers, he identifies as “Vice President and General Counsel Gretchen Robinson, Assistant Vice President for Administration Tajuna Sharpe” along with close friend Assistant Vice President for Programs and Operations, Altheria Jackson.

Let’s take a look at the so-called enablers and the offenses Eliav and others attribute to them.

But first. What is an enabler in a system of official corruption?

In general, an enabler is anyone who makes it possible for someone else to continue destructive behavior. It’s often used in the context of addiction, but the term applies to any number of situations where someone close to the abuser props up or covers for bad acts.

Think of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was an enabler, as were Clinton’s loyalists who attacked her and defended him.

In the context of public corruption, an enabler is someone in a position to stop or slow illegal or unethical behavior but instead facilitates it.

That’s how Eliav and others see Haynes’ inner circle at RIOC. They enable his actions by looking the other way, participating or outright carrying out unethical and possibly illegal acts.

Gretchen Robinson, Haynes’ General Counsel & Vice President

Robinson is at the center of much of what’s gone on at RIOC under Haynes. Among other things, Eliav accuses her of illegally withholding information from FOIL requests and even from the Inspector General investigating RIOC operations for evidence of malfeasance.

He cites an incident where The Daily requested “…a document listing all RIOC employees, including executives, and their annual pay.” This information is commonly available as a way of revealing how government works and is always subject to FOIL.

That was in September 2021. But according to a document Eliav filed in his Notice of Claim against the state agency…

“In retaliation for Mr. Stone’s prior requests and sometimes unflattering articles about RIOC management, Robinson had developed an unwritten policy wherein all such requests were routinely subjected to a forty-five-business-day delay, often followed by several additional delays of similar duration, regardless of whether the responsive materials were, or should have been, readily available.”

That, if true, is an unethical violation of the intent of state law.

“Towards the end of Robinson’s internally prescribed period, after consulting with Eliav, the assigned attorney requested that Sharpe provide the requested, and required by law, information,” the Notice continues.

“Robinson resisted turning over the requested, and required by law, information, suggesting at various points that RIOC (a) provide incomplete information; (b) ignore the plain obligations set forth by law; and (c) simply reference an unaffiliated website that purported to have certain of the requested information, but actually reflected a prior year’s budget information.”

Eliav says he “…was forced to get further involved and emailed Robinson that RIOC had to abide by the law and provide the requested documents. After significant back and forth, on or about November 19, 2021, Robinson finally agreed ‘reluctantly though’ to allow for compliance with applicable law.

Is This How the Shelton J. Haynes System Works?

Shelton Haynes
At one time friendly and approachable in public, Haynes is said to behave differently behind closed doors.

Among other things, Haynes disliked the public disclosure of his self-awarded salary. At $216K per year, it exceeds that of every governor in America, except Hochul, the salaries of every Congressman and Senator and more than doubles that of the average salaries of County Executives in New York State, none of which have populations as small as Roosevelt Islands’.

Haynes learned of “the proper, lawful, and required disclosure at the end of the workday on Friday, November 26, 2021.” Less than a week later, in a melee following a contested promotion offer, Eliav was fired without notice, as reported yesterday.

No doubt, Haynes and Robinson would have different spins on this narrative, but therein lies the problem. Despite simple common sense and the public direction of Governor Hochul, RIOC maintains a near-total local media blackout.

They never offer their side of the story. One day, last year, in a chance encounter near Cornell Tech, I tried explaining to Haynes how the blackout hurt RIOC. He easily matched the cliche, going “ballistic.”

In an outburst, he vented that he acted with “the utmost integrity,” and that may be true. But if so, we see little evidence of it countering the many whistleblowers and accusers attacking him.

The “We Deserve Better New York” Summary: Robinson and Haynes

“Gretchen Robinson was previously the Internal Controls Officer. In her current role, she continues to neglect and lack(s) the basic understanding of protecting the Corporation.

“Haynes has asked her to manipulate various laws to his benefit. She believes her role is to appease Haynes. She has received a generous salary increase as one of his loyalists.”

That’s how Robinson is perceived, according to public documents forwarded to the Inspector General, by a group of critical current and former state employees.

Tajuna Sharpe, Assistant Vice President

Although both Eliav and the We Deserve Better group finger Sharpe as a Haynes enabler, there is little concrete evidence against her of any wrongdoing. She plays the role of a loyal executive, doing her boss’s bidding.

“In 2018, Tajuna Sharpe was hired at RIOC as the Director of HR. In September of 2021, Sharpe was promoted to Assistant Vice President of Administration. As a trusted advisor, Sharpe aided Haynes in the cover-up of the death at Sportspark.

“She made sure to remove Altheria Jackson as the employee overseeing Sportspark and assign the maintenance supervisor to the facility.”

Other than that, the worst said about her is an alleged failure at doing exit interviews of departing managers and a breakdown in the system of mandatory annual reviews. Those may be incompetent as well as enabling by eliminating public records, but they are also unconfirmed.

Assistant Vice President, Programs and Operations, Altheria Jackson

Jackson sparks a lot of resentment, not because of anything she has done, but for numerous promotions and salary increases that co-workers believe are unjustified.

Under the heading “Cronyism,” the whistleblower group devotes an entire section to her.

“First met during Haynes’ college days in Virginia, Jackson has stayed close to Haynes, residing near him, his wife and their four children both in Georgia and now in New York City.

“RIOC would make the third time that Jackson and Haynes have worked together, moving states to do so.

“Having only a high school diploma and experience as a clerical assistant for a housing voucher program in Georgia, Jackson was hired at RIOC in January of 2019 as the Director of Operations after Tajuna Sharpe, the Assistant Vice President of Administration (formerly the Director of HR), was tasked by Haynes to post the position with watered down requirements.

“This role came with an annual salary of $105K. All other candidates interviewed for the role had extensive and impressive resumes…

“Within a year of her employment, Haynes created the role of Assistant Vice President of Special Programs & Operations for Jackson, providing a salary increase of $35K.

Jackson now has five Directors under her management and makes $160K.

“Jackson rarely writes emails other than to robotically write “acknowledged” to almost all correspondences. When she does, she often makes spelling and grammar mistakes, which quickly became a source of mockery among staff.”

Eliav calls her “…probably the most egregious example of the promotion of seemingly unqualified personnel and the creation of positions solely to provide such promotions…”

The Results of Shelton J. Haynes and His Enablers

An unrelenting flood of complaints about RIOC’s failures at managing Roosevelt Island’s development and operations seems an inevitable result of these patterns.

Instead of concerns about the community, RIOC seems internally preoccupied with who gets the most goodies from money collected from residents and local businesses. In reading through the complaints against Haynes and his loyalists, the greatest shock for an outsider is the utter absence of consideration about how all this – the bickering, the self-serving operations, the endless negligence – affects those who live here.

That goes for both pro- and anti-Haynes forces. It should sicken anyone researching what’s happened to RIOC and Roosevelt Island since Haynes’s arrival.

There are traffic hazards resulting in multiple people, including a child, hit by cars on Main Street. And the choking taxes laid on residents forced to pay RIOC for services for which they’ve already paid the state. The devastation of trees, including the iconic cherry trees… The refusal to let residents enjoy the public park space they paid for on the 4th of July… Vastly reduced celebrations like the deflated Roosevelt Island Day… the list goes on.

A Conclusion

The question of whether Haynes and his loyalists deserve all the blame for these failures is one we can’t answer. But they haven’t contributed anything to solving them.

We’ve focused on those at or near the top, but there are many more names in the complaint who share responsibility for what’s gone wrong at RIOC. The goal here isn’t to tar and feather individuals but rather to hold Haynes and those closest to him accountable for the culture of cronyism, incompetence and self-dealing that has come to characterize RIOC under their leadership.

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