Ellen Polivy, president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) since November 2012, resigned Wednesday night.
She made the planned announcement at the end of the meeting of the organization’s Common Council, emphasizing that it was for personal reasons. It came after she raised, once again, expulsion proceedings against Council member Frank Farance.
Polivy has been in a running battle with Farance, a former RIRA president, who challenged an informal accounting of revenue and expenses of the 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival. Farance continued that challenge Wednesday night at the beginning of the meeting, responding to an informal audit report by CPA Geoffrey Kerr, who told the Council he could find no evidence of wrongdoing or malfeasance in the festival’s financial report.
“Does that look like standard accounting practice to you?” Farance asked Kerr. Kerr responded by reminding Farance that he had asked for the specifics of his concerns, in writing, but Farance had not supplied anything. That seemed to end the matter, at least for that portion of the Council session.
Polivy brought expulsion proceedings against Farance in November, but they have not gone smoothly. (See issues of The WIRE online at tinyurl.com/3405wire, tinyurl.com/3406wire, and tinyurl.com/3407wire.)
In addition to being RIRA President, Polivy serves on Community Board 8 and is co-chair of the Roosevelt Island Community Coalition, which negotiated concessions with Cornell NYC Tech. She has recently appeared overwhelmed by the amount of work she has to handle. (In addition, her mother died last month, though she did not mention that until the end of the meeting.) She apologized for failing to include January 8 meeting minutes in the agenda package sent to Councilors, although the temporary secretary (Joyce Short) had supplied them shortly after the meeting.
The contentious nature of relationships on the Common Council was reflected in a motion by Aaron Hamburger to shut down CCTalk, an internet conferencing tool that allowed Council members to exchange messages. Hamburger said it was being abused. Another member said that the sheer bulk of material destroys its usefulness. Short said, “There’s a difference between debate and baiting. People who are attacked feel they need to defend themselves. When they defend themselves or someone else, they’re getting 20 paragraphs, not even factually or grammatically correct. It’s cyberbullying – the use of the internet to defame and hurt. For us in this organization to maintain it is inappropriate.”
Farance said, “I’d like to point out that the Council reflector has been in use since 1997. [Originally,] Harry Small presented the idea. What you experience now is no different from what it was in 1997. The key thing is that, if you don’t want to read it, don’t read it. If you get rid of it, you’re going to have to use email addresses on a list. The conversation will continue. It just won’t be continued fairly; some addresses will be wrong or missing. That’s the worst outcome. If you don’t like it, just don’t read it.”
Trevre Andrews agreed with Farance. “You can vote it down now, [but then] I’m just going to send things by email.” Chirivas added, “We will be robbed of our voice if we shut down CCTalk.” Another member said, “I think it’s up to adults to police themselves,” said another member.
Twelve voted to shut down the facility. Nine voted to keep it alive. “We can restart it later,” said Polivy, who abstained in the voting.
“It troubles me,” said David Evans later in the meeting, “that the first entry on our website is negative [having to do with Farance’s possible expulsion]. It should be positive – a warm welcome to those who come to the website.”
When the meeting approached the agenda’s end and its remaining items – expulsion and the President’s Report – near 11:00 p.m., Polivy called for an executive session, saying, “We need to not embarrass people.” In attempting to take a vote about executive session, Polivy tried to avoid discussion but members insisted. “I’m vehemently opposed to going into executive session,” said Sharon Pope, pointing out that all the previous discussion on Farance had been in public meetings, with the press present. “We are a residents’ association,” she added. “All our matters should be open to the public. I am not convinced that it is the fault of the media,” referring to earlier appearances of details of the expulsion matter in local media.
“I think it’s moot to take the media out of this,” said Erin Feely-Nahem. “It’s not because the media is portraying it.” Another Council member commented, “It has been in the media from the start,” suggesting that it was late in the game to take the matter into a private session.
Ultimately, seven members of the Council voted to go into executive session but 12 voted against, and proceedings continued with the press present. By then, however, the dozen residents in the audience had been shooed from the room by a Public Safety officer, at Polivy’s request.
Lynne Shinozaki presented a request to postpone the Farance expulsion matter “indefinitely.” She said, “I have been utterly discouraged with this organization. I don’t even know how to respond to what people have said. I don’t think that we can continue the way we have been going.”
Polivy explained to the Council, “Indefinite postponement means that the motion [for expulsion] is still alive, but postponed.” Short pointed out that, in the January Council meeting, a motion was passed requiring a decision in the February meeting, and she threatened to resign if the expulsion proceedings were postponed. When the motion did pass, she said, “I’m out,” and left the meeting.
Polivy then announced her resignation. Next, Octagon representative Nicole Walden announced her own resignation. Lynne Shinozaki then said, “I am also resigning, because I cannot participate in an organization that does this to people.” Julie Palermo said, “I really can’t be a part of this anymore. I’m very disappointed.”
Riverwalk representative Aaron Hamburger attempted to dissuade them. “What you don’t realize,” he said,“is that this issue was destroying the organization. By quitting, you have let Frank win.”
Erin Feely-Nahem said, “I am not going to resign because the Public Safety Committee must continue what it has been doing. It wouldn’t be fair to my constituency. It bothers me. Yes, my stress level is up, but you know what, [what bothers me] means nothing. This isn’t a legitimate reason [to resign] when the community needs you.”
Sharon Pope said, “I hope that we will refuse to accept the resignation of everyone who has said they want to resign. I would also hope that people recognize that it’s not just about the function of RIRA [Council meetings]. Each of us have separate constituencies. I agree with everything Erin said. Ultimately, it is more difficult to work things out. I hope those who have decided to resign will rethink this and come back, and make the contribution that they are capable of. I’m asking each of you to reach out to these individuals [many had already left] to tell them, ‘We need your contribution. You were elected.’”
Anne Kanninen proposed to Polivy that she reconsider her own resignation. Polivy said her current situation makes that impossible. (In resigning, she had mentioned her mother’s death.)
“I have to resign,” Polivy responded. “It would be irresponsible for me to continue, given my personal situation right now. I can’t take this anymore. I’m resigning because I don’t have the time to put into it. I can’t do it.” Speaking of the others who resigned, Polivy said, “I hope you will reach out to them and urge them to stay.”
Without any formal closing, the meeting dissolved at that point, as the remaining Council members packed their belongings to leave.