Like many before it, RIOC‘s June board meeting was most interesting before the meeting started when residents voiced their concerns. This time, it was even more so.
by David Stone
Significant contrast unbalanced the meeting between some public session fire and a process that could be honestly relabeled as bored. High energy did not flow over into the process that followed.
RIOC 2023 June Board Meeting
Several speakers lined up to address the board. The public session is not officially part of the meeting, and RIOC’s fond of reminding residents that it’s a privilege, not anything they must do.
But as the world turns these days, it’s the community’s one chance to be heard.
Speakers pleaded with the board over the need for more support in maintaining Riverwalk Commons and easing Tram crowding. Long time activist Frank Farance outlined how badly the lottery for Fourth of July tickets was run, emphasizing legal violations over disabled accessibility.
But then, Margie Smith took the podium. With what felt like years of frustration, she gave voice to concerns she shares with many others fed up with RIOC’s indifference. Smith is a former board member, and she speaks with insight and authority.
Smith first asked that the board resume holding open exchange sessions with the community. It happened in the past but dried up as the board grew more cloistered. These days, there is no give and take.
She objected to the unfairness of board members participating remotely while RIOC now will not accept e-mailed comments from residents who also can’t attend.
But she saved her strongest comments for the proposed helix bike ramp and RIOC’s neglect of Roosevelt Island nonprofits. The Palace of Versailles Bike Ramp is a colossal boondoggle, a $16 million dollar waste of money. Smith offered some alternatives while detailing why the ramp’s just a bad idea no matter how you looked at it.
With her voice seemingly ready to break, though, she lit into the board over its mistreatment of Island nonprofits. They’re hanging on by their fingernails, she said.
State law allows spending of 3% of RIOC’s operating budget in public purpose money. That’s $900,000, she said, but RIOC gives up only $150,000, less than one-half of 1%. Smith dramatically pointed out that at least seven employees make that much every year, not even counting benefits.
(According to salaries reported in their annual budget, approved minutes later, the actual number is fourteen.)
“You’re supposed to be helping us,” Smith told the stoic board. No one among the board or executives present made any effort to justify the abuse.
And Then, The Band Went Off Key
Item #1 for the official June board meeting was a presentation by the MTA about their upcoming Track Fixation Project tentatively beginning in late August.
Shutting down the tunnels serving Roosevelt Island from time to time is unavoidable, but the MTA speakers outlined steps taken to reduce commuting frustrations. Most significantly, they will set up shuttle trains during daytime hours that run between Queensbridge and 63rd and Lex.
Other times, they will rely of shuttle buses that connect with Queens Plaza.
The plans are not yet complete, but we will keep our readers updated with the changes.
In a lowlight during this conversation, when asked about increasing Tram service as a remedy, CEO Shelton Haynes and Chief Council Gretchen Robinson reacted as if asked about nuclear fission. Or was it fusion?
Fumbling, tumbling answers revealed that, not only had they never considered it, but they also did not know when it shut down overnight or opened up in the morning.
The Money Stuff
In a careless riff, the bored board immediately agreed to bundle five financial agenda items in a single, packaged vote. That was unfortunate because the approved budget has significant issues.
Coming from a family background of professional accountants, I always have experts on hand, and I asked one to take a look.
“The real story is operating income, that is, cash flow, income before depreciation,” he explained. “They are $2 million below the prior year. In other words they spent that much more in cash than the prior year. They are earning less than $1 million in cash surplus this year. The company can’t sustain the capital project forecast at that level. Bottom line no more improvements.”
It was not discussed, not even mentioned before the predictable unanimous approval. But the board had little choice because there was only one day left before a mandatory deadline.
On a lighter note, CFO Damian De Stefano said calmly that, because they were late with renewals again, RIOC cavalierly approved an insurance extension in mid-June without board approval. It was never brought up at the May meeting. “We couldn’t let our insurance lapse,” the CFO explained.
Here, the board had less than a day, but rubber-stamped it anyway. Unanimously, of course.
The President’s Report
Throughout the June board meeting, President/CEO Shelton Haynes had barely participated, slumping in his chair, and now his body language got no better as he mumbled through a report that cried out for details. None were offered.
He never mentioned OMNY for the Tram which will miss its promised installation today. No one on the board asked, and residents haven’t a clue about the future.
But he did mention two items that should spark curiosity but did not with this board.
- Conway Ekpo’s exit from the board resulted from a “clerical error,” he said. “What?” nobody asked. During his three year term, Ekpo contributed next to nothing except a quorum and resolute “Yes” vote on whatever Albany threw down the Hudson. Haynes promised a January return, pending Senate approval.
- Haynes mumbled out a claim that Sportspark, not even opened for a month, already had 1,000 members. Never trust round figures like that. They are never accurate for whatever reason. But giving him a break and assuming an optimistic use of member rates, that amounts to $50,000 in income per month. That’s not nearly enough to cover the facility’s costs.
The board remained silent, but then, something weird happened. When an adjournment vote was called prior to an executive session about pending lawsuits, the new board members voted no.
They had something on their collective minds but the superannuated majority ignored it.
They meet again in three months.