Roosevelt Islander Online: Law Requiring Majority Of RIOC Directors And Chief Executive Officer To Be Roosevelt Island Residents Sponsored By Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright And State Senator Jose Serrano Passes NY State Legislature

Last week, the NY State Senate and NY State Assembly passed legislation to
require the
Roosevelt Island Operating Corp
Chief Executive Officer
and a
majority of RIOC Board of Directors
(5 of 9 members) to be residents of Roosevelt Island. 

The legislation was sponsored by
State Senator Jose Serrano
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. 

According to this
May 11 Press Release
from Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright: 

The New York State Legislature this week approved Assembly Member Rebecca
Seawright’s legislation giving residents a majority vote on the governing
board of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation.

The measure is part of a series of reforms to bring greater accountability
and transparency to the board, which serves more than 12,000

Under the Seawright legislation, five of the nine appointees to the board,
and majority, must reside on the island. The governor appoints four resident
board members. The mayor appoints one resident board member. 

“The Founding Fathers’ cry of “no taxation without representation” has
somehow eluded the Board of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation,”
said Seawright. “This long overdue reform will finally give residents a
majority on the governing board to fight for a better Roosevelt

State Senator José M. Serrano sponsored the companion bill in the Senate.
The measure now moves to the desk of Governor Kathy Hochul for her

Other provisions of the Legislature’s act would: 

  • Clarify the residency requirement for certain public appointments to the
    Board of Directors of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation and
    stipulate for their immediate resignation from the board upon the
    termination of such residency; 
  • Provide for the appointment of a successor within 60 days when a board
    vacancy occurs within an unexpired term; 
  • Require the posting of job vacancies on the corporation’s website. 

The Legislature also approved a separate bill sponsored by Seawright and
Serrano to require the corporation’s Chief Executive Officer to reside on
the island. A non-resident CEO would be required to relocate to the island
within one year of appointment.

Asked if Governor Hochul will sign the legislation, a spokesperson replied:

Governor Hochul is reviewing the legislation.

I asked several Roosevelt Island residents involved with and knowledgeable about
local governance issues their thoughts about the legislation.

Former RIOC Director and Chair of the RIOC Governance Committee Margie Smith

I think this new law is good, but there’s some confusion about what the bill
actually does. For many years, the law has required that a majority of the
board members be residents. That’s not new. The way around it has been that
when a resident member quits, the seat stays empty and that can quickly shift
the balance of power. So, the part of the bill that requires a replacement
member be put in within 60 days is terrific. Also terrific is the part that
requires a member who moves off the Island to resign. I love both of those.
And, the requirement to post jobs on local sites is great.

However, I don’t agree with the requirement that a CEO must reside on the
Island. I don’t think it’s necessary to live here in order to do a good job.
We’ve had a couple of good CEOs who lived off Island. The job of CEO is
extremely difficult. It requires a very unique skill set; someone with the
ability to manage facilities, including grounds and transportation, people,
the press, etc. It also requires a knowledge of how to maneuver within a
political structure which can be very difficult. Requiring that the CEO
reside on Roosevelt Island severely limits our pool of candidates to fill
this position. And, a good CEO doesn’t have to live here to understand the
community and do a good job. It requires a smart person who has the
background to handle the mechanics of the job and the ability to work with
the community to understand our needs.

The real issue is, and has always been, the fact that the residents DO NOT
ELECT the members of the board. Having fought this fight for years, I
recognize it’s next to impossible to get a bill passed that allows this and
I applaud Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright and Senator Jose Serrano’s
efforts. This bill is another step forward but we still have lots of work to
do on getting ELECTED representation for the Island.

Former Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Governance Committee
Chair and current candidate for NY State Democratic Committeewoman Joyce Short

I applaud the efforts Assembly Member Seawright and Senator Serrano are
making to put residents on the RIOC Board and insure they are replaced when
they no longer serve. But here’s the problem even once this bill passes….

Having Roosevelt Islanders on the RIOC Board can only provide the elected
government, that the Constitution guarantees, if those directors are elected
by our community, not appointed and serving at the pleasure of the Governor-
as is currently the case.

An important interest in my running for
NY State Democratic Committeewoman
is to insure that the flaws in our present “government by appointment”
system, are corrected.

Our community is unique in that the state of NY re-inserts itself at the
local level here on Roosevelt Island. It’s one thing for a Public Benefit
Corporation to manage the assets of the state. It’s quite another for them
to promulgate regulations for our residents…… and make up the laws as
they go along…. like recently handcuffing a woman for a parking violation.

The land-leases our rents pay for cover the operating costs of the Island,
not revenues from the State or City. RIOC’s transparency failure and
disregard for community input results from their being appointed, not
elected to their positions.

While RIOC officers and Board members may try to do their best, the
structure, itself, is a critical flaw that begs correction. 

Former RIRA President Matt Katz said:

I am absolutely blown away! 

I wonder if the recent incendiary letter by RIOC whistle-blowers wasn’t the
impetus for these monumental changes. 

Given that many of us have been working towards this for over twenty years
and with succeeding generations of State representatives, frankly, I didn’t
expect these necessary and democratic provisions to be discussed, much less
passed by the Legislature in Albany in my lifetime.. I am profoundly
grateful to Assembly Member Seawright and Senator Serrano who were
responsible for this accomplishment. Of course, Gov. Hochel must now sign
this into law, but I can see no reason why she wouldn’t. 

I hope that the Roosevelt Island Resident Association, which was responsible
for seating many Island residents on the RIOC Board in past years, and
through Island-wide elections, will take on the task of filling the vacant
Board seats and—with Island residents. 

I’m dancing on air!!

RIRA Member Frank Farance said: 

This is just legislative hygiene, in case the law wasn’t clear already.

There are existing laws on the books that RIOC doesn’t comply with regarding
directors, other than a first or second vacancy, I doubt this law will
change the behavior of RIOC, the ABO, or the Governor.

Ho hum. What change do you expect in RIOC? RIOC has too many staff, many of
them lack qualifications. For example, the PPF process was changed because
of accounting and bookkeeping, but we need to outsource PPF – not have
qualified people working for RIOC. So why would the posting of job vacancies
help? Surely, I believe there should be a common posting, but many of the
problems are caused by poor management and executive management at RIOC, not
the transparency of job postings.

RIRA already reviewed this a couple years ago when Joyce Short told
Seawright that the Island wanted this, but the RIRA Common Council had
rejected this idea with many concerns, including: 

  1. the requirement diminishes the pool of viable candidates; 
  2. having an apartment on the Island doesn’t mean that the CEO stays here as
    demonstrated by a prior RIOC President (Indelicato, I think); 
  3. having an apartment in one of the apartment buildings might create a
    conflict of interest (as demonstrated by a prior RIOC President); 
  4. the residency requirement will NOT require the RIOC President to give up
    their prior residence (very difficult housing market), nor will there
    Roosevelt Island residence become their Primary Residence, as it has other
    important consequences; and 
  5. the cost of the apartment (probably additional $60-80K per year) will be
    paid by RIOC, categorized as Public Purpose (reducing money spent directly
    on residents), paid by our ground leases and, thus, paid via our own rents
    and maintenance payments – surely that $60-80K could be better spent on
    the Island, such as greater PPF monies each year for Island organizations.

Rather than listen to a couple of out-of-touch Roosevelt-Island-Whisperers,
legislators would do better, say, by engaging with elected representatives
in RIRA or the community directly in a Town Hall meeting. I suggest dropping
the residency requirement for the RIOC President/CEO.

Former RIRA member Sherie Helstien said:

Residents not chosen by the people over whom they make community decisions are
no better or different than ones from off-Island. Period.

As previously reported, in 2010
then Governor David Patterson vetoed RIOC governance legislation that would
have required all 7 Public Members of the Board to be Roosevelt Island
residents. According to Governor Patterson’s veto statement: 

… While the interest of Roosevelt Island residents may often coincide with those of the State and the City there may be instances in which they do not. Roosevelt Island represents a large investment by the State of New York and is a complex operation with responsibilities to both New York State and New York City. RIOC’s enabling statute makes clear that it is to function in the public interest “for the benefit of the people of the state”…

Below is Governor Patterson’s veto statement.

What will Governor Hochul do?


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