Majority Walkout

Roosevelt Island Residents Association Common Council Nears Collapse Over Cherry Blossom Festival Shenanigans

Updated 6 weeks ago David Stone
Subway frustrations pooled with others during the Cherry Blossom Festival and left a simmering air of distrust among the Common Council.
Subway frustrations pooled with others during the Cherry Blossom Festival and left a simmering air of distrust among the Common Council.
File Photo

Confidence in the survival of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association Common Council's grown shakier in recent years. A consistent failure to stir community interest and a lack of clear advocacy -- the group's only legitimate purpose -- flaws that increased irrelevance are now multiplied by internal strife and distrust. In September, a majority walked out in the middle of the monthly meeting over frustrations involving longtime thorn, the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Before the near disastrous Cherry Blossom Festival in April got underway, a pitched battle ripped at the none too robust fabric holding the Common Council in place.

Common Council members from several buildings were angered by what they feared was deception by president Lynne Strong-Shinozaki as the Cherry Blossom Committee organized the event but refused to disclose details.

And the few disclosed details exposed questionable practices, including allegations of insurance fraud. 

Unknown to members of the Council, The Daily learned, the Festival nearly came apart in the days immediately preceding it when the organizers failed to secure a valid insurance certificate for RIOC until less than 24 hours before the opening.

Recriminations about how organizational aspects of the Cherry Blossom Festival put lives at risk and brought adverse attention to Roosevelt Island reached fever pitch shortly after the event. Dissembling, evasion and finger-pointing marked follow up accounts from both RIOC and the Cherry Blossom Festival Committee.

Tempers cooled in the intervening months as frustrated Common Council Members fruitlessly appealed to the Committee, led by Strong-Shinozaki and Lydia Tang, to make public details about the Festival's finances. 

Strong-Shinozaki refused to disclose income, expenses or even what financial and other contributions were donated, and the Council believed they were being stonewalled to prevent oversight of a Festival for which it is ultimately responsible.

Criminal Complaint

Those concerns heated up when Strong-Shinozaki, in an oblique announcement in August, said that the Council's treasurer had resigned as a criminal investigation was launched into missing funds, funds Strong-Shinozaki insisted were recovered. She said there were no losses to the Council's treasury, but without any accounting ever received about the event, the Council had no way to reconcile multiple questions.

Dissident Council members were frustrated over stonewalling about, among others, a mysterious large bank deposit into an account that was just as mysteriously drained in September.
Dissident Council members were frustrated over stonewalling about, among others, a mysterious large bank deposit into an account that was just as mysteriously drained in September.
Undisclosed source

Doubt and distrust boiled over, and as Strong-Shinozaki continued to refuse to provide full financial reports for the now six-months lingering in the rearview mirror Cherry Blossom Festival, it went over the top.

At September's regular Board Meeting, a frustrated majority walked out over what they considered more stonewalling from Strong-Shinozaki.

 A video captured by the Roosevelt Islander, showing the walkout, was posted on YouTube.

 In the Aftermath

Already hobbled by an inability to corral enough members to fill even half of the constitutionally allotted 44 seats, the walkout deprived the Council of a quorum, and no official business could be conducted.

As it stands now, the Common Council is a virtual nonentity, unable to perform any official business.

On Monday, the dissident group asked The Daily to circulate this statement:

The group of CC Members that walked out of the last RIRA Common Council meeting on Wednesday October 2nd is merely asking for transparency from the RIRA leadership and the SC&E/Cherry Blossom Committee.

We have been repetitively requesting bank statements and financial reports/materials at every CC meeting since April 2019.

While we all have been informed that the embezzlement act is undergoing investigation, we want to know why only a small group of five CC members was chosen by the President to act as “advisors” on the matter while the rest of the CC is kept in the dark.

We remain committed to Roosevelt Island, its residents and the projects we are working on.

Respectfully,


Adib Mansour, A.F.
Rossana Ceruzzi
Dave Evans
Erin Nahem-Feely
Dimaura Cole
Stephanie Jackson
Enequa Lewis
Shirley Coley
Frank Farance
Cynthia Ahn

Efforts are underway, Island House representative and Island Services Committee Chair Rossana Ceruzzi told The Daily yesterday, to resolve the dispute. With both sides eager to find a way to restore the Common Council's integrity and viability, a meeting is hoped for next week.

It's far from clear that Strong-Shinozaki will satisfy demands for accountability or what options remain if an agreement cannot be reached.

What is clear is that the Common Council has hit an existential bottom from which only strong, inclusive leadership will allow it to recover.

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