RIOC Board Should Be Required to Hold Town Halls

May 14, 2017


To the Editor:


I appreciate the thoughtful editorial and the interview of RIOC Director, Margie Smith, penned by WIRE editor, Briana Warsing, in the April 29 issue. They continue the long discussion of Roosevelt Island’s bizarre method of governance, as discussed in these pages for many years, and that I commented on in that issue.  


Both Briana and Margie bring up an important issue that has long plagued efforts to include community voices and support for Island initiatives. Margie and I worked together years ago with the Maple Tree Group to create the RIOC Board referendum, a term we used because we are not empowered to directly elect resident Board members. And we have served together as RIRA President and Vice-President. I have great respect for my neighbors who have volunteered to work as uncompensated RIOC directors, and none more than Margie. 


Margie noted that few RIRA counselors show up at RIOC Board or committee meetings. Briana made the same case, and this is true. However, these meetings are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. when many, if not most, in this working community are unavailable. Further, the time allocated for public comment at Board meetings is brief, no more than two or three minutes each; hardly sufficient for an airing of often complicated questions. 


The only existing forum in which residents may speak at length with prospective directors are the Candidates’ Nights, held prior to the sporadic elections/plebiscites that have suggested residents to the governors who appointed them. The most recent was held on April 12. It attracted only a couple dozen residents, and with a poor showing from the RIRA Common Council. Currently, Board appointments have the feel of life tenure, much like the Supreme Court. This was never our intent; our hope was for regular elections to fill or refresh the four-year terms spelled out in the legislation that created RIOC. What we created has provided a modicum of accountability in the administration of this profoundly undemocratic, jury-rigged form of government. As Briana and Margie noted, what is missing is accessibility.


Last year, at a RIOC Board meeting, I suggested that the resident directors make it their business to meet with their constituents regularly, once or twice a year, in a Town Meeting that would be more conducive to resident participation. They would not require the presence of off-Islanders, such as the ex officio representatives of State Housing and Budget nor the salaried RIOC employees. The meetings would be neighbor-to-neighbor and would address issues important to Island residents. With RIOC’s ample resources, an appropriate venue with Island-wide publicity could make this a great success and would allow both new residents and old-timers to acquaint themselves with their RIOC reps; who they are, what they have done in office, and in life, and what their goals for the future might be.  


The idea was roundly shot down by the directors. While I understand the time demands on these folks, it seems to me that a formal obligation to interact with constituents was always a part of what we had in mind. Perhaps, if you think this is a good idea, you might make your opinion known to your resident reps on the Board. The squeaky wheel sometimes gets the grease and we have the potential for 14,000 squeaky wheels. It’s our home, our community, and as I’ve said many (many!) times, decisions are made by those who show up.


So show up.


Matthew Katz


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