Mary Cunneen, then Director of Parks and Recreation at RIOC, got my attention in 2018 when I ran into two women crying on Main Street. Cunneen, they said, was trying to shut down the Southpoint Park Cat Sanctuary. The story was true, but we still don’t know why she did it.
by David Stone
Update October 13th, 2022: Mary Cunneen’s LinkedIn profile has been taken down. This follows similar moves by President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes, Operations Chief Altheria Jackson, and AVP for Communications Akeem Jamal. Transparency takes a back seat at RIOC.
The photo above shows Cunneen busy overseeing the Swift Emergency Medical COVID Testing Site in Gallery RIVAA. While Inspector General investigations continue about the activity in which she was deeply involved, RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes seeks a promotion for her to Chief Operating Officer.
At the last board meeting, Haynes took credit for bringing her to RIOC.
But let’s start with the Southpoint Cat Sanctuary.
Driving Out the Cats by Denying Water
The women I found in tears on Main Street were stressed out because, on Cunneen’s orders, they said, RIOC had turned off the water supply the Cat Sanctuary needed for survival.
Earlier, she’d summoned the managers to a meeting in which she accused them of screwing up the park’s irrigation system. But if so, they’d been doing so for seven years without anyone noticing.
After we published an article about it, RIOC launched a series of explanations, each failing like dominos under scrutiny. Eventually, the state agency that never gets it wrong looked thick-headed as well as cruel and dishonest.
Mary Cunneen? Sources inside RIOC report that she got a bruising takedown from then President/CEO Susan Rosenthal for going rogue and embarrassing the agency.
WFF got the water back and, ultimately, a new, modernized sanctuary.
Then, More Tears When the Trees Came Down
A longtime resident sent a tearful email. She’d just rode a Red Bus past the Rivercross Lawn and saw that two shady trees, middle-aged, had been hacked down. An artist, she loved the trees and could not understand why they were gone.
Our investigation found that of three bidders brought in to access conditions, only one believed that both trees should be axed. That bidder got the job, approved by none other than Mary Cunneen.
Backing up her decision, she cited advice from a certified tree expert. The expert, we found after some digging, was an employee of the company that got the job. That’s unethical because, according to documents provided under FOIL, the conflict of interest was not disclosed.
But it was too late because both trees were already sawdust. The documents suggest that Shelton J. Haynes, Cunneen’s supervisor, approved the deal.
No residents were ever consulted.
Mary Cunneen and Swift Emergency Medical
While RIOC froze the release of documents concerning Swift Emergency Medical’s COVID Testing Site at 242 Main Street, those we got before disclosures froze show that Cunneen executed a plan laid out by Haynes.
Along with irregular purchasing practices, evidence showed a casual disregard for monitoring or honestly reporting results. Suspicious time sheets used to justify payments slipped by without any notice of obvious flaws.
And at a mind-bending monthly meeting, RIOC’s drowsy board nodded like bobbleheads while Cunneen asked them to retroactively approve spending that took place months before.
In what appeared a rehearsed exchange, board member Michael Shinozaki asked about the number of tests administered. Those she provided did not square with earlier claims nor with reality.
So, let’s make her Chief Operating Officer, even though she hasn’t the skills normally demanded for the title. And then, what happens to Haynes’s pal Altheria Jackson, a high school graduate already pulling down $150K plus for doing the same job?
There seems to be a logjam of people clamoring to kiss the ring in Blackwell House.