The regularly scheduled meeting of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp. (RIOC) Board of Directors unfolded as something of a love fest in tribute to the agency’s parting President and CEO, Charlene Indelicato. But a brief outburst, recalling past frustrations over how the State sometimes ignores the will of local residents, knocked things briefly off kilter.
On the evening’s agenda at the Cultural Center Theater was the appointment of Susan Rosenthal as Acting President/CEO, a fill in for Indelicato until a permanent replacement is found; the appointments of Kimberly L. Quinones as Chief Financial Officer and Shelton J. Haynes as Vice President for Operations; an issue involving the Octagon’s lease; and several infrastructure budget additions requiring Board approval.
But first, foreshadowing a blowup to come, resident Sherie Helstien took the microphone during a period set aside for public comments. Among other issues, Helstien wanted to be assured that the search for the next corporate leader would be open and transparent since so many previous searches have been inexplicably opaque.
Department of Housing and Community Renewal Commissioner and Board chair, James S. Rubin, assured her, “There will be an outside search.”
Helstien thanked the Commissioner and returned to her seat, but moments later, the comity ended.
Helstien’s question resonated with concerned residents because there remains a simmering dissatisfaction over previous executive appointments concluded without a hint of transparency. The secretiveness surrounding departures and arrivals has fueled distrust for years.
Rosenthal is well-known to the Board since she serves as Vice President and General Counsel and was quickly approved in a unanimous vote. But frictions surfaced when the Board was asked to approve Quinones and Haynes.
Resident member David Kraut asked how many applicants had been interviewed for the positions. Eleven for the Operations job and four for Finance was the answer.
“Yes, there were lots of interviews,” Margie Smith swiftly and passionately interjected. Smith is a resident member who has previously objected to the way executive hires are handled. “But we were given only one person, although we were promised we’d have multiple people to interview. We weren’t, and that’s why I’ll be voting ‘No.’”
Fellow resident member, Mike Shinozaki, added, “I don’t agree with this process,” but abstained rather than vote “No.” With the exception of Katherine Grimm, who also abstained, the remaining local Board members, Kraut, Howard Polivy and Fay Christian, voted in favor of both appointments.
An audible groan rose from a group of public observers when Christian, who said she also disliked the process, voted for the appointments anyway, saying Rosenthal would need their help in getting started in her new role.
As soon as the voting concluded, Helstien shouted, “It’s cowardly to not let the board do their duties.”
She later explained to the WIRE that she was referring to the Board, once again, getting only a single candidate for an up or down vote without any information about other candidates or the search involved. The same had happened with the appointments of both Indelicato and her predecessor, Leslie Torres, among others.
If Commissioner Rubin was unmoved by Shinozaki’s and Smith’s objections or ignored them for some other reason, saying he was in favor of “…putting all this behind us and support the candidates,” he appeared more unsettled when Helstien spoke up.
“The Board is doing its job,” Rubin insisted, but no explanation was offered about why a questionable process that previously angered some residents and board members was repeated.
When Helstien refused to accept his statement, Rubin was dismissive in a way that could easily have been understood as condescending. “It’s more complicated than you’re suggesting,” he said, ending the conversation.
Rubin was unavailable to answer questions afterward because he left immediately after his confrontation with Helstien for a previous engagement.
“Enjoy your cocktail party,” Helstien commented as Rubin packed up to leave.
The Board moved on to other business until it was time for Indelicato’s President’s Report.
Indelicato was modest in her farewell. “I just want to thank everybody,” she said.
Noting that her term as president started when RIOC was embroiled in controversy, especially regarding Public Safety, she cited the hiring of Jack McManus as Director: “That’s when my luck turned.”
Indelicato recalled “bad blood” that had developed with Cornell as well as Four Freedoms Park and had been fixed. “Better communications were necessary.”
“If some people have been disappointed, I apologize,” she concluded before thanking the Board for making her job easier than it might have been. “I have done my best. I believe I am leaving you in good hands.”
Among Board members, Kraut spoke first, thanking Indelicato, joking that a smooth transition has been a rarity during his time on the Board. “You came here in a very difficult period in island history, and you dealt with it. You have done a splendid job of managing.” He nodded at Rosenthal. “Susan, you have some very large shoes to fill.”
“I want to second that,” Margie Smith added, and the remaining Board members chimed in, saying a few words in turn.
“It was very rewarding,” Indelicato said, and with that, she ended her final President’s report.
It’s expected that, following Indelicato’s departure, Helstien and others will work to insure the next search is transparent enough that it shows more respect for the interests of the Roosevelt Island community.