David Stone
In January, 2018, Board Chair Alex Valella fled a rancorous meeting that focused on the Roosevelt Island Youth Program's survival. Most of his term was far more peaceful
In January, 2018, Board Chair Alex Valella fled a rancorous meeting that focused on the Roosevelt Island Youth Program's survival. Most of his term was far more peaceful
© David Stone / Roosevelt Island Daily

Changes have Roosevelt Island's gears turning as the New Year saw RIOC's first 2020 Board Meeting, one with welcome, if mild surprises, and a disappointing loss. But mostly, it was all about community engagement.

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A lightly attended meeting that ended with Alex Valella's announcement that he'd no longer chair the sessions started with a more interactive than usual public comments session:

Public Comment: The Q102

Taking the community lead in protesting the MTA's plans for ending Q102 bus service for Roosevelt Island, historian and community activist Judith Berdy asked RIOC's Board to get involved. A public listening session is on the calendar for February 4th - that's Tuesday - and Berdy wants RIOC to muscle up with the community.

If tentative plans become firm, Q78 buses, now dubbed QT78 with the T standing for "temporary," will replace Q102s. Q78s would radically curtail service by ending all stops north of the Roosevelt Island Bridge and south of the subway.

Typically, the Board listens quietly to public comments, taking time to absorb rather that react immediately. But this was different. Board members were actively engaged and added to a strong positive consensus.

President Susan Rosenthal said that RIOC's staff is already working with Senator José Serrano's office and is also in direct contact with the MTA. But the emphasis, all agreed, must be on the general public stepping up vocally.

To that end, Gretchen Reynolds, the Board's chief legal counsel, agreed to draft a resolution backing the community's efforts to preserve current levels of bus service. If one can be made available, Rosenthal said a RIOC bus may carry locals to the Tuesday meeting.

An Otherwise Light Agenda

Only two actions required Board approval, and both got it.

A President's Report

With more than enough to report, Rosenthal chose to focus on major uncompleted projects that are targeted for a finish line in 2020. Among them...

Alex Valella Stepping Down

On a sad note as the meeting rolled up toward an executive session, Alex Valella, who served as chair, surrogate for Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, for several years, announced his pending retirement from government service. This was his last meeting.

Valella has actively contributed insight and guidance earned throughout his career, and the Board frequently praised his help. He also presided over the stormy and reprehensible to many public process that led to the destruction of the Roosevelt Island Youth Program after four decades. That resulted in a government takeover of a once community run operation.

Note: There will be no February Board meeting. Next up is March.