How long has this been going on? The Gaping RIOC Leadership Gap

How long has this been going on? The Gaping RIOC Leadership Gap

A leadership gap at RIOC, with roughly 150 employees, has been evident since mid-summer and has gone unaddressed publicly. That the situation was only marginally better before kept it from seeming the congealed muddle it is.

by David Stone

The Roosevelt Island Daily News

Exposing the Leadership Gap

Not until a RIOC board meeting earlier this month did we get a hint at any causes for the faltering direction radiating from Blackwell House.

President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes, according to Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson, was on “extended medical leave.” She gave no cause or date when it started. More important, neither she nor anyone else said who was in charge during his absence.

Then, we found in the content of a federal lawsuit that both Haynes and Robinson were in ill-health, suffering from alleged racial discrimination permeating Roosevelt Island, elected officials and Governor Hochul’s close advisors. Their lawsuit fingered this writer as the instigator of the racist current.

All that notwithstanding, no one has indicated who is now in charge, making decisions and distributing assignments. That’s critical because the state agency is mired in multiple crises.

The New York State Shelton J. Haynes Official Parking Area on a typical day in August, this year.


It’s not so visible now, but the leadership gap extends like tentacles into upper management and down to the general workforce.


in roughly one year, Haynes fired CFO John O’Reilly and long time accountant Robert Henry. And before replacements were found, Comptroller Daeman Di Stefano resigned. This leaves the financial cupboard so bare, there’s not enough left to produce a crucial annual budget proposal or financial reports.

That’s probably the most critical of the invisible crises, but there’s more.

Capital Projects

We learned this week that Director Prince Shah joined the RIOC exodus. While no announcement was made, this leaves another downstream leadership gap. Only outside resource, LiRo, remains, but the needs don’t go away.

A possible explanation for Shah’s departure resides in news that his wife, with a partner, recently opened a new restaurant in Montgomery, Alabama. It would be no surprise if he’s headed in that direction.

The gap is concerning, but one observer saw a bright side. “The better news there is the horrible bike lane and ramp will die.”


Whether you approved of Haynes’s management over the last several years, the fact is that his illness leaves RIOC with no one at the helm.

While Robinson and Acting COO Mary Cunneen would fill normally fill in, neither has enough experience or authority. Robinson is especially vulnerable because she joined Haynes in suing the very state overseers she must work with.

Tagging them along with elected officials as supporters of prevalent racism poisons those relationships.

Ameliorating things is the fact that Governor Hochul’s closest advisors in the Executive Chamber have pretty much run RIOC for some time. An effete board of directors that palms off responsibility for critical oversight eases that control.

Conclusion: The Leadership Gap

Allowing an important state agency to stumble around like this with in-fighting up and down the line is intolerable. But Haynes’s – and Robinson’s – stress-related illnesses put the governor’s office in a bind.

Add to that a pot boiling over with lawsuits and investigations, and you’ve got a puzzling brew that will be hard to blend into coherence.

But that’s why we elect leaders. They promise to protect and lead.

Sadly, after a miserable year of failures and few successes, we’re still waiting for them to do so.

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