Public Purpose Funds Remain Noncompliant

RIOC, New Website, Old Mistakes

Updated 10 weeks ago David Stone
Screenshot: RIOC's new website misses the picture... and more.
Screenshot: RIOC's new website misses the picture... and more.

December 4th, last year, RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug answered an inquiry thus: "The bill that you passed along in the link became Unconsolidated Law Section 6388-a, part of the RIOC Act. You are correct that our current website does not include that section. It will be updated as the entire RIOC website will soon be redesigned and updated. Thank you. Jaci" Experienced RIOC watchers will know where this is going.

After RIOC was accused of mishandling Public Purpose Fund Grants in both 2016 and 2017, especially in what many saw as preferential treatment of the troubled Roosevelt Island Seniors Association, local resident Ron Davidson dug into research on exactly what the law required, when and how.

Davidson asked Flug for help, "I understand that RIOC is a public benefit corporation created by the State Legislature in 1984 (Chapter 899, Laws of 1984) to operate, manage and develop Roosevelt Island, effective 1986. -- see http://a856-gbol.nyc.gov/GBOLWebsite/GreenBook/Details?orgId=3056. But I'm unclear about how to learn about the purpose and benefit of RIOC's Public Purpose Fund grant-making as codified in state law."

A thorough and resourceful researcher, Davidson has frequently unearthed insights that have been helpful in understanding what goes on inside 591 Main Street.

He continued.

Chapter 899 of the laws or 1984, section 4-a part 2

On or before May 1, 2016, the corporation shall post a report on its website that shall list and describe the purpose of each grant issued between 2010 and 2015. Such report shall also describe the resulting public benefit of each grant.

Public Authorities Law, section 2799-dddd-1

On or before May first, two thousand sixteen, the corporation shall post a report on its website that shall list and describe the purpose of each grant issued between two thousand ten and two thousand fifteen. Such report shall also describe the resulting public benefit of each grant.

However, in 2017, it does not appear that legislative changes in the specific language of RIOC's enabling statutes are confirmed on RIOC's website. The text of the current laws are not readily accessible from RIOC's website.

In other words, RIOC was already more than a year and a half behind in its legal responsibility to "report on its website" about the grants from 2010 to 2015.

Don't even ask about the years that followed.

Grant recipients aware of the State agency's stringent requirements for doling out the cash they've been promised might raise an eyebrow, but probably not very high. RIOC's setting a different standard for itself, a much easier to meet one, is an open secret.

But not to worry, according to Flug, "It will be updated as the entire RIOC website will soon be redesigned and updated."

Fast forward to today, March 10th, 2017.

RIOC's new, more polished and user friendly website is up and running, as you can see from the screenshot above.

But some old gets in the mix too. 

Even after complaints about their using images to promote Roosevelt Island that feature, not the Island, but the Manhattan skyline, RIOC has done it again in a new, attractive image. Here you see the standard Tram shot, but not a single square inch of Roosevelt Island in the frame.

If you've got a strong stomach, you can check out the secondary headlines. Each next page down the hierarchy is anchored by a banner photo that includes a tilting upper portion of Strecker Lab and sections of the Queensboro Bridge. A few branches from trees that have roots planted on Roosevelt Island make awkward appearances. But still, no Island.

Unless you're desperate for information, we do not recommend going in deeper.

Where there are photos that actually include Roosevelt Island, the images are frequently washed out and thoroughly unprofessional. (A personal favorite - for the sick humor - is a shot of the Roosevelt Island Bridge where it appears to be pale violet.)

Is there a Freudian explanation?

But back to the Public Purpose Funds, now renamed "RIOC Grants."

No matter what Flug said, back in December, and whatever her good intentions, the legally required information on grants remains absent. Even information on recent years is skimpy (2016) or entirely absent (2017).

RIOC will soon be a full two years out of compliance with the law that enabled the grants in the first place. As some will surely note, they've also not caught up with the intentions of the law.

RIOC, although on a current spending spree that one local businessman describes as "like a drunken sailor," comes nowhere near dedicating the amount of funds the law allows to help local businesses. Millions go to "outside contractors" while RIOC so far has never paid out more than $100,000 in Public Purpose Funds, i.e., RIOC Grants, a number representing much less than 20% of what's available, in spite of annual appeals from the RIRA Common Council.

(If you add in money for the Youth Center, that percentage is a bit higher but still far less than what's allowed.)

A possible explanation of the lackadaisical approach to reporting may be that it's another symptom of an overall disregard for giving money to nonprofits that are not political or contributors to election campaigns. It may also nakedly demonstrate RIOC's expanding alienation from the community.

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