Spending Spree in Perpetual Bloom

Proposal: Parade To Celebrate How Good RIOC Is At Spending Your Money

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
Just how many official vehicles, beside all the PSD cars, does a two-mile long island need?
Just how many official vehicles, beside all the PSD cars, does a two-mile long island need?
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

A friend with a close up view of RIOC, the state agency controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo in the style of an absentee feudal lord, scanned RIOC's proposed 2018 budget and wondered aloud, "Have you heard the expression, 'spending like a drunken sailor?'” In the immediate shadow of President Trump's grandiose military parade proposal, he mused over doing one that might give everyone a good, long - very long, actually - look at what RIOC's been doing with the figurative buckets of cash sitting around 591 Main Street.

Skyrocketing Budget Without Controls

The eye-popper in the 2018 budget is more than $20 million in infrastructure spending, money derived from State payments compensating for RIOC's giving up land for Cornell Tech. For perspective, consider this: that figure is nearly as much as RIOC's total spending for all of the previous year.

(Sorry, we can't offer full details because RIOC's upgraded website blasted away all these and other inconvenient details, turning them into 404 Errors, i.e., page not found.)

At RIOC, golf carts, four of them parked behind Motorgate, but no golf course.
At RIOC, golf carts, four of them parked behind Motorgate, but no golf course.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Infrastructure improvements on the schedule include work on the seawall, the crumbling Roosevelt Island Bridge helix, Blackwell House and more, all worthwhile projects, some of which are years late in being handled.

But there's more, so much more that RIOC's soliciting bids for "Owner’s Representative Services for Capital Projects & Strategic Planning," that is, a full-fledged operation as a supplement to what RIOC has always done and will continue to do in the future.

We asked editorially, would an award mean a reduction in RIOC staff?

Of course not. This is New York State we're talking about, and quite the opposite is planned. After all, if you reduce employment, where are you going to deploy all those political favors?

"We have no intention of reducing staffing, rather we are bolstering and supplementing our existing team to prepare for the increase volume of projects that are being undertaken," wrote Stephen T. Noone, Assistant Vice President of Capital Planning and Projects at RIOC. (Italics ours.)

Interpretation: they'll be hiring more people as well as awarding the contract.

A trailer that once housed Tram operations rusting in the lot.
A trailer that once housed Tram operations rusting in the lot.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Noone, himself a new employee in a recently created job, did not speculate on how long the new positions will last nor on  future budget impacts and pension requirements.

New York State, including RIOC, has a consistent "Spend now, tax them for it later" ethic.

Two things are troubling.

First, none of this spending is expected go to Roosevelt Island companies or residents. Even when capabilities are available locally - Think: Holiday Extravaganza - RIOC consistently sends the revenue elsewhere.

But wait a minute, you might ask, doesn't the spending ultimately benefit the community with improved or fixed infrastructure? Yes, it does.

But it begs another question: when did RIOC reach out to the community to find out what projects interested us compared to those anointed by executives at 591 Main Street and, at a distance, in Albany? Maybe we have the same ideas. Maybe we don't. But who will ever know?

Bric-a-brac, including Christmas decorations fill a shed with more on the roof.
Bric-a-brac, including Christmas decorations fill a shed with more on the roof.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

The fact is, RIOC is about to spend money from the greatest windfall we're ever likely to receive but has shown no interest in community input. And not a peep out of RIRA's Common Council, which claims to represent residents' interests, nor a howl from resident Board Members.

That should give us pause, but it doesn't. Imperious governance over the years may have worn us out.

The People of RIOC

Fleet of pickup trucks for a two mile long island.
Fleet of pickup trucks for a two mile long island.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Not long ago, the Main Street WIRE published a glowing article about the appointment of Cy Opperman, hired to rejigger the Red Bus system where the State agency had managed the astonishing feat of messing up a mile and a half, single street route that once ran like clockwork.

That's no easy cliché. There was a time when, riding up the subway escalators, you could reliably check your watch to see if you had a chance of catching the next, right-on-schedule bus.

Opperman now has a full time assistant for this challenging assignment. And the buses are as unpredictable and as uncoordinated in their routes as ever.

RIOC is probably considering more personnel to figure that traffic jam out.

Excess inventory generators soaking up sun behind parked buses.
Excess inventory generators soaking up sun behind parked buses.
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

And it doesn't stop there.

On the eve of Charlene Indelicato's departure from RIOC's top executive post, Shelton Haynes was hired to run Operations as Vice President.

But in the last year, with no significant change in the Island's needs, RIOC coughed up $170 per hour for consultant Mike Russo to help Haynes run his department.

More personnel to populate the RIOC Parade

A small section of RIOC's latest investment, spacious executive spaces in their "Warehouse."
A small section of RIOC's latest investment, spacious executive spaces in their "Warehouse."
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

In one of RIOC's most disturbing affronts to resident preferences, RIOC President/CEO Susan Rosenthal engineered a takeover of the Roosevelt Island Youth Center, annihilating the Youth Program that ran it for four decades.

Doing so, RIOC ignored passionate appeals from the community, staffing a more limited operation with an outfit of new RIOC employees.

Piling on may not be fair, but it's necessary here because other profound personnel spending involves outsourcing and generally evades residents' scrutiny.

For example, in the last quarter of 2017, RIOC, an agency headed by an attorney with a second in command who's also an attorney and more on the staff, doled out over $100,000 for outsourced attorney fees. That's just one quarter. 

While its staff roster has expanded, RIOC has also outsourced Tram operations, office cleaning services, groundskeeping and - notoriously - an assignment for legitimizing destruction of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program and its Executive Director, Charlie DeFino, through normalizing gossip, innuendo and unsubstantiated allegations, price tag unknown.

Enough RIOC Equipment to Fill Main Street

What struck my acquaintance as most profligate in RIOC's spending spree is what's most visible, the plethora of equipment purchases they just can't live without.

You've seen some of that equipment as you scrolled through this editorial. But in perspective, it's worth recalling, as I do from my days as a long distance runner and my morning route past RIOC's garage, that not so long ago there wasn't anything like the lot full of excess we see today.

And that does not include the Segways, bicycles and PSD vehicles parked elsewhere.

RIOC has continued to spend and spend, and to some extent it's part of a disease in New York State government that causes departments to spend every penny in their budgets, need it or not, in dread fear of getting cuts the next year.

And then, plead for an increase.

State government is, in important ways, a self-supporting enterprise with the power to spend public money to whatever extent they can get away with.

Most of Albany has a hard time controlling the impulse.

Spending's power, and as Lord Acton wrote long ago, "power corrupts."

It turns State enterprises into figurative "drunken sailors," with insufficient controls and all perspective lost in a warped view of reality.

So why not have a parade?

Line up all the PSD cars and pickup trucks someone decided we just had to have to cover a route the average person can walk in less than an hour, the Segways, the bicycles. Mix in the numerous other trucks and passenger cars RIOC just has to have to get business done on an Island only two miles long and only slightly wider than my mother's country clothesline.

(Did you know that RIOC has not just incredibly noisy and environmentally disastrous leaf blowers but an Honest-to-God riding leaf blower. We must make room for that in the parade.)

And let's not forget the cherry picker vehicle parked year round in the lot behind Motorgate and the garbage compactor trucks. 

March 'em all up Main Street with the 200 or so RIOC employees shoulder to shoulder from curb to curb. 

Can't you just see Susan Rosenthal, joined by a cardboard cutout of Governor Andrew Cuomo, leading in a glass bubble limousine, waving regally at residents?

A small bus can cram in all the other executives, new and to be added soon...

Wouldn't it be great?

Celebrate the magical purchasing power of RIOC. Like Mardi Gras without the music.

Who will volunteer as organizer? (Roosevelt Islanders need not apply.)

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