Secrecy, Contradictions, Behind Closed Door Manipulations My Doom Festival

RIRA Bungling, Blow Up Imperil 2019 Cherry Blossom Festival

Updated 34 weeks ago David Stone
Common Council President Lynne Shinozaki with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and MC Jim Luce in 2018.
Common Council President Lynne Shinozaki with Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and MC Jim Luce in 2018.
File Photo

Anger, frustration, confusion and dismay blew up this week over, of all things, plans for 2019's Cherry Blossom Festival, leading to multiple resignations from the Common Council, already unable to seat a quorum for its last meeting, and threatening to bring the group to what some believe is a too long delayed crash landing.

That the Roosevelt Island Residents Association Common Council seizes responsibility for such events as the Cherry Blossom Festival and the Easter Egg Hunt, neither of which fit easily into its mission as a political advocacy group, raises plenty of questions.

Why isn't RIOC, with resources vast enough to commit to a $14 million bike ramp and already responsible for promoting the Island, running the Cherry Blossom Festival, perhaps with help from its cozy relationships in the real estate business?

Wouldn't the Roosevelt Island Parents Network, our single largest social group, be a better manager of the Easter Egg Hunt, an event for children?

All that notwithstanding, the Common Council exploded management of the Cherry Blossom Festival to crisis level, provoking public resignations during disputes with President Lynne Shinozaki, for no discernible purpose.

Correction: the Common Council is hardly to blame. Most are rubbing their eyes in confusion or stuck in WTF? mode.

Shinozaki's Details Free Ramp Up Into the Promotional Stratosphere

On Tuesday, Common Council President Lynne Shinozaki made this motion:

Good Evening Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Cherry Blossom Festival Committee (CBF) needs to begin a fundraising campaign to defray increased costs for this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival. Homeland Security requires that there be additional safety and security measure put into place.

The CBF Committee would like to partner with a local 501(c)3 so that RIRA can be eligible for additional funding going forward. Last year the event budget was under $6000. The quotes for Port-o-potties alone would be more than last year’s budget.

The CBF Committee will endeavor to negotiate with current partners and RIOC to keep costs as low as possible; the bare-bones budget for this year is over $25,000.

It has been recommended that the CBF Committee open a bank account, similar to the RIRA Legal account, for this fundraising effort.

Motion ;

The Cherry Blossom Festival Committee moves that RIRA approve its fundraising efforts to include:

Fundraising Campaign
Partnership with 501(c)3 organization (MSTDA) and separate bank account
Crowdfunding Campaign (Facebook, Twitter, GoFundMe)
Reservation system that allows for donations into a separate designated CBF PayPal account to pay into separate bank account.

Please respond with a Yes or No by 12:00am Wednesday as we have a very short window to raise the necessary funds.

Given barely a day to respond to a motion devoid of details, only six of twenty-eight responded. Shinozaki is now trying to organize an emergency meeting to consider her motion. It's running into stiff resistance.

How preposterous is the proposal, really?

Keeping in mind that the Common Council has never seen any budget or accounting for last year's $6,000 event, fungoing the budget into a $25,000 barebones proposal is like asking the Council to vote in favor of the color blue. Trust me.

That's right - meaningless absurd, nonsense.

Even the absence of details goes unexplained.

First, Shinozaki blames it on Homeland Security, then shifts gears to blame it on the high cost of portable toilets.

Adib Mansour, a representative from Island House, was having none of it.

"I would like to reiterate my objection to a one-day event costing over $25,000. That should never be the case," he wrote in an email to the Council. "The conversation should stop there! I say NO to any event that costs so much money!!" 

"I am happy to humbly inform you that I am resigning as RIRA Treasurer, effective immediately," contributed Bafode Drame, becoming the second Common Council officer to quit since November's start date. (Secretary Scott Piro resigned in January after a dispute with Shinozaki over what he was allowed to include in meeting minutes.)

"Please remember," Drame added, "that I have spent more than 15 years on Wall Street pursuing 'dirty' money as a Financial Crimes Compliance professional, and I can say this: using another organization for the purpose of financial transactions could EASILY become a money laundering case; particularly when the objectives of the two organizations do not align."

This refers to Shinozaki's motion where it asks the Council to approve, "Partnership with 501(c)3 organization (MSTDA)." 

MSTDA = Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. 

But yesterday, responding to a request from the Roosevelt Islander, Shinozaki wrote, "Currently, we are not working with any outside organization to fundraise for this event."

It's no wonder ex-treasurer Drame mused, "I’m beginning to think there’s no documentation; that the number ($25,000 - ed.) may have arbitrarily been thrown out."

Adding to the residue of this debacle, Justin Ellis, one of the Council's brightest and most promising new members, representing Southtown, gave up on RIRA, this morning.

"I resign because this email exchange makes clear that, given its current membership, the organization is not capable -- and cannot become capable -- of productive action to benefit the community," he wrote in an email to the full council, referring to a chaotic outburst of responses to the Roosevelt Islander's request for comment.


There's more, some of it suggesting behind closed doors maneuverings to avoid Common Council involvement and the sudden appearance of a new Council Member from Manhattan Park who seems to have been appointed - and made Cherry Blossom Festival Treasurer - at Shinozaki's sole discretion and in apparent disregard for established rules.

Suffice to say, this unnecessary logjam puts the Cherry Blossom Festival in serious jeopardy, now less than two months away and, according to a Council Member, on the calendar for - you can't make this up - April 20th, sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter.

The big, outstanding question: can they screw up the Easter Egg Hunt too?


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