How Did Roosevelt Island Become Shelton Haynes’s Piggy Bank?

How Did Roosevelt Island Become Shelton Haynes’s Piggy Bank?

President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes’s piggy bank, otherwise known as the RIOC budget, gets its money almost exclusively from Roosevelt Island. The governor’s office controls or approves everything, but the state doesn’t contribute a dime for operating expenses. At first, it seems impossible. Obviously, it isn’t. In New York, all things are possible. It isn’t illegal either. We will explain.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Getting control of RIOC and its money started with Charlene Indelicato’s final board meeting in the spring of 2016. The board unanimously approved Haynes’s hiring as Vice President of Operations.

It was controversial, at least as controversial as RIOC’s board ever gets. That’s because the board, responsible by law for hiring and firing managers, whined a little because his job was arranged out of Albany.

Governor Andrew Cuomo at staff briefing, May 15, 2021. Credit: Governor's Office
Governor Andrew Cuomo oversaw the Executive Chamber where loyalists carried out his wishes. Was he pandering to a coveted voting block by arranging the firing of a white woman, accusing her of racism, while setting a man of color as her replacement?

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s appointments office told them who they would hire for the open position. The board never even saw a resume let alone any other candidates. But as they always do, they knuckled under anyway.

All current RIOC board members with the exception of Conway Ekpo played along. Since resigned Margie Smith joined Michael Shinozaki, Howard Polivy, David Kraut and Fay Christian. All did the bobblehead thing.

Haynes cannot be accused of falsifying his resume because the board never saw one prior to his hiring.

Under Cuomo, RIOC’s board evolved as a cephalopod with a fluctuating number of limbs but not a single spine. Their compliance was local Step One in creating The Shelton J. Haynes piggy bank.

A Record of Non-Achievement

Over the next four years, Haynes did little positive for RIOC or the community. One former manager said he created problems by self-granting himself the title of Chief Operating Officer, although no such title existed in the corporation’s bylaws.

He was accused of doing the same thing in his former job with the DeKalb County Housing Authority. He liked the title, whether he had the job or not.

More significantly, according to multiple sources inside RIOC, Haynes ended an established staff evaluation process used to determine, among other things, how much people got paid. Although he can’t be blamed entirely – Haynes was not the CEO, then – he was the prime mover, according to sources.

This enabled a kind of monarchical system where the Dear Leader rewards and punishes upon whim. It’s a bad practice and goes against New York State policy, but it does not go against Cuomo or Hochul administration goals.

Although Haynes had little to show so far, his crucial role in unseating President/CEO Susan Rosenthal was a showstopper that gave him RIOC’s checkbook.

Haynes’s Piggy Bank Gets a Foothold

Because the secret machinations that removed Rosenthal in favor of Haynes took place in the Executive Chamber in Albany, we will probably never know the details. But top Cuomo operatives Rich Azzopardi and Melissa DiRosa got involved.

What we do know comes from sworn statements in a lawsuit filed by Rosenthal.

  • When an initial set of allegations against Rosenthal proved insignificant, a state investigator suddenly found a trove of violations that festered, she reported, within RIOC for years. These were used as weapons in firing Rosenthal.
  • None of those allegations have been substantiated nor is there even a written report from the investigator. It’s possible that there wasn’t enough time because Cuomo’s team apparently targeted Juneteenth as the day for publicizing Rosenthal’s dismissal.
  • Both Haynes and Human Resources manager Tajuna Sharpe were critical players, but neither ever filed any complaint against Rosenthal. Although The Daily confirmed other, minor details, the most critical charges could be as much fiction as fact.
  • Not a single affidavit has been filed in the two-year-old lawsuit verifying the complaints attributed to Haynes and Sharpe.
  • Although he instantly accepted Rosenthal’s job on an acting basis, Haynes told me that, as far as he knew, Rosenthal had done nothing requiring more than a slap on the wrist, certainly not a humiliating public firing.

The Rest of the Chapter

One strange and inexplicable act going against Haynes and the board is that Rosenthal was never given a chance to defend herself at any level. Moreover, the board appointed Haynes immediately without holding a meeting or a vote.

If you’re wondering if the board was “just taking orders,” the answer is “Yes, of course, they were.”

The board members were clearly complicit in what appears to be unethical shenanigans out of Albany, but there’s more.

Even though the alleged investigation of Rosenthal took less than a week and was never documented, Haynes swept into office with a reorganization plan ready to go. Right away, he began shifting roles.

And the first suggestions of Haynes’s piggy bank hit the horizon. A pair of fully unqualified managers, Erica Spencer-EL and Altheria Jackson, received expanded roles and raises that went with them.

Haynes’s Control Over RIOC Expands

Although it’s now a matter of fact, Haynes’s immediate promotion in the shadow of Rosenthal’s dismissal wasn’t rational. The board – Albany, really – did so without discussion or considering better-qualified staff members.

Then-Vice President John O’Reilly’s experience as an executive manager far exceeded Haynes’s, and his mark on RIOC was far greater. Similarly, before appointing Haynes to the still open permanent CEO position, the appointments office never interviewed O’Reilly.

Or anyone else, as far as we know. On accepting the position, Haynes thanked the governor.

The Haynes Piggy Bank is Open

After removing the “acting” from his title, Haynes soon powered through a series of high-profile firings of managers who, an insider said, did not “kiss the ring.”

The firings were matched by insider promotions, regardless of qualifications or achievements. The absence of a staff evaluation system eased the transitions.

But Haynes’s actions ignited so many lawsuits that the insurance company protecting RIOC from losses refused to renew. At any price. Another company took up the business at a higher premium for reduced coverage.

No problem though. It’s all Roosevelt Islanders’ money, and we have deep pockets, don’t we?

A look at RIOC’s current roster shows that the bloated staff counts are supported by even more bloated salaries. Perhaps the worst of it is that Haynes awarded himself a whopping increase to $226 thousand per year. He now earns more than the governor of New York or any other state in the union.

For our little 11,771-member community, he approves 23 more six-figure salaries. And RIOC benefit plans are generous, adding roughly 50% to the gifts.

Mary Cunneen, who fronted the Swift Emergency Medical COVID Testing Site deal for Haynes, saw her salary skyrocket to $195 thousand per year, and extreme loyalist, Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson gets by on an inflated $193 thousand.

Saving the Best for Last

On the salary roster, you’ll find a recent hire, Akeem Jamal, an Assistant Vice President. Shelton J. Haynes’s piggy bank gives him $150,000 per year for a job where he can’t come close to matching the minimum published requirements.

But there’s even more of interest. After seven years of service at the City of Yonkers, this young man got accolades from Mayor Mike Spano. On the day Jamal left for what was described as “a job in the Hochul administration,” the mayor proclaimed it “Akeem Jamal Day” in Yonkers.

And Jamal is now finding time away from his RIOC duties to run fundraisers for Spano.

T

It’s tough to criticize RIOC’s board of bobblehead enablers when it’s as clear as a spring sky that all this was approved in Albany by Team Hochul and at least partly orchestrated by them.

The Shelton J. Haynes piggy bank is generous and well-supported by the governor’s office. And it’s here to stay.

But what the heck? It’s all Roosevelt Islanders’ money, isn’t it? And we have deep pockets, don’t we?

The Roosevelt Island Daily News is committed to covering its community without bias or shrinking from thorny issues. We need your support in our mission. Reading is always free but our expenses are not. Please chip in.

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