For more than a year, we resisted telling the story of Shelton Haynes and Altheria Jackson. The pair, longtime friends, occupy top rungs on the executive ladder at RIOC, overseeing Roosevelt Island. But new details kept rolling in.
Finally, we decided that withholding what we know is not in the public interest, and it isn’t fair, especially to those adversely affected by the relationship. And that’s pretty much everyone who lives and/or works on Roosevelt Island.
by David Stone
Starting with Shelton J. Haynes’s Mysterious Hiring
Although Shelton J. Haynes arrived at RIOC as President Charlene Indelicato’s last hire in 2016, Altheria Jackson did not follow until 2019. Both hirings were controversial and had serious and generally negative consequences.
When Haynes was introduced at a Board of Directors committee meeting during Indelicato’s final month, Margie Smith, then a Director, repeated a complaint. Governor Cuomo’s Executive Chamber in Albany was again usurping the Board’s authority to hire and fire.
For years, Smith and other Board Members pleaded with Albany to, at least, give them a list of three approved candidates to pick from. After all, the law enabling RIOC charged them with authority for hiring and firing.
But that was denied again, and despite their objections, the committee voted to hire Haynes.
But they knew little more than the man’s name.
The full board, spineless as ever under Cuomo, also shortly followed the distant leader.
“I couldn’t believe he was even at RIOC in his first role given the expansive roles and responsibilities that it requires,” says an individual who has known Haynes since his time in Atlanta.
Was Haynes Qualified for Any RIOC Position?
You’d expect the answer to be an obvious, “Yes,” but it isn’t. The political patronage operation run by Team Cuomo was always more interested in votes than talent.
“While at DeKalb Co. Housing Authority, he started as a Director over their housing voucher program and then claimed to be promoted to COO,” our contact wrote.
During his tenure at DeKalb, tax returns never list him as a key executive nor is there any evidence that a Chief Operating Officer position even exists within their executive structure.
“He was surely in cahoots with the CEO at the time as he told me several times that they were cool and he did whatever he told him to do,” our informant claims.
What Are a Chief Operating Officer’s Responsibilities?
The answer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, is “planning, directing, and coordinating operational activities of companies and organizations.”
But then, why wasn’t Haynes on the DeKalb County Housing Authority’s federal tax filings where key officials are reported to the IRS?
Early on during his time at RIOC, Haynes shadowed an outside hire, Robert Russo, earning $175/hr, who appeared to be the de facto COO.
It was most obvious at Board meetings where Russo, not Haynes, stepped up to the podium and reported on projects while Haynes stood or sat behind him. With committees, the real COO sat quietly while the outside hire did what should be his job. Haynes did nod his head in agreement, once in a while.
Russo moved on after the state agency contracted with LiRo as “Owners Representative,” overseeing the many projects fired up after Cornell Tech paid RIOC over $20 million for property rights in building their campus.
Leaving DeKalb Under a Cloud
“I am not sure of claims of him leaving there (DeKalb County Housing Authority) were for the misappropriation of funds,” our contact from Georgia says, “but we all heard back from employees at DeKalb that he left after some sexual harassment scandal involving one of his direct reports.”
A whistleblower letter forwarded to the New York State Inspector General implied Haynes misappropriated money from the voucher program he managed. But there is no evidence supporting that.
HUD, the federal agency overseeing how funds are managed, did find serious flaws in how the program he operated ran, but no thefts were implied. Although Haynes was not named personally, he had overall responsibility for the program HUD said was mismanaged. The Housing Authority sacrificed over a million dollars after the HUD audit.
RIOC’s website: “Mr. Haynes previously served as Chief Operating Officer at the Housing Authority of DeKalb County in Georgia, where he oversaw all agency operations, strategic and operational initiatives as well as the executive management team.”
As reported earlier, that cannot be verified.
Along Came Altheria Jackson
Although she did not follow Haynes to New York for more than two years, whistleblowers say efforts at getting her a job at RIOC started earlier.
Haynes, they say, tried convincing then-President Susan Rosenthal to create an all-new job title, Chief of Staff. But she rejected it because there was no need.
He persisted, though.
“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,” according to an extensive whistleblower complaint.
“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.”
Jackson’s last reported salary before that, $38K, was discovered in her bankruptcy filing in 2010.
But she advanced quickly…
“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,” the insiders claim in a letter aimed at elected officials as well as the Inspector General.
“Jackson now has five directors under her management and makes $160K.”
Current and former employees who have worked with Jackson were unsparing.
“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. She has admitted to staffers she is eager to learn, has also shared, that they should explain all tasks as they would to a child in order for her to comprehend.”
Under Jackson’s and Haynes’s reign over RIOC, performance has been shoddy, at best. Numerous accusations of mismanagement and even criminal activities have erupted as at no other time in the state agency’s history.
More than a dozen managers have been forced out, some after as little as a month on board, others with tenures of over 15 years.
About Shelton and Altheria
“I worked with him @ Atlanta Housing Authority and it was there that the ‘talk’ began that he and Altheria were in a relationship.”
But what kind of relationship?
Although it’s been suggested by multiple informants contacting The Daily, no evidence exists – to our knowledge – of a romantic relationship between Haynes and Jackson. One ex-employee we talked with was surprised at learning that the pair had any special relationship at all.
But a partnership need not be intimate to be powerful. Or when exploited, damaging.
Unjustified salary increases are always bad, internally as well as externally. Within RIOC, tensions are high, and no executive there has ever sparked the level of animosity Haynes has. A lot of that derives from anger over what many feel is preferential treatment afforded Jackson without justification.
Jackson herself, in person, is warm and instantly likable. That, though, in and of itself, does not qualify anyone for a six-figure salary – at the expense of residents not allowed any say in the matter.
And to be clear, RIOC’s performance has been shoddy throughout Haynes’s tenure as Chief Executive. Considering Jackson’s extensive range of authority – she oversees five departments – her contributions to the underperformance are significant.
For example, Jackson was responsible for Sportspark when a failure to provide pool supervision accompanied a drowning. According to witnesses, Haynes scrambled frantically to cover up her involvement.
And currently, she is the executive involved in denying access to Southpoint Park for the upcoming 4th of July celebrations.
It’s difficult to overstate the level of dysfunction and instability that Jackson and Haynes have injected into RIOC. Their leadership has been marked by cronyism, nepotism, and a general disregard for the needs of residents.
The two need to be removed from their positions immediately for RIOC to begin the long process of rebuilding. But that, of course, depends on responsible actions from Governor Kathy Hochul and what has been, so far, a hapless Board of Directors unwilling to do their jobs for years.
Prospects are not bright.
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