The case against Shelton Haynes and his cohort started almost immediately after he landed on Roosevelt Island. The facts surrounding that move may also help explain why he’s still here, bunkered in Blackwell House.
by David Stone
The Roosevelt Island Daily News
On an early spring evening in 2016 in a small room in the Cultural Center, Shelton J. Haynes made his first official appearance on Roosevelt Island. As she tied up loose ends during her last month as RIOC‘s President and Chief Executive Officer, Charlene Indelicato introduced him as the agency’s new Chief Operating Officer.
Visibly eager, he leaned forward on a folding chair in the back of the room, smiling confidently. The board subcommittee had not approved him yet, but both he and Indelicato knew the deal was done.
In a familiar refrain, board member Margie Smith complained that the board, which is legally responsible for hiring and firing executives, had no input. It’s not clear that the board even saw a resume.
But Albany had spoken. Shelton J. Haynes from Atlanta, Georgia, was in. But so were doubts. Would an honest man so eagerly take a position under such questionable conditions? And the big one: who got him the job in the first place?
Later, investigations revealed little to no support for his claimed work experience. Questions arose, still unanswered about his having earned a degree from the prestigious Hampton University.
Trouble Out of the Gate
Before he had much of a chance to hang pictures in his new office, he fell into trouble while participating in what later appeared to be a scam. It’s not clear how much he knew about a board member-inspired effort aimed at shutting down the Roosevelt Island Youth Program and turning operations over to someone – anyone – else.
RIYP was effective and popular as well as underfunded by RIOC, and its leader, Charlie DeFino, was probably too influential for the state’s tastes. In short, he and RIYP were community; RIOC increasingly wasn’t.
The case against Shelton Haynes took root after a FOIL request by Frank Farance showed a doctored scorecard with his name on it. He’d been asked to take part in a competitive bid that challenged RIYP’s control of the Youth Center.
The effect of his altered scorecard was a tie between RIYP and an upstart organization led by a pastor who had been thrown out of RIYP for, according to DeFino, proselytizing on the job.
Although the scorecard was altered, RIOC accepted it, an ethically challenged move. After all, it got them what they wanted. It blocked DeFino and his nonprofit from continuing decades of community-based management.
The Case Against Shelton Haynes #2
Years later, a month after he settled into the interim-CEO post, Haynes told me that he resented media coverage of him over that incident.
He had a practice of doodling, he said. He did it all the time. But this time, he just happened to accidentally doodle a 4 into a 6 square in a box on his scorecard.
So, he was either incredibly careless for an executive or he participated in a rigged bidding scheme.
This apparently had no negative effect on his career with RIOC.
And after this stalling action, RIOC’s brain trust eventually found a tactic for driving out the Roosevelt Island Youth Program. Even as community sentiment strongly backed retaining the legacy program, state board members overruled community members, kicking RIYP into the gutter.
Shortly thereafter, the Youth Center was handed over to community liaison Erica Spencer-EL with a $750,000 budget. DeFino had worked successfully with only $200,000.
Haynes’s altered scorecard was crucial.
Mold and Staff Evaluations
With Haynes now allegedly in charge of Operations, inspectors found enough mold buildup in the Cultural Center that it closed for months for remedial cleaning. Concerns rose about exposure to the mold, especially by children in theatre programs in the affected studios.
But those worries lessened after a board committee meeting where a consultant, Robert Russo, said that there was “none of the bad kind” of mold found in tests. Russo, who RIOC paid $175/hr., and Haynes, who shadowed him like a rookie at spring training, apparently learning the ropes, agreed.
At board meetings where Operations Department business came up, Russo did the talking with Haynes standing or sitting behind him, occasionally pitching in. At the committee meeting involving mold in the Cultural Center, the setting was familiar.
Video shows Haynes parked beside Russo at the conference table at 591 Main Street. It also shows him nodding in agreement over Russo’s false statement about the absence of “bad” mold.
A FOIL request by The Daily showed that, in fact, the most prevalent mold found was the worst kind. Rooms in the Cultural Center were riddled with toxic black mold.
RIOC never explained.
Less Seen But More Impactful
Multiple informants and sworn court documents tell us that when Shelton Haynes took over Operations at RIOC an effective staff evaluation system was in place. Routine, scheduled, participatory ratings provided the basis for promotions and pay raises.
But once it fell under Haynes’s management, the system collapsed. Even requested evaluations were never done.
Whether this was because the process was too complicated for Haynes’s abilities or because he was “lazy” or for some other reason, the result was a staff of over 100 without the reassurance of a passing grade or plan for improvement, their jobs always in jeopardy.
It also allowed Haynes leverage for a high volume of dismissals without justification. The reasons behind the dismissals could be whatever he said they were. Unquestioning loyalty became a criterion for job retention and set the stage for astronomical pay raises among loyal insiders.
Actions Have Consequences
Under the broken system, Haynes found the freedom to hire and fire as he chose. A glaring example was his handling of his longtime pal Altheria Jackson. Haynes recruited her from a clerical position with his former employer in Georgia. He eventually made Jackson, a high school graduate, vice president in charge of Operations, although she had no prior experience in the field.
This move angered some, better-qualified staffers and amused others. When a group of whistleblowers issued a detailed denunciation of Haynes’s leadership, Jackson was a main target for ridicule. Although paid around $150K annually, she barely did the job and was never singled out for any skills.
In a sad and stunning turn of events, however, Jackson – reporting directly to Haynes – was in charge of Sportspark when a young man drowned. Although RIOC’s executives scrambled to cover up as many details as possible, a lawsuit on behalf of the victim’s family is seeking damages, charging “extreme negligence” by RIOC staff.
Jackson is no longer employed by RIOC.
Watch for Part Two soon…