Now that she’s in office for a full term, Governor Kathy Hochul can do a number of things that help Roosevelt Island. We’re not talking pie in the sky here. These are common sense moves that overthrow the neglect and abuse of the Cuomo era. We are taking her at her word that she will clean up his messes.
by David Stone
The simple answer to the question of what Governor Hochul can do for Roosevelt Island is this: Bring good government to this community.
That means leadership engaged with residents and genuine responsiveness. There is literally no community in the U. S. with less say in how its taxes are spent or how they are governed.
And when you add up Federal, State, City and RIOC taxes, however hidden, Roosevelt Island is the most highly taxed in America. We’ve earned good government, and we’ve been patient.
Now, it’s time for the state to return the favor.
What Hochul Can Do In Support of Good Government
Start at the Top
As Governor, she has the authority and should rid Roosevelt Island of its RIOC executives as quickly as possible. The Shelton J. Haynes administration failure is not so much attributable to Haynes as it is to the long succession of mismanagement engineered by Andrew Cuomo.
Populating a board with weaklings willing to shirk their duties in favor of saying “yes” to Albany poisoned the agency. Further enfeebling it with patronage appointments makes good government impossible.
Hochul can change all that. RIOC’s management team members are all “at will” employees. They can be dismissed at any time for any reason.
The time is now. Here are the reasons:
- Shelton J. Haynes has turned Roosevelt Island into his piggy bank. He is preposterously giving himself a salary higher than the governor. It makes a strong enough case against him. He has also paid unqualified loyalists outrageous amounts regardless of performance or competence. Nothing in his nor RIOC’s overall performance warrants anything like that.
- Gretchen Robinson has no history, before or after RIOC, worthy of any Chief Counsel position. Loyalty to Haynes made his feelings more important than the law and the community she’s pledged to serve.
- At $195K per year, Mary Cunneen is the single most unqualified Chief Operating Officer imaginable. Her track record does not in support the promotion, and her “leadership” in Haynes’s Swift Emergency Medical COVID Testing Site is an immediate disqualifier. According to one executive, Cunneen was on President/CEO Susan Rosenthal’s to-be-fired list before Haynes took over.
- A recent, disgraceful move brought Akeem Jamal here as AVP for Public Relations. Aside from some personal issues, the young man could not meet the published qualifications for the job. But he was hired anyway, and… wait for it… at nearly double the salary of highly qualified professionals preceding him. Terrence McCauley and Alonza Robertson earned around $80K. Jamal pulls down $150K.
Because Haynes edged out numerous qualified managers who wouldn’t kiss the ring, seasoned veterans may be willing to step in. John O’Reilly, for one, should have gotten the CEO job when Rosenthal left, but he was not part of the plot that got her fired. Nor would he have been. His value to RIOC was clear before Haynes axed him for dubious reasons.
Terrence McCauley gave the community its best communications director, but he was loyal to Rosenthal. Haynes smothered the award-winning writer.
Both the mysteriously dismissed Arthur Eliav and still onboard Lada Stasko exceed Robinson in experience and skills. And they have deep familiarity with RIOC practices and laws.
Phase In a New Board
To the point of embarrassment in some cases, the current board fails at governing from almost any point of view. All but two serve well beyond their four-year terms, dangling by a thread. But this is fixable.
- Keep Fay Christian in place. She’s a recent appointment who shows some independence and willingness to question management. It’s safe assuming that Hochul did not appoint her for establishing another “Yes” vote, but even so, she’s got over three years left in her promising term.
- Conway Ekpo appears as disengaged as any board member can be. For years, he’s offered nothing more than an “Aye” vote during public sessions. When his term expires, give him a plaque and a “Goodbye!”
- The rest of the crowd – Howard Polivy, Michael Shinozaki and David Kraut – linger years after their appointments expired. None of the three gave the community any reason for reappointment.
- Numerous residents – from Matthew Katz to Jim Luce – qualify as community-oriented candidates for board seats. Two appointments must originate from Mayor Eric Adams’s office, but he’s aware.
In short, there is no good reason why Hochul can’t get a dynamic governing body up and running. They all need state senate approval, which should be easier with Liz Krueger now Roosevelt Island’s senator.
Sign the New Bills
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright and Senator José Serrano guided two bills affecting RIOC through their respective chambers. But the governor hasn’t signed either.
Together, they increase local authority at RIOC. Much more is needed, but Hochul can make a good start here.
Fix the Tax Problem
Because the state does not pay a dime for RIOC’s operations, the community pays all the bills. Without consent. That’s true, even though RIOC’s enabling legislation allows for funding within the state’s budget.
But Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed that off the rails, forcing reliance on ground leases, the Tram and Motorgate. Hochul can change that, although not on her own.
One suggestion: Rather than find budget money for RIOC, which could become an annual battle, she can work with elected officials in the senate and assembly and allow a percentage of tenant leases to become deductible.
That prevents double-taxing for services RIOC duplicates unnecessarily and ineffectively.
Finally, the Big One: Hochul Can Take a Long Hard Look at Downsizing RIOC
With a new, responsive board in place, a realistic look at RIOC becomes possible.
Not only are RIOC salaries bloated with two dozen snagging six-figure salaries, but the staffing is also far beyond its needs.
Look at the Public Safety Department, for example. It’s RIOC’s largest and most visible as well as least effective on a cost/benefit basis.
Although RIOC sneakily budgets for 52 officers, requiring 3 six-figure managers, they employ only 42. The excess cash for no-show jobs goes unaccounted for.
But even at 42, they can’t control electric-powered bikes and scooters racing through stop signs and crosswalks. Some seniors fear going out because of uncontrolled hazards.
Ultimately, it’s hard to see PSD as much more than an ineffective meter maids operation. Any look at their monthly activity reports supports the obvious. There is far too little activity for all those bodies.
This is true throughout RIOC. With real commitment, Hochul can deliver a lean, friendly and motivated state agency.
And why not? The opportunity is now right in front of her.