Fiscal Management Changes, Infrastructure Spending, No 4th of July

6 Takeaways From RIOC's May, 2019, Board Meeting

Updated 1 week ago David Stone
RIOC Board listens to a presentation about the Cherry Blossom Festival by resident Frank Farance during the public session.
RIOC Board listens to a presentation about the Cherry Blossom Festival by resident Frank Farance during the public session.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Maybe it's just easier operating with a smaller board that seems internally compatible, or maybe it's personnel changes, less is more in practice. But the reality is that, even covering two months worth of agenda items, RIOC's Board, on Thursday, seemed more congenial and efficient than at any other time during my three years of coverage. They got a lot done, smoothly. Here are the highlights.

Some of this will be elaborated in future articles and some, like PSD Chief Jack McManus's retirement notice, already have. Keeping that in mind, here's a highlight reel of what transpired in the Howe Theatre on Thursday evening.

1) No 4th of July Party this year for Roosevelt Island. Starting from the end, President/CEO Susan Rosenthal in her report said that, since Macy's - probably influenced by a Brooklyn-based mayor - will move fireworks barges south of the Brooklyn Bridge and out of view for us, repeating the events from recent years made little sense. 

2) Speaking about "the aftermath of the Cherry Blossom Festival," Rosenthal reported the RIOC has "no idea about next year," but went on to imply, unintentionally, that they still haven't got much of a clue about this year. “We are obviously concerned,” she said, then addd, “It was just getting on and off the Island.” No, it wasn't, even if that's all the outside media covered because they got the bulk of their information from Twitter.

It was also a pathetic lack of adequate portable toilets, water and food, all exacerbated by permitting a profoundly unqualified and understaffed Common Council committee to bungle everything north of Four Freedoms Park.

On the plus side, with FIGMENT NYC 2019 set to open in Lighthouse Park on June 1st and last two days, RIOC's already working aggressively with New York City Emergency Management in corralling all the assets needed to manage a major influx of visitors. Rosenthal described FIGMENT as "a test case." There's sure to be more on that.

3) 25 years of David Kraut. Rosenthal recognized David Kraut's quarter-century of contributions as a Board Member with a gift that went unopened. Kraut's knowledge about the community and how RIOC operated over that period are unparalleled. 

(Be forewarned. After the meeting, when I congratulated Kraut, who I've known since serving on the Common Council in 1991 while he was President, he told me that, having put in his 25 years and nearing age 75, he intended to become a full time "curmudgeon." Not really a giant step.)

6 Takeaways From RIOC's May, 2019, Board Meeting
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4) RIOC's financial management is getting a needed overhaul. Since his arrival less than six months ago, Chief Financial Officer John O'Reilly has worked at, figuratively, oiling cranky gears and shaking out kinks in the way RIOC handles money. Two important developments were on display.

In recent years, RIOC's tried and failed to align the Public Purpose Grants process with its actual budget timeframe and get money to small, needy nonprofits promptly. But that's changed. Delayed moneys have already been distributed from previous grants. Presentations and reviews for this year's are on the calendar now, six months ahead of last's.

Revised, updated purchasing guidelines O'Reilly presented to the Board were approved with some relief as they will remove some smaller expenditures from specific Board review. 

5) Water will again flow freely. A $693,000 contract has been awarded for "water distribution repairs." That's RIOC-speak for correcting a badly mismanaged system that mixed non potable water from sprinkler systems into drinking fountains. The decades long mess was exacerbated by failing to meet legal requirements for backflow prevention and even routine inspections. 

All that resulted in playground and park drinking fountains being shut down last summer. With work starting at the south end of Roosevelt Island and heading north, those restraints should be lifted as soon as possible, and procedures will be in place to prevent future risks to public safety.

6) Motorgate will get a 50% upgrade. Much needed repairs for Motorgate structural problems, especially leaks, will begin in June, after FIGMENT, but only half of the parking garage will be included. Manhattan Park, which paid for and is responsible for the newer, northern sections, elected not to participate, no reason given.

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