“I was terminated today for having one beer at lunch,” John O’Reilly told The Daily. O’Reilly was, until getting the ax on Tuesday, RIOC’s highly regarded Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. “Seems like they had it out for me,” added, indicating the usual suspects in brutal firings within the state agency.
by David Stone
“I had a beer at lunch and Gretchen (Robinson) banged me in. They were only looking for an excuse. And Tijuana (Sharpe) was all over it because both she and Gretchen had not complied with financial controls.”
Financial controls, of course, were O’Reilly’s responsibility as CFO. We will have more information on those violations in the days ahead.
But while both Chief Counsel Robinson and Human Resources VP Sharpe along with RIOC boss Shelton J. Haynes have been criticized for incompetence on multiple fronts, O’Reilly’s work was cheered repeatedly.
“We hit our targets…”
Hired by then-President/CEO Susan Rosenthal in November 2018, O’Reilly soon turned around the state agency’s shaky finances. Revamping its investment strategy, he increased income so sharply that he was hailed at a board meeting for bringing in enough new revenue to pay his own salary.
During his tenure, he managed several major projects: Southpoint Park Redesign, The Girl Puzzle Nelly Bly memorial, The Lighthouse Restoration, Hope Memorial and the Motorgate restoration. All came in under budget and on time.
Community groups also cited O’Reilly for cleaning up the mess he found in Public Purpose Fund grants. The rules became more sensible, and needy nonprofits got their money faster.
“Financially we hit all our targets,” O’Reilly said. No current or former RIOC executive matches his track record.
But Then, They Got John O’Reilly for Having Lunch
“I had a beer with the LiRo guys. I think Gretchen smelled the beer and called Human Resources,” O’Reilly says. LiRo is RIOC’s “owner’s representative.” They worked closely with the CFO on a daily basis.
“I have witnesses that I had one beer. I was asked to get tested and was well below the impaired limit. I tested .035.”
The driving while impaired limit in New York State is .08, more than double the amount O’Reilly reports that they found in his blood sample.
“Today they told me because of my drinking and because I played golf on my remote day I was terminated. No severance.”
Was It Racism?
Our research will dig into allegations of financial wrongdoing at RIOC as regards this and other actions within RIOC, but although O’Reilly did not mention it, racism may have been a factor in this and other matters involving Haynes.
In any case, racism can’t be dismissed because the statistics strongly suggest it. In fact, The Daily has steered clear of a closer examination because there was always John O’Reilly, a white executive with what seemed a close working relationship with Haynes.
At board meeting after board meeting, O’Reilly led management’s information flow, acting as de facto CEO while Haynes remained in the background, clearly not as aware or well-informed. Haynes, Robinson and Sharpe are each people of color.
Since 2020, a string of high-profile firings, mutually agreed upon terminations and abrupt, unexplained departures have overwhelmingly involved white people. In multiple court cases filed since Haynes took over, former employees accuse RIOC of racism. Members of the community have made similar allegations.
The list is long and includes managers with solid track records whose careers came to an abrupt halt under Haynes. Jonna Carmona-Graf, Terrence McCauley, Deborah Kustka, Amy Smith and now John O’Reilly. The volume of employee lawsuits against RIOC grew to such a level that, this year, RIOC’s insurance carrier refused to renew their policy, sending them scrambling for a replacement.
This is a breaking story, and we will have more on it in the future.