Fresh Air: RIOC Gets Three New Board Members – Will It Make Any Difference?


The State Senate approved three new board members for RIOC last week. Ben Fhala, Michal Melamed and Lydia Tang bring a fresh breeze of relative youth and diversity to a moribund board. But if other changes aren’t forthcoming, they might as well have appointed Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie, charter members of the Junior Woodchucks.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Three new board members step into their roles at the next board meeting on June 29th. Presumably, they’ll be active before that, but one troubling thing is sure. They will be outnumbered by four duds who’ve done nothing but fulfill quorum obligations and accept everything floating down from Albany for years.

They will enter the never-say-no zone.

Three New Board Members But Same Old RIOC

The first glaring problem with these appointments is that the exercise extends the same old anti-democratic process that’s long poisoned the state agency. And with Senator Liz Krueger in charge, Roosevelt Islanders had reason to expect better.

Although new to Roosevelt Island, Krueger’s reputation for integrity and progressive, pro-public action is well-established. But here, she chucks it all aside, appointing board members without any sign of consulting with the community at any point.

One, Ben Fhala, cited “Governor Hochul’s and State Senator Liz Krueger’s vision of our island…” Hochul, as we’ve seen, has no vision for Roosevelt Island at all, aside from protecting Shelton Haynes as CEO, no matter what. As for Krueger, if she has a vision, she hasn’t shared it.

Taking nothing away from Fhala, Tang and Melamed – each of whom look terrific – Krueger and Hochul’s approach is dazzlingly wrong. Roosevelt Islanders pay nearly all of RIOC’s bills without any say in how there money is spent or who spends it.

Krueger and Hochul shrugged off a golden opportunity to change that. But if they next sweep clean the virtual zombies and bobbleheads welded to board seats already, they can get it right.

That, however, stands little chance of happening.

Challenges Ahead, Questions Unanswered

Had Hochul and Krueger polled residents, the new board members would have been asked about their stand on the issues.

First up: Shelton Haynes and his executive team. For years now, the board of enablers has evaded its legal responsibility for hiring, firing and managing RIOC. This led to the least qualified president/CEO in RIOC history.

What’s worse than Haynes, though, is the hidden management of RIOC by the governor’s Executive Chamber. They’re unelected, unidentified, distanced from the community but ruling over it.

Are any of the new appointees ready to stand up on behalf of Roosevelt Island, or will they, like the current board, shake at the knees whenever the calls come from upstate?

Good intentions are not enough, and none of us know anything about what Melamed, Tang or Fhala pledged before being appointed by Hochul. We repeat: good intentions are not enough.

Haynes and his Albany handlers have rolled the board for years, and nothing suggests that real changes are imminent. After all, the three new board members all consented without any public airing of issues and positions.

What we may just have is three good people who, like David Kapell before them, grind to a halt when they realize that, in spite of their best efforts, nothing will change until someone has the guts to clean house and open the windows and doors.

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