RIOC’s fool is not what anyone expected of Governor Kathy Hochul when she took office in August 2021. She came on strong. She promised transparency from state agencies. Then, later, she pledged to speed up FOIL requests. But the opposite happened at the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), although her name appears at the top of the letterhead.
by David Stone
Straight out of the gate, Hochul contrasted herself with the opaque administration of Andrew Cuomo. She demanded that every state agency and public benefit corporation submit a transparency plan. It must show how they’d improve transparency and public outreach.
We’ve seen a plan from RIOC chief Shelton J. Haynes that landed with the governor in draft form, but nothing final turned up. The draft was a defective embarrassment, but neither it nor any future version changed anything with the bunkered state agency.
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A local media blackout persists for over two years, and freedom of information requests, critical to government transparency, are rarely fulfilled. Some FOILs have gone unanswered for well over a year.
Curiosity is strong over Hochul’s failure or inability to reign in Haynes or RIOC. “How can he continue on?” one local asked after a flurry of accusations again him.
The fact is that he can’t without Hochul’s protection, but that leaves a mystery unsolved.
RIOC’s Fool? Defying Transparency
To show how thorough and intense the RIOC information block is, we reviewed our history of foiled FOIL requests. All these critical requests have been allowed to stand under Hochul’s watch.
- Nearly two years ago after Robinson acted to put WFF out of business, we asked in a FOIL, “Please identify and provide a clear copy of the State regulation cited as requiring rental payment for land used by the Wildlife Freedom Foundation sanctuaries and any documentation concerning how it was determined, after fifteen years, that rent must be charged. Please provide dates for the regulation and/or legislation.” We never received an answer.
- On June 8th, 2021, we asked for all relevant documents concerning a May drowning in Sportspark’s pool. Not a single document, Public Safety report or even the victim’s name has been provided. A video of the incident exists but was never released.
- In August last year, we asked for documentation related to switching from an approved contract with Fitzgerald & Halliday to one with Langan Engineering that resulted in a catastrophic remaking of Southpoint Park. No document or email detailing the decision has ever been received.
- In May 2021, we requested documentation on the suspicion-inspiring setup of a Swift Emergency Medical COVID Rapid Testing Site. An initial response raised numerous red flags, but RIOC refused to provide any remaining material. We have about 35% of what should be available, and it was enough to create a three-part investigative series. What’s in the rest?
- In December 2021, after being tipped off by an informant that Haynes engaged in outside work while employed by RIOC, we asked for any requests from Haynes or consent mandated by the state before engaging in such work. We have not received any nor a reason, but the basis seems obvious.
Assuming that Governor Hochul was not RIOC’s fool and would come through on her promises, we waited, but none of these have been updated in any way since May of this year.
Testing the waters this month, we sent RIOC several simple FOIL requests that were intentionally easy.
- RIOC’s formal Freedom of Information Law policy.
- Any performance evaluations for fired Vice President/Chief Financial Officer John O’Reilly.
- Resumes on file for CEO Shelton J. Haynes, AVP Altheria Jackson and AVP Akeem Jamal.
Going to folders in a cabinet, making copies and emailing them requires less than an hour’s work for any of these. But we got pushback with a minimum 30-day delay on all three anyway.
In the heat of an election campaign, can Hochul continue playing RIOC’s fool in public for much longer? To whose benefit?