Leslie Torres Appointed As New RIOC President/CEO - Roosevelt Island Selection Process Flawed But Improving
As reported last night, Ms. Leslie Torres, currently DHCR Deputy Commissioner for Rent Administration, was appointed RIOC President/CEO
at last evening's Special Roosevelt Island Board of Directors Meeting. ( A web cast of the meeting will soon be available here). Ms. Torres was the only candidate considered for the position at the Board meeting.
Before the meeting, questions had been asked
as to why other candidates were not being sought out for the position and interviewed by the RIOC Board as envisioned by legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Micah Kellner which may be signed by the Governor shortly. As stated by this reader's comment yesterday's post:
Never knew that the hiring of a RIOC president is a first-come, first-serve process. Hired on the spot w/o evaluating other potential candidates. Nice.Former Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President and current Planning Committee Chairperson Mathew Katz spoke at the RIOC Board meeting to oppose Ms. Torres appointment as RIOC President/CEO. I asked him if he would share his reasons with those members of the community who were not able to attend the RIOC Board Meeting. Mr. Katz agreed and below are his personal comments:
This evening, the RIOC Board of Directors voted to appoint Leslie Torres as the next RIOC President and CEO. She is an excellent choice and I wish her much success in her new capacity. However, I spoke against her appointment, not because she is unqualified or because there was another candidate better suited for the job. There is legislation, passed by both houses of the State Legislature and awaiting the Governor’s signature to become law that would require this Board to interview for and to hire a new President, not just endorse the Governor’s choice. They would be obliged to interview at least three candidates and to present them to the community prior to offering employment. I urged the Board to postpone their vote until the Governor had acted on the bill, expected by the end of the month, possibly by invoking Roberts Rules of Order and tabling the motion.I also spoke with RIOC resident Board Director David Kraut who voted in favor of Ms. Torres appointment and asked him for his thoughts on the process. Mr. Kraut agreed to do so as well and commented to this post:
I understand that the Board had a hard choice; take the path of least resistance and hire Ms. Torres, a qualified aspirant, or honor the spirit of a bill that may or may not be signed into law in the next few weeks. RIOC is likely to remain the administrator of this community for the next 58 years, until the Master Lease expires. While Ms. Torres may prove to be an excellent choice, there is no guarantee that future Governors will offer excellent future RIOC Presidents. In the 26 years RIOC has existed, the Board could have hired Presidents through their own efforts, but in fact, they never have. This legislation requires them to do so.
This summer, we learned that this Board, two-thirds of whom were chosen by election within this community, could fire a President. It is unclear whether they have the intestinal fortitude to hire one. With Ms. Torres’ appointment, we are unlikely to have another chance to empower the RIOC Board for years to come, regardless of whether Gov. Paterson signs the bill into law. As one of those who created the election process that created an elected Board, I have to wonder why we bothered.
These Board seats have finite terms and will come up for re-ratification at some point. Like any other elected official seeking reëlection, you must judge them based on their voting record. Here’s how this Board voted on this appointment: the ex officio members, Brian Lawlor, Chair and MaryBeth Labate, representing the Division of the Budget voted in favor, as did resident members Faye Christian, Kathie Grimm, Jon Kalkin, David Kraut, and Howard Polivy. Margie Smith, like me, an activist who has worked on writing the legislation and creating the RIOC Board elections, abstained, and Michael Shinozaki was not present.
Much effort has gone into the slow, incremental improvements in the long slog toward a democratic administration of Roosevelt Island. We have taken advantage of every opportunity that has come our way, even when the outcome was in question. A case in point: we were given no guarantees that the Governor would appoint a single winner in our Island-wide RIOC Board plebiscites, but we created and mounted the elections nonetheless. Currently, six of the nine members were chosen by you, the residents, through two referendums. The Board must take on the tasks, accept the additional power, make the tough decisions. This is what we expect of them. I am disappointed that they didn’t see the long-term ramifications of their hasty appointment. It would have meant so much more had they waited to act within a law that will empower them and enfranchise us.
Please, let no one doubt for a minute what huge progress was made tonight. It was gratifying beyond my ability to say, that we were in a position of entirely rejecting Ms. Torres' candidacy if she had proved or shown incompetent. Of course we did not reject her: her experience and her resumé made clear that we would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate. But if there had been the slightest indication that Ms. Torres was being "foisted" on us in any way shape or form, I hope it is clear that this RIOC Board would have vetoed her in a New York minute. And that is a huge step forward.I spoke with Ms. Torres after the Board Meeting. She is certainly an intelligent and thoughtful person, with experience in affordable housing issues, who may very well turn out to be an excellent RIOC President/CEO but Mr. Katz is correct - the selection process the Board chose to follow was flawed. Mr. Kraut is also correct that despite the flaws in the process huge progress was made if, as he says, the Board was empowered to reject the candidacy of Ms. Torres had it chose to do so.
Ms. Torres will start her new Roosevelt Island career this Monday.
UPDATE 3:50 PM - RIOC Director Margie Smith adds:
A couple of people have asked me to give a little more detail about why I abstained from the vote for RIOC President last night. I’m happy to do that, but I want to preface it by saying that I think Leslie Torres will make a terrific President. That’s what made abstaining more difficult than I had expected.
There are a couple of things that come into play in this. I don’t want to speak for the other board members, but I believe they all sincerely felt that we had found the right person and continuing the search would have been more for form than substance. Recognizing the important issues currently on the table at RIOC, the desire to get operations back to normal as quickly as possible, and believing they had found the right person for the position, the board members approved her appointment last night. I completely understand that decision and applaud them for doing what they believe was the right thing.
I’m coming from a different perspective and felt that I had to follow my conscience on the vote. I’ve been a member of the group that’s been fighting for 12+ years to get elected representation on the Board. The logical extension of that is for an elected board to hire a President for RIOC whom they believe is the best qualified candidate, rather than just rubber stamping a bureaucrat who is forced on them by the Governor. We accomplished that last night, but I felt we didn’t go far enough. Our new president was a recommendation from DHCR, but there was absolutely no pressure, spoken or implied, to approve that recommendation. We had complete freedom to support her nomination or turn it down. That’s a huge difference, and a giant step forward in our process. My only concern is that we didn’t go far enough with the selection process. I felt we should have opened it up to a larger population before we made a final decision.
Bottom line, enormous progress has been made in the last few years. We have elected representation on the RIOC Board, a board that’s involved and willing to take stands on issues, and a process for selecting a RIOC President in which the Board played an integral part, and which in the end, made them the final decision-makers. Is it perfect? In my opinion, not yet, but close.
I’m looking forward to working with Ms. Torres, and having lived on RI for more than 30 years, I know this community will step up as it always does and welcome her to our Island.