Saturday, June 18, 2011

Questions Raised Of Political Patronage and Cronyism In Stealth Appointment Of Non-Elected, Non-Resident To Roosevelt Island Operating Corp Board Of Directors By Resident - What Was Governor Andrew Cuomo Thinking?

Roosevelt Island resident Bill Long comments on this post:

Something stinks like rotting fish in the way the New York State Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo are attempting to bring back colonial rule to Roosevelt Island with the apparent naming of Salvatore Fererra, currently Executive Director of the Child School/Legacy High School, to the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board of Directors.... 
From Mr. Long:
Congratulations to Roosevelt Islander and to The WIRE (6/18/11 issue PDF File ) for their reporting on the process behind the latest RIOC Board appointment. Once again, Roosevelt Island residents have been "taken to school" on crony patronage in New York.

Why did a Republican state senator from Brooklyn and a Democratic governor in Albany conspire to install a manipulative opportunist on the RIOC Board? This action is crony patronage at its worst. Despite the good work that RIOC staffers accomplish, the main reason that RIOC exists is to provide patronage appointments for New York politicians. Why should we care about holding elections for members of an organization that clearly exists more for the benefit of politicians than Roosevelt Island residents?

This episode shows that it is time for Roosevelt Island residents to adopt a radically different approach to their own self determination. If the Maple Tree Group or others wish to do some good, they should shift their focus from director elections to a bill to dissolve RIOC and replace it with a system of representative government that will benefit Roosevelt Island residents and serve as a model for the rest of New York State.

Bill Long
The Octagon
It's a free county and everyone may not agree with this Blog or Mr. Long regarding the appointment of Mr. Fererra to the RIOC Board of Directors. For instance, a reader commented on post linked above:
RI Wins said...

It is possible the Governor did not appreciate the Board's ouster of Steve Shane, which was thought to be largely coordinated by Mr. Kalkin, the biggest advocate of the Master Lease concept, which Mr. Shane steadfastly opposed.

Now that Mr. Kalkin is gone, it remains to be seen if the Master Lease agreement will be executed after all.

Whatever happens to the Master Lease concept, no Governor would want to see his appointee -- RIOC Pres -- "fired" by the RIOC Board. The Governor appoints the RIOC President, and, logically, the Governor dismisses the RIOC President.

Gov. Cuomo does not make appointments without a reason.

There were Board members with expired terms lingering on the Board, and no pool of standby elected board members available from which to appoint new board members. Gov. Cuomo thus had no choice but to appoint a non-elected Board member, in this case appointing a particularly valuable, hard-working member of the community, Mr. Sal Ferrara, the director of the Child School.

This worthy appointment is a plus for RI - no matter which Board Member with an expired term Gov. Cuomo decided to dismiss.

Gov. Cuomo, in dismissing Mr. Kalkin, regains control over RIOC. Mr. Kalkin may have imagined he could always orchestrate the Board to do as he wished - in effect, dictate to the RIOC President. This indirectly challenged the State authority.

Plus, it cannot be easy for any RIOC President to function with in effect the threat of a Board voting as a bloc, ready to terminate the RIOC President seemingly at any time, over reasons that do not even need to be revealed by the Board.

Boards are not constituted to be the tools of one particularly active Board Member. Boards are forums where each Board member should have an equal say. A Board that is dominated by a particular Board member loses its validity as a group of independent-minded, equally empowered members.

So, thank goodness for Gov. Cuomo's action - and welcome Mr. Ferarra to the RIOC Board!
Another reader disagrees with the statement from RI Wins:
There’s been speculation in some of these posts that the Governor put Ferrera on the Board because he didn’t have a list of elected candidates to choose from. That’s nonsense. Senator Golden, from Brooklyn, wanted Ferrera on the board and pulled political strings to make it happen, with the obvious knowledge and consent of Ferrera. In the past when a seat opened up, the Governor’s office either left the incumbent there or consulted the local politicians for replacement candidates. For the last several years, our politicians have given the names of the candidates who had been elected. The Governor selected some, not all, of those people. In this instance, our local pols were deliberately kept in the dark and when they found out about this nomination, they successfully had it removed from the agenda of the Senate Finance Committee. After the session had been adjourned, in a backroom political deal, Senator Golden got it put back and then immediately passed it through the Senate. No list of Island candidates would have made any difference at all. This was a clear move by the Governor’s office to do a favor for Senator Golden and to reinforce to this community that our interests are irrelevant and he’s running the show. The real question is why would someone who supposedly has integrity want to play any part in this debacle by accepting the appointment?

If anyone believes that Ferrera knew nothing about these underhanded political shenanigans, they’re being naïve. But let’s assume they’re right and I’m the jaded one, now that Ferrera knows how he got this position, wouldn’t a person of integrity turn it down?

Addressing the post from RI Wins, the Governor does NOT appoint the RIOC President. It’s very clear in the RIOC By-Laws, which are public information, that the RIOC Board hires and fires the executives of the corporation. It even describes, by job title, who those executives are. In the past other boards accepted nominees from the Governor’s office and pretty much rubber stamped them into that position. This board, finally, stood up to that and took back the power given to them by law. I guess Cuomo didn’t like it, but what good is having an elected board if they’re going to allow Albany to continue to run the Island? We may as well go back to the old days and eliminate the time and effort it takes to put on an election.
Here's a very nice sounding press release from Governor Cuomo's office.
Albany, NY (June 7, 2011)

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today introduced the "Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011," to address major inadequacies in the current ethics system and restore public trust in government. The Governor's program bill establishes unprecedented transparency, strict disclosure requirements, and a strong independent monitor with broad oversight of New York State government.

"This legislation will help end an era of corruption in Albany that was fostered by a lack of transparency, oversight and enforcement," Governor Cuomo said. "This legislation will usher in a dramatic change in the way Albany does business and is a historic step in restoring the public's trust in government. I commend Majority Leader Skelos, Speaker Silver and their colleagues for their work on this bill and I look forward to its prompt passage and implementation."

Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said, "We're pleased that the Governor is handing up this program bill today, and look forward to strengthening New York's ethics laws for those who serve in both the State Legislature and the Executive branch. As a result of this historic ethics reform agreement, which was the result of months of hard work, we've taken another step forward in restoring the public's trust in its government. I thank the Governor and the Speaker, and Senators Lanza, Flanagan and Hannon, for their commitment to achieving a positive result for all New Yorkers."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, "The overwhelming majority of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle are hardworking, caring, public-spirited men and women of integrity. The agreed upon bill will ensure that our government is held to the highest standard by requiring more extensive financial disclosure and establishing serious penalties for those who violate the law. I commend my Assembly colleagues, particularly Assemblyman Danny O'Donnell for his leadership and efforts in crafting this legislation."
Very nice sentiments expressed in the statement. However, the statement is rendered meaningless and a cruel joke played upon the residents of Roosevelt Island with the appointment of the non-elected, non-resident, conflict ridden Sal Fererra to the RIOC Board of Directors.

This excerpt from the editorial in the June 18 issue of Roosevelt Island's local newspaper, the Main Street WIRE (6/18/11 Issue PDF File), expresses the opinion of many Roosevelt Island residents concerning Mr. Fererra's appointment:
What was Governor Andrew Cuomo thinking?

This week, he appointed Child School Executive Director Salvatore Ferrera to a seat on the RIOC Board of Directors.

Apparently, he realized that there would be a Don’t you dare! reaction, because he did it without consulting his fellow Democrats who represent Roosevelt Island – Assemblymember Micah Kellner and Senator Jose Serrano. He did it without talking to anyone in the community. He did it quietly. He did it on the sly. It was a swift, sneaky move, obviously some sort of back-alley deal with the Republican State Senator from Brooklyn, Marty Golden....

This 2005 image is of State Senator Martin Golden (second from left) and then Xaverian High School President President Sal Ferrera (second from right) honoring the members and coaches of the Xaverian Varsity Basketball Team.

A meeting between members of Roosevelt Island's Maple Tree Group, the group that successfully lobbied for and organized the RIOC nominee elections, and Mr. Fererra

 Image of Maple Tree Group Meeting With Mr. Fererra (hand on chin) last Thursday

took place last Thursday afternoon at the Child School/Legacy High School. I attended as well.

Mr. Fererra was urged by Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President and Maple Tree Group Member Matt Katz and other members of the Maple Tree Group to decline or resign his appointment as a RIOC Director because his acceptance would undo 15 years of Roosevelt Island residents efforts to achieve some small measure of democracy and elected representation.

Mr. Fererra stated that he sought out the position of RIOC Director from a friend at the Governor's office, that he followed the procedures outlined by the Governor's Appointment office and that he had no idea of the long history of Roosevelt Island residents seeking the right to vote for RIOC Board members. Upon hearing Mr. Fererra's statement expressing ignorance of the Roosevelt Island RIOC Board election process, I suggested that perhaps that lack of basic knowledge about Roosevelt Island was in itself a reason why he was not qualified to be part of the RIOC Board which runs Roosevelt Island. If he does not know that basic fact, it is hard to find a reason why he should hold such a responsible position.

Mr. Fererra repeatedly asserted that his reason for wanting to join the RIOC Board was to better integrate the Child School/Legacy High School with the Roosevelt Island community for the benefit of all. He believes that the projects he hopes to initiate at the Child School, such as an Art Center at 504 Main Street, an equestrian center and a boat house will improve the lives for all Roosevelt Island stakeholders.

It was pointed out to Mr. Fererra that these Child School/Legacy High School projects he hopes to bring to Roosevelt Island are the very reasons he should not be a RIOC Director because of the perception, if not reality, of a conflict of interest between his role as Executive Director of Child School and RIOC Director. It would be as though Hudson/Related Developer David Kramer, Octagon's Bruce Becker or Island House/Westview Owner David Hirshorn, all with major real estate interests on Roosevelt Island, were appointed to the RIOC Board. Mr. Fererra then pointed out that his situation was different because he worked for a non profit and would not be benefiting personally on any of these project.

That's ridiculous since any benefit to the Child School is also a benefit to it's Executive Director, Mr. Fererra, in one form or another.

Mr. Fererra then said he would recuse himself from any RIOC Board decisions involving the Child School.

Finally, Mr. Fererra asked, though prefaced that it was purely hypothetical, if he did resign could he appoint his successor? Upon hearing this our groans were barely contained because this statement clearly showed Mr. Fererra did not understand the point being made to him in the meeting - that the primary objection to his being on the RIOC Board is that he was not elected by the community.

The meeting ended shortly thereafter with Mr. Fererra saying that he would think about what was said during the meeting and provide an answer on Monday as to whether he would stay on as a RIOC Director.

Let's see what happens on Monday and hope that Roosevelt Island can avoid what could be a very nasty and unnecessary fight.

UPDATE 6/30 - Roosevelt Island residents and RIOC Directors urge Mr. Ferrera to resign during June RIOC Board Meeting (includes video of statements)


Anonymous said...

"Mr. Fererra stated . . . that he had no idea of the long history of Roosevelt Island residents seeking the right to vote for RIOC Board members."

Mr. Fererra arrived at The Child School in August 2010; therefore, he was a member of the community he seeks to serve during the period when RIRA discussed the potential election of candidates to the RIOC Board. (See then-RIRA President Frank Farance's President's Report to the WIRE on 9/11/10.)

Mr. Fererra's inability to recognize the conflict of interest between his role as Executive Director and RIOC Director is simply unbelievable.

Finally, his query if he could appoint his successor made me laugh out loud, and then cringe in disgust. If he was appointed by Governor Cuomo, how could Fererra possibly think he might appoint anyone?

The issue, as has been stated by neighbors and our elected officials, is the searing violation of the electoral process.

Mr. Fererra has shown his true colors: ignorance, explicit self-serving agenda and self-aggrandizement. These are not disqualifications. Americans have been known to vote for candidates who cannot spell potato and who think they can see Russia from 200 miles away.

Self-serving agenda and self-aggrandizement are qualities that will not endear Fererra to the community he seeks to serve, especially when he is shoved down their throat.

Let's hope he resigns and "goes to school" to learn about the Island and the democratic process.

Anonymous said...

I truly do believe that it is time for the residents of this island, and for our elected officials, to rise up and abolish the RIOC.

The lease on RI and other contracts currently executed by RIOC should be transferred to a new organization, not a state-controlled public authority, but perhaps a non-profit corporation whose board membership is directly elected by the residents of this island.

RIOC's existence does give islanders some fantastic services that make this such a unique and livable neighborhood. Maybe an independent non-profit corporation would make for an easy transition to representative democracy.

Anonymous said...

And no word from any of our so called "island leaders" if the fact that the terms of three of the elected leaders have expired had anything to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Btw, we all refer to the "tradition" of electing board members. Do not forget: this is not the law! Nothing that happened here was illegal. Nothing at all. Everybody outside and inside Roosevelt Island recognized that the RIRA and the MTG is a joke. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Poster at 9:25 must be doing drugs. The bottom line here is that Kalkin was instrumental in getting rid of Steve Shane - for no good reason. And now it has come back to bite him in the a--. That's what you call Karma.

Some (like the Maple Tree group) may think Roosevelt island is this BIG place on the radar screen of New York Politics, but it is not. It's just a spec on the BIG board of things our Governor is in charge of.

Good for Sal Ferrera for doing what he needed to do to get on the RIOC board. And shame on the self-entitled spoiled brats of RIRA who thought they had the power to extend Board terms.

Don't give up Dr. Fererra! said...

Any new or replacement appointees to the Board will have to be non-elected since the "brilliant" MTG over-ruled then RIRA-Pres. Farance and did not hold RIOC Bd member elections in 2010. This maneuver occurred to block any new people from seeking Bd membership so that the "old guard" Bd members, meaning those that came from RIRA and reflecting the worst example of cronyism - most definitely including Kalkin - could in effect extend their Board memberships! The RIRA cancelation of the 2010 RIOC Bd member election was exactly what the ex-RIRA RIOC Bd members - such as Kalkin - whose terms were about to expire wanted - a perfect example of "one hand washing the other" one would have to say. To repeat: The MTG & RIRA action to cancel the 2010 RIOC Bd member election was clear "cronyism" and self-dealing of the worst kind!

It was both a self-serving and an anti-democratic action by RIRA to squelch the RIOC Bd member elections in 2010.

But that's democracy for ya - there was a democratic vote in RIRA and poor Frank and others on RIRA who knew the score and knew what it meant to not have these elections - they were over-ruled. A vicious campaign was started by certain members on the MTG at that time to harass Frank for opposing the cancellation of the 2010 RIOC Bd Member election - these MTG creatures would not stop at anything to get that election canceled, and Frank to his credit, never "took the bait" to lose his cool - he remained composed and level-headed despite the harassment.

So folks, as you sowed, now you reap: Your precious "democratically elected" Board experiment is over since there are no elected candidates available for the governor to pick from!!

Dr. Fererra has explained that he followed the correct procedures in seeking Board membership, and BTW Gov. Cuomo is a lawyer and followed the correct appointment procedures and absolutely did not break any laws in appointing Fererra and nor did Fererra break any laws in accepting the appointment.

I urge Dr. Fererra to reject the self-serving "advice" of MTG, as well as the efforts of the current RIRA leadership to get you to step down. The MTG and the current RIRA leadership helmed the anti-democratic effort to squelch the RIOC Bd member elections in 2010, so it is no coincidence that they would be "allergic" to having new Bd members, and losing their precious ex-RIRA "friends" such as Kalkin on the RIOC Bd.

If anything, the RIRA, which in its cronyism verges on fascism, should be abolished. RI, like all the other areas of NYC, has excellent representation through our elected officials, our Community Board, the PTA etc. etc.

Dr. Fererra, there are many, many on RI that deeply appreciate and thank the Child School, which continues to revitalize RI.

We look forward to your serving on the RIOC Board!

Anonymous said...

It's irrelevant whether Cuomo was in the right to appoint Ferrara (he was), or whether RIRA is a glorified condo association (it is) and should be abolished.

Nowhere else in New York would it be appropriate for the state government to impose decision-makers on a neighborhood.

What's the value add for having a public authority running a residential neighborhood? I'm not sure there is one. The services provided by RIOC could be redirected to the appropriate entities within the city government (DOT, Sanitation, etc.). Eventually, the RIOC's lease on RI will expire and this process will have to happen anyway -- let's just do it now.

Anonymous said...

well said , let the state save money, get rid of rioc now . they are useless they give summer jobs to the same people every summer . never giving the other kids a chance , its who you know rioc is not fair ,, my kids have been trying to get a summer job with rioc for years ,and every summer its the same b.s i see the same kids getting hooked up with jobs , my kids never get a call . rioc go to hell ,

Yet another RIer shaking his head said...

This is ridiculous. Everybody here is whaa whaa about the election thing but nobody admits that the RIRA let the terms of some directors expire ON PURPOSE and that Mr. Fererra seems to be a lot more qualified to sit on the board than most of the resident directors.

Yes, his school is the reason why he joined and I am unable to see why this is a bad thing. What's good for the school is good for the island. This is the first time in such a long time that a capable person was chosen to be part of the RIOC who actually care about this rock. Cares and is actually qualified to be a director.

Let that guy do his job.

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