To describe the 2017-2018 Public Purpose Fund Committee’s public session as sparsely attended would be excessively kind.
But why was more of the public not there? For the most part, these groups are led by volunteers who are doing this work for your benefit – and you benefit immeasurably from their effort.
Had you been there, you could have helped your favorite group secure more or better funding to enable them to enrich more children, take better care of our aging and disabled population, better beautify our Island with high quality art, and ensure our history isn’t forgotten.
To those Islanders who cry about democracy and the lack of it here, this could have been your chance to influence the way the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation spends a little piece of its money. The Common Council of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) decides, in effect, how to divide up $100,000. The recommendations then go to the RIOC Board for final approval. At the time the process was designed, back in 2008, RIOC President Steve Shane said, “Assuming this goes as we expect, the RIRA recommendation will be tantamount to approval.”
The audience at the public session has an important role in this process. Any member of the public is allowed to ask questions of a group after its presentation to the committee. I’ve seen an audience question turn an otherwise generic application on its head, and compel the committee to ask follow-up questions, and perhaps ultimately give one group less money to another’s advantage.
There is a reason they allow a third of the time each group has for questions from the public. The questions from the public are typically the most illuminating questions in the process. They clear up rumors, clarify the reach of programs, ask about past conduct, and can help the committee more fully appreciate the value of a nonprofit.
Our nonprofits suffer from the same problems our retail stores and restaurants do. We are a small place, and many of us do not spend our weekdays here. These funds are one way to help maintain our Island’s essential services and programming.
It is difficult to convince RIOC to value the local institutions that enrich the lives of Island children, support those with disabilities, and help bring us together as a community when the community doesn’t make its voice heard.