Last year, when the Roosevelt Island Senior Association’s sponsorship wasn’t renewed by the Department for the Aging and its program director, Rema Townsend, was fired, all former board members turned their back on RISA. Only Barbara Parker stayed. Some people saw that as proof that she was somehow involved in the same criminal activity that Townsend would later plead guilty to. Yet Parker, and a brand new board, were able to maintain most of the current membership and recruit a new group of RISA believers to join her in keeping the RISA dream alive. Are these new and old members, many of whom had prior involvement with RISA in the past, all criminal masterminds? Are they Parker’s pawns?
In a public Board meeting, RIOC Board member Michael Shinozaki made allegations of criminality against Parker. Because of his role on the RIOC Board, those allegations carry weight – further fueling a fire of distrust that has been smoldering for months. But Shinozaki did not supply any support for those very serious allegations.
I have sat down with members from both the past and current RISA boards; however no one from the past board would speak on the record for this, or prior stories we’ve run on this subject. Barring proof, I have trouble indicting the current RISA board for anything besides being easy scapegoats. It’s easy to make this a story of heroes and villains but, in reality, life is seldom that simple.
Who knows; maybe Carter Burden’s transition on the the Island would have been easier if there were not a cohort of former RISA board members in their ear positioning them against the new board. Lisa Fernandez and the Carter Burden team are here to do a job; the center’s history isn’t personal for them. But it sure is for others – on both sides of this division.
What will it take to put an end to the Senior Center turf war? Carter Burden runs the Senior Center from 9-5 pm., Mondays-Fridays. RISA has official access to run programs at the Center evenings and weekends. Does the Island’s sizable senior population not deserve as much variety in programming as they are willing to support? With no proof of wrongdoing, should we not give the new RISA the benefit of the doubt? And if someone does have evidence that members are engaging in criminal activity, speak up, and take it to the proper authorities, so that as a community we can finally move on, and our seniors can have the center and environment that they deserve.