September 2023 finds the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) reflecting persistent failures in its board agenda. “Approval of the budget is not on it,” one insider commented, “not shocking but evidence they are behind the eight ball on this.” This adds to the mystery of whatever deal they swung with the MTA over OMNY.
by David Stone
Traditionally, the September board meeting is among RIOC‘s most consequential. It’s more so now after years of canceled meetings and increasingly withheld vital information. But this year, the missing is more significant than anything present on the agenda.
September 2023: Is Reality Catching Up on RIOC?
For the first time that we are aware of, RIOC’s September board meeting will not include a preliminary budget. The reasons should cause concern among board members, but they won’t because they leapfrogged the mystical border into passive acquiescence three years ago.
Tied to a tight state process, the preliminary budget sets a roadmap for the next year. Its content and any changes added must be submitted to Albany for budget inclusion in December. All the activity requires board approval. That part’s easy because they accept everything and anything, making the missing information even more troubling.
This is like a wide receiver finding himself wide-open in the end zone while his quarterback can’t figure out how to throw a pass. It’s embarrassing as it should be, but with this gang of overseers, it won’t be. They pose a little, but mostly, they don’t get involved.
The primary reason RIOC has no preliminary budget in place is the same one that’s caused the vast shrinking of community events: So many talented staffers have been fired or simply left RIOC without being replaced by others of equal ability.
In this case, it started a year ago when President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes fired Chief Financial Officer John O’Reilly on the eve of budget development. One of a small number of executives not committed to self-gelding under Haynes – which may explain his dismissal – O’Reilly was never replaced.
Assistant CFO Daeman Di Stefano filled in, but after some shaky performances in support of Haynes’s “controlling the narrative,” he quit this summer. This left RIOC with no qualified finance expert just when needed most. And, consequently, no budget.
At this time, it’s unclear how Haynes will wrestle that bear, but don’t expect transparency. We may never know. Moreover, Roosevelt Islanders footing all the bills for RIOC may never get the budget information to which they are entitled.
Will the MTA Continue Stealing $100K Every Month from Roosevelt Island?
No matter what’s on the books, the law is really only what anyone is willing to enforce. The MTA’s failure to equally share revenues collected from Tram fares is ethically disreputable but made acceptable because no one in authority will call them out.
Nonetheless, there were hopes that, once a deal bringing OMNY to the Tram was worked out, it would include ethical revenue-sharing. Roosevelt Islanders obliged to pay for almost all RIOC operations, cough up money for Tram operations while the MTA doesn’t contribute a dime.
But when Haynes humbly mumbled during the OMNY ceremony, neither he nor anyone from the MTA said a word about revenue-sharing. Concerns are now reinforced by an item in the September 2023 agenda for the RIOC board.
It sets out time for the board’s “Ratification of the Memorandum of Understanding with the MTA for OMNY Installation.”
A memorandum of understanding (MOU), to be clear, is a document that describes the broad outlines of an agreement that two or more parties have reached.”
Thus, after four years of effort and pressure from all sides, there is no new contract.
On Thursday, we might find out more about the terms. How broad are they? And why haven’t they led to an actual contract after all this time?
Meanwhile, it seems that while the Tram operates at an annual loss of over $1 million, the MTA continues pocketing over $100,000 in unearned cash every month.
Although RIOC obviously has the documents, it has not posted them as demanded by open meetings law. It’s common practice at RIOC, every time implying a lack of transparency and accountability heightened in recent years.
We’ll be watching and also looking out for any public disclosures involving the missing budget details.