RIYP’s Breach of Duty

When Steve Kaufman, treasurer of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, notified RIOC on the afternoon of Friday, March 2, that they would breach their contract, lock their doors, and walk away from the Youth Center at the close of business – weeks ahead of the conclusion of their contract – RIOC was faced with the task of formulating a plan and presenting it to the community within 48 hours. To their credit, and with the assistance of Public Safety and former RIYP staff, they opened the center’s doors on Monday and had familiar faces there to greet the children as usual.

Even those who grouse about RIOC have to admit it was an impressive performance under difficult circumstances.

But let’s be clear. It should never have come to this. The financial health and well-being of this cherished community organization, which has served some of the Island’s most vulnerable populations for decades, was entrusted to the RIYP Board of Directors, which for too long turned a blind eye to the behavior of its executive director and the existential threat that it and he ultimately posed to RIYP. Whether it was hubris, carelessness, or simply an inability to change with the times, the seven-member RIYP Board ultimately failed the very organization – and the parents who depended on it – that they were duty-bound to protect.

Roosevelt Island is fortunate to have so many altruistic residents willing to lend their time and expertise to serving on the boards of our many nonprofit organizations. But board members have a responsibility to put the health of the organization ahead of any personal loyalty to an individual employee. In RIYP’s case, failure to see the looming threat and take action first cost RIYP its Beacon contract. When the loss of nearly 70% of their funding didn’t raise alarms, one might expect that the announcement of an active investigation into allegations of misconduct by one of its employees – accusations that were found credible by an outside law firm specializing in these issues – would. Still, the board refused to act or even show signs of curiosity about the accusations. In the end, they left RIOC little choice but to withhold further funding.

On Monday, former RIYP director Roy Magsisi greeted parents and kids at the door as usual, now as the head of the RIOC Youth Center. Magsisi faces the challenge of rebuilding relationships with a segment of the community that previous leadership openly disdained and antagonized, while also maintaining those who supported his predecessors. There were complaints about RIYP in addition to the transgressions of its executive director and Magsisi has a real opportunity to build the sort of program the kids deserve. We believe he’s up to the task.

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