Thinking Small Is Now the Right Strategy for RIOC

Thinking Small Is Now the Right Strategy for RIOC

RIOC was never meant to last forever nor to expand its presence even as its legislated role nears completion. But the state agency has done what bureaucracies always do: bloat. It’s time for a change in direction, getting back on track and right-sizing RIOC.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, Rules & Responsibilities

For more than a year now, RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes bunkered inside historic Blackwell House. His extensive disconnect with the community helped emphasize the state agency’s excesses and shortcomings.

When the New York State Urban Development Corporation handed off Roosevelt Island to RIOC, the assignment was set in law:

“…it is in the public interest that such a public benefit corporation plan, design, develop, operate, maintain and manage Roosevelt Island…” – RIOC Enabling Legislation, 1984.

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The law goes on: “The corporation’s powers shall be limited to carrying out the development, management and operation of Roosevelt Island.”

Government bureaucracies have trouble with limits because an instinct for self-preservation inspires bloat. They absorb the wishes of outside influencers and gain authority beyond their founding intentions.

RIOC is worse at this because state meddling has been restricted to satisfying patronage demands and pleasing political campaign contributors. No mechanism is in place for reining in misconduct or corruption.

And it’s no surprise that the state fiercely resists local democracy for Roosevelt Island. RIOC is a small but golden goose that fits the needs of politicians. Nobody in Albany wants people on Main Street interfering with that.

The result is a tumefied state agency with excess, overpaid staffing dedicated to anything but its founding mission.

How Bureaucracies Harm the Public Interest

The mission creep at RIOC is not without consequence. As the state agency has grown, it’s become more expensive and less efficient while failing to deliver on many fronts.

In a democracy, good government is supposed to be based on the will of the people. But in a bureaucracy, it’s based on self-preservation. The needs of the people are secondary to the needs of the bureaucracy.

In short, because they are not accountable to the people, bureaucracies can often harm the public interest in good government.

Thanking Shelton J. Haynes

In established law, RIOC is “…limited to carrying out the development, management and operation” of Roosevelt Island. A major portion of that – development – is done. The last building is set for groundbreaking this year, leaving the state with just the rump of responsibilities.

So, why does RIOC keep getting bigger and more expensive?

Credit where credit is due, we must thank RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes for taking actions that make the state agency’s shortcomings clear.

With little development left in its mission, under Haynes, RIOC devolved fast into a self-serving bundle of personal agendas. The many accusations of misconduct and corruption were predictable, given the boss’s values and rejection of community input or oversight.

The failures are as stark and painful as they were predictable when Governor Andrew Cuomo oversaw a coup – at least partly inspired by racism – removing Susan Rosenthal and putting Haynes in her place.

Coming Up

With worst-ever RIOC floundering near rock bottom in action while achieving new heights in expense, a long look at operations is due. In the coming weeks, we’ll review the current mess – from board to community frustrations – and how bureaucratic bloating led to it.

And we’ll take a look at what right-sizing RIOC might mean and why a much smaller RIOC makes sense.

Spoiler Alert: The political class won’t like it.

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