With an apology to Margie Smith

Mistakes Were Made... and We Made 'Em: Correction

Updated 13 weeks ago David Stone

In our editorial recommending folks for the RIOC Board, we published statements about current Board Member Margie Smith. She objected, as did David Kraut on a specific item. She was right in one instance, and we are correcting the article and apologizing for the error.

In our article, we wrote...

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.

On the subject of "land use," we mischaracterized what Smith said: “Whatever RIOC wants to go up, if RIOC votes on it, it’ll go up.” Our mistake was in getting her point completely wrong. This comment buttressed her argument that Board Membership is important. She was encouraging candidates to run.

At no time in her presentation did Smith suggest that the Board or Roosevelt Island residents had no "say about land use." We apologize for that mistake.

Regarding Smith's statement about how money gets spent... Her actual comment was, “You don’t have control of your money,” contrasting what other City residents get from City Council Members and disagreeing with arguments made here.

Smith's statement is as untrue as it was when we first published our editorial and for the reasons stated in it, but in her defense, she offered a detailed explanation of how RIOC budgeting works: "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."

This falls short of "You don't have control of your money," a claim that goes beyond the facts. Does the Board have ultimate control? No. Do they have considerable effective control and valued input? Yes. The Board uses important discretion in allocating Public Purpose Funds, even going so far as asking residents to decide which groups should get what, and its members vote on expenditures at every meeting. It's not unusual for them to grill a staff member extensively before approving spending.

In considering the State's heavy hand in finalizing the budget, it's also important to consider the significant benefits that come with it, the two most significant are our free Red Bus, a benefit absent from virtually every other New York community, and the extra layer of security we gain from having a well-trained, community oriented Public Safety Department. These are partly funded by payments received on ground leases, so, yes, our rents help pay for them. But without that "extra layer" RIOC provides, the likelihood of landlords contributing generously to such features is in the realm of "not a chance."

You can find our article edited to reflect the changes Margie Smith's input demands. We thank her for her help and apologize for our error.

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