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RIOC Board Drags Into Year’s End, a Bucket of Whitewash in Tow

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The year’s end for RIOC’s listless board closed with a lightly attended meeting that skipped over or omitted important details. Even President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes did not attend, handing off his President’s Report to Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson. She said he was sick, but pointedly, none of the board members wished him a swift recovery.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

The mood was flat as RIOC‘s board executed some year’s end housekeeping. But the clean-up exposed some of the flaws that have pissed the community off for years. And plentiful whitewash covered up issues that the Haynes administration wants forgotten.

Only three people were in the audience, and board member Fay Christian joined Haynes on the sidelines, although for her there was no explanation. And David Kraut participated remotely from an apparent hospital room.

As usual, it’s impossible to say that Conway Ekpo actually attended or was replaced by a robot with a one-word vocabulary: “Aye.”

Michael Shinozaki chatting with Erica Spencer-EL at a 9/11 ceremony last year. As one of only two board members who are active, not just bumps on a log “Yes” votes, he will be missed after resigning from his board seat.

Expect more lethargy because Michael Shinozaki, one of two active, resigned from the board. The year’s end meeting will be his last. That leaves Howard Polivy as the only remaining member who actually does anything.

Here’s What Else Happened or Didn’t at the December Year’s End Meeting

Final Proposed Budget: The board unanimously – of course – approved a final proposed budget that will be shipped to Albany for approval. There were minor changes. What’s missing? Any adjustment in insurance expenses related to the avalanche of lawsuits sparked during the Haynes administration.

The explosion in lawsuits forced RIOC’s liability character to drop them at any cost. And a new carrier charged more while demanding a million-dollar deductible. Then-CFO John O’Reilly played down the hundreds of thousands in new expenses, saying that he believed he could negotiate the insurer down.

That didn’t happen, and there are even more expenses as Haynes and Robinson engaged at least one outside attorney to help them answer one or more of 13 active investigations into their activities.

That was whitewash #1.

Details Including Those Among the Missing

Public Purpose Funds: First, there is no truth in the rumor that RIOC contractor set up a separate entity for Roosevelt Island: New York Community Distrust. But maybe they should have because last year’s results were disastrous as well as dishonest.

But bring out the whitewash. According to Robinson and Comptroller Daiman Di Stefano, it was a great success. This, although two unlucky participant nonprofits were so outraged they turned down their grants.

Di Stefano further showed his lack of insight when he expressed surprise at comments by Judith Berdy criticizing the program. It’s not as if NYCT’s screw ups were secrets.

OMNY for the Tram: In the President’s Report, Robinson read a story from Haynes about a meeting with the MTA and City Council Member Julie Menin. For the meeting, Haynes brought along, not an attorney but unqualified Communications AVP Akeem Jamal.

You wouldn’t believe it if he didn’t say so himself, and the wimpy board went along without a single question.

All he got from the meeting – probably brokered by Menin – was meaningless reassurance the the Tram was at the top of the MTA’s agenda… except that it circuitously sits behind other, unexplained issues.

Adding to the hilarity, Haynes said OMNY for the Tram was still on the agenda for the second quarter of 2023. He omitted saying that he had never shared that information with the community before.

The whitewash ran thickest over the $100,000 per month the MTA steals from Roosevelt Island. RIOC enabled the theft by signing a deal for MetroCard revenue sharing that had no escalation clause.

RIOC gets only the original $2.00 per ride while the MTA pockets the rest. But RIOC is strangely happy with that because Haynes, who is not an attorney, brought his unqualified sidekick instead of anyone who could discuss the ridiculous contract.

Blackouts

The worst of it were the topics important to Roosevelt Islanders that were skipped over completely.

  • A bank on Main Street. Follow-ups were promised but never happened after one lame attempt to replace Amalgamated.
  • Any reason, lame or otherwise, why RIOC failed to get Sportspark open again after multiple promises. No firm date for reopening either.
  • No update on the East Seawall that an inspector said was in danger of imminent and catastrophic collapse.
  • Haynes did not produce – or even mention – the traffic safety plan he promised in 2021 after three people were struck by cars on Main Street.

It’s likely that the board was nearly out of whitewash by then.

Expect more of the same in 2023 since Governor Kathy Hochul, who is ultimately in charge, shows no interest in fixing RIOC.

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