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Rosenthal’s Appeal Recalls Ugly Stunt that Brought Haynes into Power

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Susan Rosenthal’s appeal to the New York State Supreme Court does much more than argue that the court made an error. It clarifies the sharp edges and thorny tangles of misconduct used to oust her in favor of Shelton J. Haynes. Details are dark and hidden, but the former RIOC CEO seeks as much sunlight as the law allows.

The autumn filing picks up momentum in 2023.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Rosenthal’s attorney calls it, “…a termination which the office of former Governor Cuomo then used to smear her in the press on Juneteenth to garner cheap publicity in the midst of the then-occurring Black Lives Matter protests and the Governor’s then-developing own sexual harassment problems.”

SPONSORED: The serenity of winter in Roosevelt Island’s Four Freedoms State Park.

But the stunt that brought down the President/CEO had worse behind it. The abrupt removal involved the governor’s top, unelected operatives, RIOC’s board and multiple staff members in what appeared as a racially-motivated coup.

“During Rosenthal’s five-year tenure as RIOC President, she frequently interacted with GOER investigators during their investigations,” the appeal recalls. “…but had never herself been accused of racism or sexism, had never been accused of race or sex discrimination, had never been accused of making offensive racist or sexist remarks, and had never even been asked to tone down her sometimes ‘salty’ banter.”

But Then, the Tables Turned

On June 12th, 2020, Karlene Jean – a clerical assistant – emailed a letter to more than a dozen people, including elected officials, accusing Rosenthal of racism. The letter itself violated state rules by making her case public.

Rosenthal whose support for civil rights was passionate and well-known talked to a gathering at Gallery RIVAA during Black History Month.

The Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) requires secrecy to protect the innocent against unproven, damaging accusations. But Jean was not reprimanded nor was the violation noted in the investigator’s report.

By June 17, the investigator had already concluded that her follow-up “…did not identify any violations of the policies set forth in the EEO Handbook.”

But, “No one informed Rosenthal. Instead, two days later, Rosenthal was fired, and the same day the New York Post carried the headline ‘Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. head fired over ‘racially and sexually offensive remarks.’” 

Susan Rosenthal was not the only person shocked.

Rosenthal’s Appeal Pulls Back the Curtain

Recalling events later exposed in court filings, Rosenthal’s appeal exposes dishonesty, evasion and reverse discrimination. Immediately after finding that Jean’s accusations were not worthy of any action, the investigator said she uncovered other evidence that was much worse.

In a chilling example of double-dealing, the investigator provided Cuomo’s Albany handlers with an oral presentation of accusations against Rosenthal. No written report exists. But after oral only “quadruple hearsay,” top Cuomo minion Melissa DeRosa okayed firing Rosenthal.

Not only was there no written report, but Rosenthal was given no chance to defend herself or even see the charges against her. And although Albany secretly decided that she must be terminated immediately – not even allowed a return to her office for personal effects – they waited two more days… until Juneteenth.

Problematic Accusations

The two most damaging charges involved Tajuna Sharpe, RIOC’s Human Resources director, and Shelton J. Haynes, then VP of Operations. Because the state has never documented either, we will not repeat them.

While Cuomo’s alleged people found it okay to bandy gossip around as fact, we’re not giving them any sunlight.

And in her position, Sharpe surely knew that serious misconduct required immediate reporting to GOER. Although the misconduct cited by the state occurred two years earlier, Sharpe did not notify anyone.

If the incident ever occurred in the first place, Sharpe either felt it was insignificant or had not violated GOER guidelines. And because no firsthand report exists today, the charges appear dubious at best.

Enter Shelton J. Haynes in Rosenthal’s Appeal

The weirdest item in the state’s case against Susan Rosenthal is an alleged tape recording of her using racially offensive language. But while several people point their fingers at current RIOC President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes as the person making the secret recording, no one – except the state investigator – says they heard actually heard it.

Haynes was accused of playing back the recording to stir racial resentment toward Rosenthal, then his boss. But if so, where is it now?

RIOC told The Daily in a FOIL response that they don’t have it. And my conversation with Haynes just weeks after he took over as temporary CEO tells a different story.

In a get-acquainted meeting requested by him, we briefly touched on Rosenthal’s dismissal. He told me he thought it was unjustified, her actions worthy of nothing worse than “a slap on the wrist.”

He slapped his own wrist in illustration.

If Haynes is guilty of making the tape and/or sharing it, he’d certainly have felt differently, wouldn’t he?

Does the tape even exist? Did it ever?

Published Sexual Harassment Policy for All Employers in New York State requires that all documents and records be retained, but seemingly, not the tape nor anything else condemning Rosenthal ever was.

Did RIOC’s Board Collude with Cuomo’s Albany Factotums?

In spite of the absence of any concrete evidence, according to Rosenthal’s appeal, “RIOC’s Board appears to have already had Rosenthal’s replacement lined up because the Board appointed him the same day she was fired.”

In bold defiance of anything resembling decency or regard for civil rights, the Board did so without allowing Rosenthal a single word in her own defense.

Ignoring Open Meetings Law, the Board also acted without public notice. No minutes exist nor is there any proof that they had a legally required quorum. Yes, they held an Oops-Do-Over Meeting later where Board Member David Kraut cheerfully nominated Haynes to the vacant post.

At that time, Haynes was not the best qualified or experienced person for the post, but he was appointed without debate anyway.

But to this day, the board has never seen nor heard a shred of firsthand evidence used against Rosenthal nor have they allowed her a constitutionally guaranteed right to defend herself.

While every one of them should go, there’s more to the story. Just as their action shielded evidence that should be made public, they should be made accountable for their cloistered actions.

RIOC’s and the state’s attorneys fought, in defiance of court orders, against coughing up their evidence. Questions remain over whether any of it was ever real.

If Rosenthal did these awful things, why aren’t there any documents or firsthand accounts?

Maybe the guilty shoe is on the wrong foot.

3 Comments

  1. Susan and I frequently disagreed on RIOC policies. But those disagreements did not influence our mutual respect for each other. We took for granted that we would often clash due to our respective points of view…. her’s as head honcho of RIOC, and mine as a consistent activist for our community. We enjoyed referring to each other as “frenemies,” and would exchange a sincere hug whenever we encountered each other.

    I am not grinding an axe regarding the talents and policies of either Susan Rosenthal or Shelton Haynes. Neither have or had an easy task of upholding their office, frequently against policies the community opposes. The only way to prevent such unilateral oversight, as I have long advocated, is true elections for community governance.

    I’m simply throwing in my two cents that no matter who holds the office of RIOC CEO, they are entitled to due process! Unfortunately, the unilateral decision that made firing Susan Rosenthal so despicable is consistent with the unilateral decision making process the state vests in their authority over the community. Both are woefully wrong. Both are unconstitutional!

    • I can’t disagree with a single word here. The problem, of course, is how we get the state to honor voting. In a democracy, that should be a no-brainer, but Roosevelt Island has never had democracy, although we inched closer before Andrew Cuoumo arrived.

      I think a concerted campaign with our local elected officials to generate change is our best, maybe only chance. Most, maybe all of them would back us if they believe the community is united. That’s where our work is.

      Thanks for your insightful response and your hard work.

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