Editorial: What Happened to Oversight?

If former RIOC Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Steve Chironis has it right in his letter to The Wire, the wheels seem to have come off any semblance of supervision of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation by its governor-appointed Board of Directors.

Maybe they’ve reached the stage where they just don’t care. After all, they’ve been serving expired appointments, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has failed in his duty to appoint members of the Board. His only appointment, Sal Ferrera, left in disgrace when his management of the Island-based Child School fell under State scrutiny and its finances fell apart and 40-some staffers had to be fired in a recovery effort. That open seat has not been filled.

Even worse, perhaps, is the fact that Cuomo ignored Island elections held to nominate residents to the RIOC Board. Residents still serve, but none is serving a current appointment. Any and all can be dismissed with a stroke of the Governor’s pen appointing replacements. In short, the current Board members are effectively captives of the current RIOC administration: Displease the governor’s appointee as RIOC president and you could be out in a flash.

This leads to lax oversight.

It leads to a tendency to go along to get along. Hang in, because the next decision might be really important. Infractions? Let it go. Play along, because it’s important to live to fight, maybe, another day.

So, what of Steve Chironis’ concerns?

It would appear that RIOC staffers doled out unauthorized raises to themselves – and to any on the staff who might raise a question about such an action. Tens of thousands of dollars are involved, and a public explanation is called for.

The special deal that RIOC supposedly negotiated with the Cuomo administration regarding the cost to the Island community of hosting Cornell Tech south of the Queensboro Bridge seems to have evaporated. That million dollars a year is nowhere to be seen in this year’s RIOC budget.

Present RIOC management has spent nearly $7 million funding post-employment benefits, while other state agencies are holding off because the cost appears unsustainable. (Let’s keep in mind all those cities that have approached bankruptcy because of over-generous benefits to retirees.) Fully funding retirement medical coverage after only five years of service is, as Chironis put it, “an enormous burden for the taxpayer” – and for the Island.

A public accounting is called for. Chironis may be off-base, or his concerns may be dead on. The RIOC Board, independent of any guidance by RIOC staff, should explain – in writing – to the Island public the why and wherefore of these irregularities, or tell us why they are not irregularities. There are other concerns, too, not all of which can be listed here. The question of full and proper oversight must now rise to a level of public concern and public explanation. Without it, our rent and maintenance payments – the only source of funding for the management of the Island – may be squandered unnecessarily or misspent.

But Governor Andrew Cuomo has the most to answer for. Ignoring RIOC and artificially stretching the appointments of RIOC Board members, without formal reappointment, has led to a situation in which Board members are effectively the rubber stamps of RIOC management, and that state of affairs stands Island administration on its head.


Tags: Editorial Dick Lutz

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