Is RIOC Snubbing Local Groups Again?

Public Purpose Funds - Long Delay, Instant Controversy

Updated 1 year ago David Stone
Public Purpose Funds - Long Delay, Instant Controversy

Nearing the finish line for grants from Public Purpose Funds should be a time for excited anticipation, but again this year, RIOC can't seem to get out of its own way and creates unnecessary conflict.

New Public Purpose Funds, Another Source for Conflict

Close on the heels of snubbing local nonprofits, bypassing them in creating a controversial Winter Wonderland in partnership with Hudson, RIOC on Monday finally released the official list of approved candidates for Public Purpose Funds in this year's budget.

After weeks of unexplained delays, the community is again being forced to consider crucial dollars in a rush that virtually guarantees decisions will be flawed and controversial.

Last year's haste, salted with conflicts of interests and accusations of preferential treatment, led to more than six months of dispute and angry public debate among RIOC's Board.

Haste and insufficient deliberation threatens to be part and parcel of everything RIOC does recently.

Even complex matters with enormous implications like lease amendments for new buildings fly by like chocolates on a conveyor belt with Lucy and Ethel in charge.

For this year's Public Purpose Funds, presentations that give residents and the Common Council a single shot at learning about and discussing applicants were announced a scant twenty-four hours before the first hopefuls step up at the Good Shepherd Community Center.

The scramble is so disorganized, details tumbling out of RIOC are close to indecipherable.

Public Purpose Funds Up for Review

Yesterday evening at 6:25, RIOC served up a schedule for reviews set to commence tonight at 7:30 with virtually no regard for residents' ability to become informed and and prepared to ask questions.

The perplexing schedule features mysteries like "MorArt," "Marlins," and "WFF."

Extra credit for anyone who can identify more than one of them.

Thanks to Dave Evans and the Common Council Public Purpose Fund Committee, we can tell you that those are actually More Art, Inc., a nonresident organization popping into the process without explanation or warning; the Marlins Roosevelt Island Swimming Team; and the Wildlife Freedom Foundation.

They join Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, Roosevelt Island Visual Art Association, Island Kids, the Historical Society and others in a scramble for limited funds.

RIOC is allowed by law to allocate as much as 3% of its budget to the good works of local nonprofits but squeezed out only a small fraction of that, making decisions about who gets what intensely sensitive and in need of artful handling.

This year, again, RIOC fumbles the handling, and the sensitivity... I mean, what's that?

Public Purpose Grant Anxiety 2017

With no reasonable time to consider, residents have been thrown a curve... no, make that a knuckleball, a floater that's impossible to handle in the time available.

More Art, Inc. became known to us ahead of time only through the due diligence and community spirit of Committee Chair Dave Evans.

RIOC made no effort to alert residents that a nonresident group was being tossed into the scramble for extremely limited funds. And not just that, a nonresident that seems to duplicate capabilities already available on Main Street.

When the news leaked out, residents and nonprofit leaders were uniformly startled and upset.

We asked RIVAA President Tad Sudol about More Art, Inc., and got this response: "I don't know them."

That is, before proposing to work with local artists, they never contacted the primary art organization on the Island.

RIOC was even less than helpful.

Ron Davidson, a Rivercross resident who takes a serious interest in how Public Purpose Funds are handled, asked Sean Singh, RIOC's PPF manager, about More Art, Inc., hoping to learn something about their being on the list in advance of tonight's review.

"Singh says he will answer my questions tomorrow after he's confirmed with the applicants that it's okay to release this information," Davidson reports after being rebuffed.

"When did the PPF process become so secretive? confidential?"

And why are the concerns of nonresident applicants taking precedent over the interests of Islanders?

More Art is first up tonight at 7:30 at the Good Shepherd Community Center, 543 Main Street. We can only hope they will be more forthcoming than RIOC.

And one more thing...

(Apologies to Steve Jobs for stealing his catchphrase...)

Among Wednesday's presenters is the Parent Teacher Association from PS/IS 217, under normal circumstances a no-brainer, but the circumstances, this year, are not normal.

In the past year, among other goodies, the PTA...

  • Stood firmly behind school Principal Mandana Beckman's mishandling of an explosive rat colony, an incident so damaging to the community it got international press coverage, while neither Beckman nor the PTA accepted any responsibility or apologized for the embarrassment.
  • Promoted a political fundraiser in violation of its 501(3)c nonprofit status.
  • Aided Beckman in diverting Beacon program funding away from Roosevelt Island and into Queens. Both the Roosevelt Island Youth Program, which actually landed Beacon for us in the first place and managed it for over ten years, and Island Kids, an outstanding local leader in children's programming, were denied the right to even compete by Beckman, assisted by the PTA in an advisory role.
Residents and the Common Council elected to represent them need to ask themselves if a group that's done so much to damage the community, including diverting funds away from other Island nonprofits, ought to be rewarded with scarce public money.
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