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At RIOC, a Return to In-Person Board Meetings and the Lying


Although there was plenty of misdirection and evasion as RIOC staged its first in-person post-COVID board meeting, we’ll focus on the worst of the lying. It was a return to tradition for the Shelton J. Haynes administration.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The lying started right out of the gate… or, on second thought, was it just incompetence? We know that RIOC is fraught at the highest levels with Elbow from Ass Distinction Disorder (EADD). Use that as background, but here’s what happened.

Before the meeting began, Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson said that no one had registered to speak publicly to the board. Hunh? It was unusual. But hey, they might just as well plunge right into the agenda without any of those pesky, complaining residents.

Here’s the problem: RIOC never opened up any chance for speakers with public comments.

As this screenshot proves, RIOC never updated its “Speak at a Meeting” option after Zoom meetings ended. This form allows comments that are later read by someone else at the meetings. The is no option for registering to speak in person. Now, four days later, it is unchanged.

Maybe this was consistent with the lying tradition, but what was it? Incompetence? Indifference?

For certain, it’s not a simple thing because, once no registrations came in, wouldn’t someone have checked? We don’t know the explanation, but we know it ain’t good.

Now, On to the Actual Lying

Several times during the meeting, assigned Chair Alex Valella expressed surprise that few Roosevelt Islanders showed up for the meeting or registered for public comment.

“Are they losing interest in what we do?” he wondered.

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While that’s surely part of it – frustrations over RIOC’s remoteness and unwillingness to connect with the folks who live here – there’s more to the story.

In response, Haynes giggled and shook his head. It wasn’t the lying tradition but another one. That one sees RIOC implying that local residents are overly emotional big mouths who complain about everything. Obviously, nothing wrong with RIOC.

But the big lie spilled out when Board Member Howard Polivy asked the obvious: “Did we post the meeting?” It’s a requirement in Open Meetings Law and an essential gesture of community connection.

Both Haynes and Robinson grinned and cheerfully confirmed that they had. That was not true. In fact, it was so not true it entered all new territory in truthiness.

No, They Didn’t

Although the September 22nd Board Meeting was planned since December, RIOC never announced it and its agenda in email blasts as administrations before Haynes had. Then, in the good old days, the state agency actually encouraged attendance, but the man hiding out in Blackwell House does not.

Still, they used their advisory system when the meeting was mysteriously postposed:

“Please be advised that the RIOC Board of Directors Meeting scheduled for tonight, September 22nd, has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date,” they advised everyone on their mailing list.

But they never followed up with a rescheduled date. On their website, a date of September 29th was posted the day before. In other words, the email blast advisory negated that.

But a missing item further encouraged non-attendance.

Open Meetings Law requires that any item up for a vote be posted for public viewing prior to the session. RIOC’s mission-critical budget for next year was a major item, although initially not listed on the agenda at all and, then, added at the last minute.

These failures discouraged attendance and violated the spirit of state law.

And here’s the kicker: both President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson were notified of the issues hours before the meeting. So was Homes and Community Renewal Director RuthAnne Visnauskis, the board’s official chairperson, although she assigns that to Valella.

Was It the Lying Tradition, the Absence of Caring or a Gumbo of Both and More?

At 1:16 in the afternoon of September 29th, we sent the following email message to Vasnauskis, Haynes and Robinson:

Dear Ms. Visnauskas, As Chair of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation Board, please be advised that, should you or your surrogate call a meeting of any RIOC Committee or full board this evening, it will not meet the prevailing standards set by Open Meetings Law.

  • The primary topic for the Audit Committee on its agenda, the proposed 2023-24 Budget, has not been posted for public review. This is a critical flaw, as you are aware.
  • No notice for this meeting has been posted in any prominent place nor has notice been given to the media. Both are critical errors. There is a hard to read notice taped to the seldom used front door of RIOC’s unmarked and unannounced office at 242 Main Street. However, even that is negated by an “Advisory” RIOC emailed to its list last week. “Please be advised that the RIOC Board of Directors Meeting scheduled for tonight, September 22nd, has been cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date.” No follow up Advisory alerting interested parties to the new date was ever sent. No note of any kind was posted or sent for the Audit Committee.

We believe that a well-intentioned state agency should do a far more competent job than this and that the current confusion is the result of yet another ill-considered firing of key staff, leaving RIOC bereft of talent and viable leadership.

We’re asking that you promptly take steps to reschedule these meetings in a proper, legal fashion and do your part to promote better community relations than those now established.

The Sound of Silence

No one responded, and the meeting went on as not properly scheduled. This is RIOC’s way of doing business under Shelton Haynes. Protection from Governor Kathy Hochul makes it possible.

Roosevelt Islanders don’t have a chance.

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