The New York State law that gave birth to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) back in 1984 says that its board should be composed of nine members.
Currently, the board has just seven, two vacant non-ex-officio seats and the other five non-ex-officio members have expired terms. These five board members are now serving at the pleasure of the governor, putting the Island in a perilous position. How can they be expected to make tough decisions without having security in their appointments? The needs of the Island are not always aligned with the governor’s interests.
To date, Governor Cuomo has neither reappointed current board members, giving them (and us) a measure of security, nor filled the vacant seats.
Perhaps it is not surprising, with everything going on in current politics, that appointing members to the RIOC board has not been a pressing concern for the governor. But that’s exactly the point being made by Islanders pushing for local representation: The people who control the Island’s management and infrastructure should be elected by us. Having them so far removed from the daily operation of the Island is not a recipe for active engagement or accountability.
This viewpoint isn’t new, and it isn’t subversive or necessarily tied to any self-interest besides that of democracy.
The late RIOC board member Patrick Stewart said about his Island service, “Democracy, quite frankly, was my goal. [Roosevelt Island] is not only not represented anywhere, all of the people [in government] whose policies affected the Island – who did pretty good jobs in their own places – did not do so here.”
New York law tasks the RIOC board with the planning, design, development, operation, maintenance, and management of Roosevelt Island. The RIOC president works for the board. The board is empowered to hire RIOC presidents and fire them – and they have.
Much of the RIOC board’s work takes place on the committee level. They are open to the public, and we recommend you attend one some time. The administration of the Tram, the seawalls, signage, the state of our fields and playgrounds, hiring and firing, and the philosophy of Public Safety, all fall under their purview.
Protecting the Island from storms, shoveling snow, lighting, and traffic patterns, among many more, are also theirs. None of this falls under the purview of any of our elected officials from the city council, New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, or Congress.
In hopes of nudging action on the issue and presenting the governor with community-approved names, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association is holding elections in April and is currently seeking nominees for new RIOC Board members, drawn from the local community (or even the current board), for Cuomo’s consideration.
No matter where you stand on the current board, this isn’t an issue to scoff at or ignore. The RIOC board is in violation of the law that created it, and we have an opportunity – some would call it an obligation – to do something about that. (See pertinent dates and deadlines in Coming Up, pages 3 and 10.)