But maybe you shouldn’t relax because when his Sportspark plan fails – and it will – Roosevelt Islanders will be forced to pay for it. It won’t be the first time.
By David Stone
Talking with people who have known RIOC President/CEO Shelton Haynes and researching his history, a distasteful picture emerges. Multiple informants build the image of a dishonest, mean-spirited bully who specializes in ingratiating himself with people in authority.
This skill, they say, lets him take credit for accomplishments never made and dump failures off on innocent others.
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Haynes has had supporters – and still does – who like and admire him. But some of them – Susan Rosenthal, for instance – paid a high price for their trust.
One surprising thing – despite numerous critical reports here, not a single person chimed in in his defense. And several voluntarily reached out with information condemning him, some from as far away as his former place of employment in Georgia.
Here’s Some of What We Know
Dipping back, our investigations could not find a single piece of evidence verifying his graduation from Hampton University, a prestigious, historically black school in Virginia. Among people who visited his offices – including me, not one recalled seeing a diploma on the wall.
Rare photos from his bunker in Blackwell House reveal sports memorabilia but no certificates of any kind.
This may seem small, but it meshes with the slapdash transparency plan he drafted for Governor Hochul in 2021. An important document to the highest-ranking leader in the state did not, to say the least, reflect the work of anyone who ever completed a term paper.
Leading Up to the Sportspark Plan
- The Voucher Program at the Housing Authority of DeKalb Georgia. This was Haynes’s primary area of responsibility. But he split town before a federal Housing and Urban Development investigation found it rife with misused funds. RIOC’s website says Haynes was COO at DeKalb, responsible for reforming multiple departments, but investigations into filed tax returns contradict that.
- Fail #2 is Blackwell House where Haynes now occupies an ADA-non-compliant office. Under Haynes’s guidance as RIOC VP for Operations, it was a year late and roughly 100% over budget.
- Less visible but critical was his failure to maintain a working employee evaluation system at RIOC. Soon after Haynes took over Operations, the system used for raises and promotions broke down. Multiple employees complained that they could not get routine evaluations from him even after they were requested. This, in part, greased the skids for the pile of unexplained lawsuits naming him as a defendant by former employees.
- As COO and CEO, Haynes failed to complete the FDR Hope Memorial until The Daily shamed him in a report. At the time, the site was filled with weeds and waste. This did not stop him from claiming credit for it a year later.
- Under his direction, Southpoint, the once leafy retreat for Roosevelt Islanders saw its bordering natural settings converted to a hideous, encircling rock farm. The result was so awful that, after spending millions on the environmental catastrophe, no one from RIOC, including Haynes, appeared when it opened. And his protector, Governor Hochul, offered promotional photos that strained to diminish the scenes.
Before we get to the Sportspark plan and why it will fail…
- After the Youth Center’s renovations stalled for years, Haynes, as COO, pitched a $1.8 million change order for covering the mess he found himself in. Rosenthal, then his boss, rejected that and rebid the entire project because it had gotten so off track.
- While the new Tram elevators finally went into service in 2022, they were delayed and far over budget. “Unforeseen sight conditions” were blamed. But an inside source notes, “It should have been caught before the design started. Under his leadership, they went cheap on the geotechnical analysis.” And wound up spending even more.
“The only things that were working in Operations while he was there were the buses,” an insider says. And that was because Cy Opperman was in charge, not Haynes. Even Public Safety wasn’t his because it reported directly to Rosenthal. Later, under Haynes, it became the expensive, ineffective tool it is today.
Why the Sportspark Plan Will Fail
Although Haynes announced that Sportspark will open at some future date as what appears to be an Equinox competitor, it should have opened in October. It was finished in August and passed a consultant survey in preparation for city inspections.
But that was under CFO John O’Reilly and owner’s representative LiRO, not Haynes.
Future events suggest the real reason behind O’Reilly’s dismissal after he finished all the meaningful work on Sportspark.
For unexplained reasons, Haynes stalled the opening and, shortly after, quietly hired a pair of sports club executives with an eye on wiping out the facility’s history as a community center.
But Haynes, as some say is his practice, did not listen to advice and made decisions based on insufficient information:
- All Roosevelt Island residential buildings have their own fitness centers, the costs of which are built into their leases or can be bought independently. Not only are they at least as well-equipped and more convenient, but they are also less costly.
- The swimming pool was Roosevelt Islanders’ favorite feature, although Rivercross and Westview have indoor pools and both Manhattan Park and the Octagon have seasonal ones. And the shocking prices Haynes and company set for Sportspark will turn off everyone else with any option.
- As we reported earlier, the new rates in the Sportspark plan are far too high for Roosevelt Island’s core population of middle-class and low-income residents. This leaves a shrunken pool of possible users.
- Based on hiring and pricing, it appears that Haynes sees Sportspark competing with Manhattan’s pricey upscale fitness clubs. According to an informant, he has long sought to make the complex a revenue source, but that’s not just “outrageous” as one local says. It’s also stupid. Why would Manhattanites with enough money for Equinox memberships pony up similar cash for a less well-equipped facility that requires a subway or Tram ride in both directions?
“As a manager, he (Haynes) threw all his subordinates under the bus and blamed them for all that was going wrong. Hence, all the terminations.”
We don’t know who comes next when the Sportspark plan fails, as it will. But we do know this: Roosevelt Islanders, not Haynes nor his Albany protectors, will pay for it.