Why RIOC’s New Constituent Services Department Is Total Bull-oney


Next up in RIOC’s Hall of Cringe-Worthy Moments, another screaming headline: “PRESIDENT HAYNES ANNOUNCES NEW CONSTITUENT SERVICES DEPARTMENT WITHIN RIOC.” It scores a triple crown of hypocritical, condescending and stupid. How can this highly paid confederacy of dunces make gross error after error and never pay a price? Maybe because all the strings are being pulled in Albany, and Governor Kathy Hochul is satisfied with the results…?

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

How Can You Have Constituent Services Without Any Constituents? A Primer

Eager to help RIOC gain some footing on solid ground, we asked a renowned government expert to guide them in understanding of the term “constituents.” Here is her lecture:

Oh, constituents!

No, Akeem and Shelton, we’re not talking about the ingredients in your favorite snack, but something even more exciting (yeah, you read that right). In the thrilling world of political science, a “constituent” refers to a person or group that has the power to elect or influence political representatives.

Constituents are like the secret sauce in the recipe of constitution-making, giving it that extra zing!

But we don’t have any of those because Governor Hochul is as resistant to resident participation in the process as she is to cleaning up corruption in the state.

But here’s a hint: Rebecca Seawright, Liza Krueger and Julie Menin have constituents. Can you fellas see the difference here? That is, people actually voted for them with other choices available.

Breaking It Down for the Not Well-Informed

But wait, Shelton and Akeem, there’s more! There are different types of constituents that can impact the relationship between citizens and government. Let’s break it down:

  1. Individual constituents: That’s you, me, and everyone else who gets to vote for our political representatives. We’re the cool kids on the block!
  2. Organizational constituents: These are groups or organizations, like labor unions or businesses – or resident associations, that have a say in political decisions. They might lobby or advocate for specific policies or candidates.
  3. Geographical constituents: The UK has constituencies. That’s where these guys come into play. They’re the people living in a specific area who get to elect their political representatives.

Hint: Roosevelt Island doesn’t have any of these; so, in fairness, they may be unfamiliar for you. Like make-believe.

About Real Constituent Participation That Works

So, what does all this mean for the relationship between citizens and government? Well, the more diverse and inclusive the types of constituents are, the better the chances of creating a government that represents and serves everyone’s interests. In other words, it’s like having a variety of ingredients in your favorite snack – the more, the merrier!

But elitism, exclusion and racism is poison for constituent services.

To sum it up, “constituent” is just a fancy way of saying “the people who make the rules.” These rule-makers can be individuals, organizations, or even entire geographical areas. They play a critical role in constitution-making, and their involvement helps ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. So next time you hear the term “constituent,” think of it as the secret sauce that makes political science extra tasty!

Or think of it as “not here on Roosevelt Island…”

Thanks, Akeem and Shelton, for paying attention. Those glazed-over looks on your faces suggest you may need additional help, but you may not want it. Knowledge isn’t good for retaining unearned authority or bloated paychecks.

End of lecture…

Do the math, guys. If Jamal replicates the process he claims to have mastered in Yonkers, a city with 350,000 people, the good citizens of that city must have footed the bill for over 200 constituent services workers. Who wants to bet that never happened?

What Else Is Wrong With It?

Moving on…

“To think there once was a time, not terribly long ago, when any person living here could simply come to the RIOC Office, or to the Public Safety Office — even when led by some of the worst leaders we ever had — and talk face-to-face with the person-in-charge or the 2nd in command…” a resident noted.

Another, a RIOC insider and not as sanguine, said, “Did you see the latest post on the committee they put together to deal with the community…? What a f…ing joke.  Part of the team is a receptionist.  Shelton can’t get his ass out of the Blackwell House and work the community himself…?”

In my own experience, when I first began reporting for the local print newspaper, I was told by then-RIOC President/CEO Steve Shane that there was no need for an appointment.

“Just come in,” Steve said.

Leslie Torres replaced Shane in the first of two coups engineered by Andrew Cuomo. RIOC’s reliably pathetic board twiddled their fingers and hummed la di da.

Torres was not just unavailable to the media, my friends told me their jobs were threatened if they even spoke to me. I was writing art reviews exclusively at that time.

That went bust when Torres, who was seldom at work, and her two top executives got caught in RIOC’s biggest scandal so far. Those who followed, Charlene Indelicato and Susan Rosenthal, whatever you thought of their policies, were standup executives who walked around in public, getting a feel for the community and its concerns.

Then came Seldom Seen Shelton.

But does his protected dereliction of duties warrant a flakey, misnamed Constituent Services Department? Of course not, but something else is going on here.

A Shelton J. Haynes Theme Song?

If you see me gettin' smaller, I'm leavin'
Don't be grievin'
Just gotta get away from here
If you see me gettin' smaller, don't worry
I'm in no hurry
I got a right to disappear

- Jimmy Webb, If Your See Me Getting Smaller

Along Came Akeem with Constituent Services

Assistant Vice President of Communications & Government Affairs Akeem Jamal piped up, “With my prior experience of constituent work in the City of Yonkers, Constituents Services will serve as a one-stop shop that houses a dedicated staff who will work one on one with community members to cut through the red tape and address their concerns relating to island issues and connecting them with the resources available from city, state and federal government.”

You know this came straight from Jamal because he specializes in breathlessly extreme run-on sentences with too many ideas stitched inside.

And in case you haven’t been looking so far, he has far more to say than Seldom Seen Haynes, and unlike Dear Leader, his titles are not broken down into abbreviations like AVP or Acting CEO…

As virtually all of Haynes’s ideas – slamming the community with outrageous Sportspark fees, for example – are kicked away by outside sources, he recedes steadily while Jamal rises. And Haynes has reportedly confided with associates that he “won’t be around as much” for a while.

Jamal has even found a spot next to Haynes’s bunker on the second floor of Blackwell House.

And why else would anyone leave a allegedly powerful position in a 350,000 population city and seek his fortune on 11,771 population Roosevelt Island? The only possibility for growth is in usurping the boss.

A Step Up…?

Unlike Haynes who uses “customer services” hilariously interchangeably with “constituent services,” Jamal lays claim to experience in this area.

But put that in the pile with numerous other claims to fame that found the boy genius getting a degree from Fordham and a masters from Pace, all while serving as his drinking buddy – Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano’s – chief “spokesperson and a senior advisor while he led new initiatives, organized high-level events for the Office of the Mayor, worked with city, state, and county officials all while spearheading major initiatives.”

All this the boy genius did in just five years, straight out of high school, even including a months long recuperation from his drunk driving accident.

Whatta guy!

It’s a curious set of distinctions in an organization that fired a 17-year veteran employee for a decade-old error on her resume.

But let’s be clear. There’s a balance in this error-prone and significantly failing state agency, and Haynes perches on what appears the wrong end of the teeter-totter.

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