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Making Sense: Our Recommendations for RIOC Board Membership

Updated 9 weeks ago David Stone
Making Sense: Our Recommendations for RIOC Board Membership
CCO Public Domain / geralt on Pixabay

On top of the game as usual, Roosevelt Islander editor and publish Rick O'Conor overheard an interesting conversation between RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal and Acting Board Chair Alex Valella at the close of last week's meeting. The news: Board membership is being reviewed by the Governor's team in Albany.

"The Governor wanted to ensure that Boards of New York State Authorities are 'full and active,'" Rosenthal informed O'Conor in a follow up exchange.

No, this is not a RIOC specific effort as suggested by the Residents Association's Joyce Short, who recently dragged the Common Council downhill in a ridiculous election fraught with misrepresentations and charges of ballot fraud. There are more than a thousand public benefit corporations, like RIOC, and good government means preparing them to do their best by outfitting them with full, functioning membership.

Since O'Conor published the new information, Short jumped on her own bandwagon to, again, misrepresent what's going on and promote herself. In response, we here at The Daily felt it wise to counter with a rational list of nominees of our own for Governor Cuomo to consider.

Our recommendations aren't based on politics or any personal agenda but on folks who've shown, through their efforts, that they have something positive to add to Roosevelt Island governance.

Honesty and transparency being the best policy, we'll explain why we each of our nominees deserves RIOC Board Membership. We'll relieve each of them of the uneasy burden of nominating themselves by doing so in their behalf. 

Please note, we have not received requests or approvals from any of them and some may prefer not to serve. But we still like them and the standards they set for our community so much that we'd like the Governor's office to consider them.

But First, About the Existing Membership

We see no reason why current Board Members David Kraut, Fay Christian, Howard Polivy and Michael Shinozaki should not continue, should they wish to. Each plays a significant role in governing RIOC, adding a unique ingredient to debates and voting.

A month ago, we'd have enthusiastically included Margie Smith in that group. Her genuine skepticism flavors deliberations with insight and, inevitably, keeps everyone else on their toes. But in throwing her support behind Joyce Short's election/vote/survey or whatever term she's adopting to rationalize the mess she's made of the Common Council, Smith disqualified herself.

Smith has a right to support anything she believes in, but in this instance, she showed a willingness to stand by the feeble Maple Tree Group/Joyce Short agenda to the point of ignoring the legitimate interests of residents.

Addressing a tiny audience on Candidates Night, Smith made three points, the first a great one. RIOC Board Membership should not be for life, like the Supreme Court, she said. But then, fending off criticism made here concerning the Maple Tree Group's "democracy" claims, she added that there were two things that Roosevelt Islanders were denied that other Americans aren't. We don't, she said, get to say how government money gets spent nor do we have any say about land use. (Correction: Smith did not make any such claim about land use. We misunderstood and subsequently mischaracterized her position.)

To support her statements, Smith had to "forget" her own participation as a resident Board Member in approving this year's RIOC budget, something she has done every year along with her votes regarding Public Purpose Funds recommended by the Residents Association. (Editor's note: Smith's actual statement was “You don’t have control of your money.” Smith objects in detail:

"RIOC, as an unelected board, reviews the budget given to us by the RIOC staff, we can suggest additions, subtractions, changes, etc.  We then approve it, but final approval has to come from the state.  The state can, and does, make whatever changes they wish.  For example, the last several years we approved a particular salary budget.  The state changed it and gave everyone an across-the-board raise with absolutely no input from us."

While adding a nuanced layer of explanation, this doesn't justify a claim of no control. The RIOC Board votes on expenditures at every monthly meeting, has significant input in the budgeting process and oversees important contributions from Public Purpose Funds, money handed out to Island organizations for which the RIRA Common Council is asked to make recommendations which are nearly always honored.

Amnesia also must have blanked out the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that Cornell Tech, like other New York City buildings, spent a year working on, negotiating with our Community Coalition all through it and ever since. (Editor's note: Both Smith and fellow Board Member David Kraut objected to this claim. But the more important matter is that Smith never said that Board Members did not have any authority over land use. On the contrary, she urged candidates to vie for Board seats as they were critical to making good land use decisions for RIOC.)

We apologize to Margie Smith for this error.

Shoulda Been Board Members

Missed in Short's Election/Vote/Survey fiasco were residents previously nominated in voting but not appointed to serve and one deserving exception, Jonathan Kalkin, who was appointed but later removed.

Those nominated in earlier, valid elections - Erin Feely-Nahem, Frank Farance, Jonathan Kalkin and Larry Parnes - should each be reminded to Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio. Each in her or his own way continues to contribute positively to community life.

Kalkin, who served admirably as a Board Member before being replaced by a politically connected nonresident, and Parnes, who brought broad experience in government to advise and assist during the ULURP process, are strongly recommended by us.

That takes nothing away from Farance or Feely-Naheem, who as activists have both been forces with which to reckon.

A Fertile Field of Others

Among a considerable number of worthy contributors, the following list is not comprehensive. It's made up of those who come immediately to mind for their observed effectiveness, integrity, standing in the community and ability to add balance to the Board's make up.

No legitimate consideration of possible Board Members is possible without including Jim Luce. Luce founded two international foundations, one dedicated to orphans, the other to the embrace of all people in peace and harmony. In doing so, he's developed powerful connections worldwide and has been repeatedly honored for his devotion to the betterment of mankind. His volunteer support for local activities, like the recent Cherry Blossom Festival, has been significant.

In our view, if he's willing to serve, there's Jim Luce, and then, there's everyone else.

At the top of the list of "everyone else" is Judy Berdy. Best known as our local historian and Visitor Center operator, Berdy's is one of Roosevelt Island's most visible volunteers, lending her time and experience generously. Not as many people are aware of her gift for working within government to attract improvements for the community. She not only, few realize, runs the Visitor Center but she also worked a months long campaign to pry the kiosk itself out of storage and have it delivered here.

Near the the top of the list and bringing insight into a younger generation raising families here is Eva Bosbach. Starting with a small group, Bosbach reached across the community as few others have done in building the Roosevelt Island Parents' Network. Now at over 600 members strong, the Parents' Network stands tall as the largest voluntary membership group in the community.

Among other achievements, Bosbach rallied forces to obtain as many Pre-K seats as possible last year, an accomplishment for which she was honored recently by City Council Member Ben Kallos.

Also, an experienced hand at leadership with a clear sense of the needs of local families is Nikki Leopold, Island Kids tireless CEO. Leopold displayed critical leadership skills in building Island Kids as a group with the flexibility needed for helping local families. Along with working successfully to expand services through the Beacon Program at PS/IS 217, Leopold somehow finds time to volunteer for demanding tasks like organizing the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

Barbara Parker honed her group organizing skills during her career as an activities coordinator at a Manhattan nonprofit. Recently, she's labored hard and earned respect in trying to regain credibility for the Seniors Association as President. Less known is her work as Board Member and active participant in the Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. As we know, some residents may regularly sing the blues, but Parker's solo at Sondheim On Sondheim tells us she could become the first RIOC Board Member who also sings like an angel.

Because Roosevelt Island is highly inflected by the creative arts, RIVAA President Tad Sudol offers established skills as both a business owner and an inventive pioneer. He's a highly regarded architect and artist who's found time to innovate, working with RIOC and other organizations, to carry the "Island of Art" mission from the founding of Gallery RIVAA all the way up to our unique Motorgate Gallery.

A second smart choice from the creative community is Kristi Towey, CEO at Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. An Island pioneer, Towey is strongly engaged with residents and has brought new vigor to MST&DA, adding partnerships with RIVAA, recently engaged to create scenery for spring season performances, and Island Kids. She's just completed her first CEO year. The future is bright, and Towey would refresh RIOC with sunny enthusiasm.

Because we are not tied to 100% resident membership, we're happy to include Cornell Tech's Jane Swanson on our recommendations list. Swanson's roots are deep on Roosevelt Island as she was former City Council Member Jessica Lappin's most frequent liaison here. In the years since she took her new community role with Cornell Tech, she's been seen everywhere, participating in countless events. Importantly, everyone likes and trusts Swanson. She's been the face of the campus with the Community Taskforce and has been accessible to residents and their concerns whenever they come up.

A recommendation you might not expect is Editor and Publisher of the Roosevelt Islander blog, Rick O'Conor. Over eight years, O'Conor has kept attuned to and reported virtually everything that goes on publicly in the community. He offers accurate, balanced information and provides an open forum for comment. Not shy about taking sides when it matters to him, O'Conor has still managed to maintain strong relationships among Roosevelt Island residents and organizations. He has a rare, objective insight that could add to significantly to a Board that meshes well with his local commitments.

Finally, and perhaps more unexpectedly, we suggest former RIRA President and tireless volunteer Matthew Katz for RIOC Board Membership. While working with political and social groups across the spectrum, Katz has shown a politicians skill at working behind the scenes to get things done quietly and without ruffling feathers. We have taken exception to how the Maple Tree Group manipulated his first Common Council elections and don't not agree with many of his positions, but the community has spoken. Each win after the first was his alone and based on his record.

Unlike the Common Council, we're not going to try passing off a lie that we have some special right or access to Governor Cuomo or Mayor de Blasio. But we know politicians read The Daily. It's our hope that these recommendations will at least get into the mix.

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