Assistant CFO/Comptroller Daeman Di Stefano’s resignation raises new questions about management at RIOC and creates a serious gap at a crucial time. His departure will also resurface questions about racial tensions within the struggling state agency.
Immediate reactions were strong as news of Di Stefano’s resignation spread among RIOC insiders and critics.
“Another one bites the dust,” one said simply, referring to a long string of short stays under President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes, especially among Caucasian staff.
“The guy probably doesn’t want to cook their books,” another shrugged.
No comment is expected from Di Stefano nor from RIOC which does not speak with local media about anything.
About Daeman Di Stefano
Prior to his time at RIOC, the “Non-Profit Finance Management Professional,” as described on his LinkedIn Profile, was a model of consistency and social awareness.
He spent almost his entire professional career at the Randall’s Island Park Alliance. Over fifteen years, he grew from Finance Associate to Chief Financial Officer.
He also devoted time as a volunteer tax preparer for New York Cares and spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer.
He signed on with RIOC in March of last year and abruptly found the full financial load in his lap in August when Haynes fired CFO John O’Reilly, no reason given, after O’Reilly deftly guided the agency through the pandemic crisis.
To many observers, O’Reilly essentially ran RIOC for a couple of years while the far less qualified and inexperienced Haynes stayed on the sidelines. Tensions rose, and Haynes exercised his best known management technique, firing his CFO.
That weakened RIOC’s position before Di Stefano defaulted into the role. After a year, he had not been promoted from the Assistant role, although he had no one over him.
An Uncomfortable Tenure
Presenting financial insights at board meetings, Di Stefano went from confidently assuming his new role to nervous and uncertain at the podium.
Planted questions from board members sought cover for shaky financial situations, especially over skyrocketing insurance costs. He seemed to steer clear of bad news caused by mismanagement under Haynes.
Both the Roosevelt Island Tram and the newly reopened Sportspark are bleeding money with no ready source for covering the losses. Cash flow, crucial for critical future needs, dropped precipitously in the past year.
No effort was made to address that and RIOC’s somnambulant board slept through, never venturing a public question.
And there was more, reflecting the difficulties inherent in working under the current Haynes/Hochul administration.
“He didn’t have the personality/confidence to stand-up to a lying bully,” one insider said. “And he was not willing to protect his staff, hence Robert Henry’s firing. Guessing he was having an issue with Shelton, Gretchen (Robinson) and Tajuna (Sharpe) and saw it coming.”
Robinson is RIOC’s Chief Counsel and Sharpe is responsible for personnel. Along with Haynes, the two executives have been accused of teaming up in a practice or racial cleansing at RIOC.
Di Stefano’s exit comes at a critical time, and it’s accented by Haynes’s failure at finding a replacement for O’Reilly, a near impossible task to start with.
August is when annual budgeting slips into high gear. RIOC’s $32 million budget, notorious for disguising reality, takes shape. A proposed budget gets board approval in September before being sent off to Albany for consideration in the state’s budget. There’s little wiggle room in the timing.
Various errors – like the initial Sportspark fee structure – and RIOC’s precarious status suggest that Haynes has few financial gifts. And there is no one on staff with the expertise of Di Stefano, let alone O’Reilly.
The consecutive June departures probably puts RIOC at the mercy of Albany which already does the bulk of the local management, following numerous miscues, lawsuits and investigations. It seems inevitable that Albany handlers will now have to shepherd RIOC’s annual budget too.