Opinion: When Time to Lead, RIOC Sticks with the Status Quo

May 28, 2017

 In the April 29 issue of The Wire, Margie Smith, the chair of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation’s Governance Committee, is quoted as saying, “Here [on the Island], we don’t have the same kind of representation as people in New York City who have elected their officials.” It seems that, despite her best efforts, bringing representation to RIOC is still a reverie.


On May 16, the routine RIOC Governance Committee meeting became stranger than fiction when RIOC’s new general counsel, Jacqueline Flug, called an executive session in the first three minutes of the meeting. All public attendees were sent out, and ethical concerns – about the committee’s recommendation letter regarding the qualifications of new Board members – were raised behind closed doors. 


As the public filed back into the room, the committee returned to discussion of the one and only thing on its agenda – the types of qualifications the governor should consider upon appointing new RIOC Board members. 


The first paragraph scratched from the list of qualifications was the “interest in affordable housing” clause. With the Island currently failing its original mixed-income mission, and losing more of its affordable housing with Westview’s privatization plans, it only seemed appropriate. Yet not a single comment was made about the unfortunate failure to preserve the Island’s economic diversity. 


Instead, the following would be inserted: “Candidates are expected to have a sincere interest in the community and experience in dealing with issues which relate to RIOC’s mission to design, develop, operate, maintain and manage Roosevelt Island.” Sadly, many Islanders have already had to leave because of unafforable housing development.


Naturally, the skills that go with caring for “sanitary and safe housing for low-income New Yorkers” then became immaterial, and were, therefore, taken off the list as well. Many qualifications like financial, real estate, and legal knowledge, were taken out, too, because, as David Kraut so eloquently put it, “It would disqualify most of us from being members.” What was put in is an emphasis on achievements in various fields from business to the arts, as well as understanding of business, governmental and financial affairs. Is our Board not interested in Island residents who understand the plight of the Island and Islanders, and instead more focused on qualifications that should be fulfilled by RIOC staff?


Having largely disregarded Island representation, the meeting’s tone of secrecy and self-preservation was then complemented by a final display of egos. As the committee discussed a motion to forward the results of the April elections (or referendum, or survey, depending on whom you ask) RIRA held to recommend Island residents to the governor as potential RIOC Board members, the meeting became contentious. Both Kraut and Polivy abstained from voting on the issue, with Kraut calling the RIRA elections “corrupt and absurd.” Both members had objected to the inclusion of their names on the ballot without their permission. 


Smith was then left as the sole voting member of the committee, and without a quorum to proceed, action on the RIRA election for RIOC representation was thrown out the window.                                                                    

When asked if the discussion meant there would be no mention of the RIRA results from the RIOC Board, Flug stressed that RIOC has nothing to do with the RIRA elections. 


The complete disregard to the voice of the people continued into Thursday’s RIOC Board meeting. During the entire discussion about the letter of recommendation to the governor, not one word was mentioned about the elections held by RIRA. While the coverletter states “...we encourage your office to select members who currently live on Roosevelt Island and have been a Roosevelt Island resident for at least one year,” it is too little too late.


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