The Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation spent much of Thursday night's Board of Director's meeting getting their ducks in a row as they close out 2018, including hirings, getting back to work on the Tram elevator, waterproofing all of the floors of Motorgate, and taking down the green fencing on the DEP site. But that doesn't mean there weren't any fireworks. The Board also took the opportunity to tweak RIRA's Public Purpose Fund recommendations, opting to boost the funding to the Carter Burden Senior Center by scaling back the recommended awards to the Island's other non-profits.
Here's a look at the night's news.
504-506 Main Street (circa 1986) was once part of PS/IS 217 and had a playground in its backyard space. Now it will be a library so a new use for the outdoor space is being sought.
The Money Is in the Bank...Almost
RIOC President Susan Rosenthal affirmed that the one-time State payment of $23.9 million, compensation for the land that the Loop Road sits on, and which rings Cornell’s development, is currently being processed and the New York State Division of the Budget has assured Rosenthal that the funds will be received any day now.
According to RIOC Comptroller Muneshwar Jagdharry, a staff reorganization saved RIOC $180,000 which went into increasing Public Safety Department staff by five.
The Board also voted to hire two new employees. The first, Keith Thompson will be RIOC’s new Records Management Officer. Thompson actually held that same job between 1991 and 1998.
The other new employee, John O’Reilly, replaces Kim Quinones, who resigned a couple of months ago, as CFO. Rosenthal said RIOC interviewed many people and selected O’Reilly because of his 25-year experience as CFO in businesses that emphasize construction. “We could use John’s help in that regard, and in other areas,” said Rosenthal.
The Library's Future Backyard
With the NYPL's renovation at 504 Main Street finally underway, RIOC is ready to reimagine a future for the small yard just beyond its doors. The space once held a playground when PS/IS 217 was broken up into different buildings around the Island. Today, the dilapidated space is mostly a magnet for splinters and muddy boots. A public meeting is tentatively planned for January 12 to collect community ideas for the space.
Public Purpose Funds
Most of the night's discussion was reserved for the two agenda items relating to the Public Purpose Funds (PPF), which are awarded each year to support the Island's non-profits.
The Board first approved the modification of grants from the previous year for both Island Kids and the Roosevelt Island Visual Arts Association (RIVAA). Island Kids’ modification will allow them to access the second half of their allocated funds to use towards salaries and equipment for the Moving Forward training program. RIVAA needs more time to spend their money due to delays in construction and other intervening work that had to be completed prior to engaging a contractor for the HVAC system.
The next PPF related resolution proved more controversial. It asked the Board to increase the suggested allocation to the Carter Burden Network (CBN), which operates the Senior Center, by trimming the awards to all other Island nonprofits by 5%.
The request came from RIOC President Susan Rosenthal, who said she'd reviewed RIRA’s recommendations and subsequently received a letter from William Dionne, the CBN’s executive director, objecting to the organization's $3,250 award and requesting the Board reconsider RIRA’s recommendations.
“I think they’ve done an impressive job for the community,” said Rosenthal of CBN.
PPF recommendations are made each year by the Roosevelt Island Residents' Association following a public presentation by each organization, questioning, and a set of guidelines and metrics that RIRA's Dave Evans says is provided to them by RIOC. Those recommendations are then sent to RIOC for final approval. Historically, RIRA's recommendations have always been honored.
All RIOC Board members, including non-resident director Alex Valella, acknowledged that the amount received by CBN was low compared to other applicants, but expressed hesitation at overturning the community’s decision.
The RIOC Board discusses two public purpose fund related resolutions
“It took so long to get to the point of RIRA making these decisions," said Board member David Kraut. "As a matter of good faith, we’ve generally voted along with RIRA’s recommendations.”
In fact, the practice is more than a simple matter of good faith; architects of the PPF process that started in 2008, former RIOC President Steve Shane and Vice President Rosina Abramson, both stated that RIOC approval would be a formality for the most part. “...the RIRA recommendation will be tantamount to approval,”explained Shane at the time.
Rosenthal defended the Board's right to make changes they deemed fit, telling the Board, “We are not rubber stamps.”
Kraut expressed reticence in even bringing the resolution to vote, characterizing Rosenthal's proposal as an “across-the-board renunciation of RIRA’s express view.” The former RIRA president said, “I’ve always been protective of RIRA. The power of RIRA to represent the community is sacrosanct in my personal opinion.” He did add, though, that he was “not opposed in principle to Susan’s recommendation to increase funding to CB at little cost to other agencies.”
The rest of the RIOC board made an effort not to substitute their judgement for that of the community. “Before we as a board alter it, it is good to hear from you. Why was this applicant treated this way,” queried Board member Alejandro Vallela to RIRA PPF committee chair Dave Evans.
When asked to offer an explanation for why CBN had been allotted significantly fewer funds than other applicants, or take Kraut's lead and defend RIRA's role in the PPF process, Evan's demurred. “I don’t want to get into modalities," he told the group. "It is up to RIOC to describe the metrics we use. I have no pride of authorship. At the end of the day it’s the Board’s discretion.”
The Board voted unanimously to amend RIRA’s allocations per Rosenthal’s resolution.
Preservation of Island History
The Board also took the opportunity to do a little house keeping, to the dismay of Roosevelt Island Historical Society President Judy Berdy. The group approved a resolution to send 200 boxes of documents, mostly related to the establishment of RIOC precursor, the Urban Development Corporation, and the development of the Island as a residential community, to the New York State Archives in Albany. The documents were identified by New York State Records personnel. The archival records of the Corporation will be administered by the State Archives in accordance with the provisions of the Arts & Cultural Affairs Law.
Berdy requested during the public session that documents be maintained on the Island for visiting historians. However, General Counsel Jaci Flug said that RIOC has not been contacted by any historian in the two years she’s been with the corporation. “If we were, the documents would be sent here and would be here in a day or so for anyone who wants to review hard copies.”
Flug said that RIOC complies with somewhere between 100-120 Freedom of Information Act requests on a yearly basis.
An Olive Branch for RIRA and Progress for the Hope Memorial
And finally, in her President’s Report, Rosenthal announced she and RIRA President Lynne Shinozaki will start having monthly meetings. Many on RIRA have argued for the need to improve communication and cooperation between the two organizations.
Rosenthal also announced that plans for the Hope Memorial are moving forward. There will be a Request for Proposals for the work issued in April. “It always takes longer than you think it’s going to take when you talk about construction,” she said instead of offering a hard completion date.