The future of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) hangs in the balance with a board meeting set for October 26th at 5:30 p.m. The board itself is internally embattled, and numerous lawsuits, staffing shortages and investigations hobble daily operations.
by David Stone
Although all required notices have not been posted, RIOC’s calendar includes a board meeting set for Thursday at 5:00 p.m. But during RuthAnne Visnauskas’s lackadaisical tenure as Chair – she rarely shows up – regard for Open Meetings rules is casual as best.
Among Items Posted on the Agenda:
- Board Approval of Dhruvika Amin as VP/CFO, although her LinkedIn page already lists her as active since last month.
- Board Approval of Mary Cunneen as Chief Operating Officer, a position she has held and been fully compensated for for over a year
- The set aside of another $60,000 for Sportspark renovation work
- Belatedly, the proposed RIOC Budget for the next fiscal year. More on this later.
Significantly, there is no mention of ongoing failures in Tram operations, resulting in numerous out-of-control rocking incidents.
The state agency has been as dependable as a 1950s jalopy this year.
Critical Issues Concerning RIOC’s Future
- The tenure of President/CEO Shelton J. Haynes and Chief Counsel Gretchen Robinson. The pair sued their bosses in September after receiving what they describe as “Get out!” orders from the Governor’s executive chamber. They accuse their overseers of racism, saying they’ve been put under extreme stress. Haynes is due back from extended medical leave on the 28th, just in time for the Halloween Parade.
- Board Members: Raw disagreements on how board members should act were in full view in September. The newest board members, especially Ben Fhala, advocate for transparency while the others prefer keeping doors closed. Robinson angrily attacked Fhala over – of all things – his publicly responding to residents’ concerns. And Howard Polivy, a hardliner whose term expired more than ten years ago, openly accused Fhala of showboating, which was okay with Robinson.
- The Budget: After firings and resignations left RIOC bereft of financial management, the staff was unable to provide any reports for the September meeting. That’s critical because September is normally when the future year’s budget is considered. There is not, at present, anyone on staff with sufficient credentials for developing financial reports or budgets.
In the Balance
RIOC lost its identity over several years. Local management – Haynes and Robinson – have not gotten the training or support they need. Or, if they have, it hasn’t worked.
RIOC is an expensive deal for Roosevelt Islanders who are forced to cover almost all their bills. The results are out of balance with the costs.
While a wide range of problems persist unresolved – Tram safety and overcrowding, underfunded nonprofits, unacceptable levels of transparency and accountability, hazards related to the seawall, overstaffing, PSD mismanagement, etc. – RIOC appears ill-equipped for resolutions.
In the meantime, Haynes – as RIOC’s face in the community – suffers the brunt of criticism that should be shared with Albany. The shadowy governor’s operators either approve or initiate what goes on with RIOC on Roosevelt Island. Haynes does not act alone.
But when things blow up, it falls on local management. And it will stay that way until the masks come off and transparency and accountability become the norms here.