RIOC communications nosedived last week, exposing a lack of awareness or skills that serves no one well. At this sorry point, it stops the bunkered state agency from getting credit even when it does well.
by David Stone
“Did anyone tell you about the giveaway?” asked Roosevelt Island Disabled Association (RIDA) President Wendy Hersh. Hersh had been away in Florida with her family for the past month.
“Never heard of it.”
“Nobody does anything when I’m not here,” she said before swinging into action.
With only a single day’s notice, posters circulated online about a backpack giveaway. The sponsors were RIDA and RIOC. And RIOC suggested that people come out for music and fun.
But RIOC communications never informed anyone about what the event was supposed to be or who sponsored a large-scale giveaway of backpacks and school supplies. It was a good deed all around, but nobody got much credit.
RIOC never sent out a press release with details, and whoever put up the funds or goods never took a bow.
The Falling Apart History of RIOC Communications
At a RIOC board meeting, then-President/CEO Susan Rosenthal said she was hiring the state agency’s first Public Information Officer. She noted that RIOC communications were lacking, and she wanted to change that.
In early 2018, Alonza Robertson came on board. Robertson was a seasoned veteran with nothing but kudos from his past work. But in my many conversations with him, I realized he didn’t know that he was hanging his hat in a snakepit.
Forced to represent, then retract lies he got from the embedded staff, he struggled to maintain media relations. He was an honest professional, and although that may have been what Rosenthal wanted, members of her staff didn’t.
Just a year later, Robertson was gone. He was replaced by another professional with fifteen years of experience in state government.
Terrence McCauley was just what RIOC needed. Working closely with Rosenthal while staying wary of the internal poisons circulating nearby, he upgraded RIOC communications. Regular email blasts kept Roosevelt Islanders informed about projects and upcoming events.
Although he kept it under cover during his days with RIOC, Terrence McCauley is an award-winning writer whose flow of new works increased after being freed from RIOC. You can learn more about this remarkable man that Roosevelt Island lost on his website.
By all accounts, McCauley worked well enough with the staff that undermined Robertson and, it turned out, were gunning for Rosenthal. A lot of people on RIOC’s bloated payroll weren’t there for the work; they were there for the drama.
By 2020, McCauley’s skills were even more valuable as he played a pivotal role as leadership handled the growing disaster of COVID-19. Daily updates went out with the latest information plus guidance.
Sadly, though, even the pandemic couldn’t pause the internal attack machine, and by mid-year, they succeeded in getting Rosenthal canned.
The Downhill Slide After Rosenthal’s Dismissal
Professionalism and accountability have been in decline since Shelton J. Haynes replaced Rosenthal. Among several strange moves, he almost immediately placed Community Liaison Erica Spencer-EL in charge of all RIOC communications, including supervision of McCauley.
Spencer-EL had no known qualifications for the role, and rather than risk his professional reputation, McCauley bowed out rather than take directions from her.
By year’s end, guided by Haynes, Spencer-EL made a buffoonish presentation before RIOC’s board, claiming the RIOC communications were all about “branding and marketing.” The sheepish, uninvolved board of enablers nodded and continued chewing their cuds.
The alleged Communications Team bumbled along from there, but within a year and a half, Haynes got rid of all of them too.
The results have been poorly attended, reduced events and some traditions abandoned altogether. And of course, the backpack giveaway is a prime example.
Who sponsored the generous giveaway? Why didn’t notices go out sooner? Why work with the Disabled Association instead of a more appropriate Parents Network or the Common Council which has an education committee?
We remain in the dark as Governor Kathy Hochul continues embracing RIOC’s deepening, anti-community bunker.