Roosevelt Island Residents Meet With NY State Governor Cuomo's Secretary Larry Schwartz - Discuss Democracy, RIOC Board Elections And Appointment Of Non Residents To The Board
Image of October 25 RIOC Board Meeting With Govenor's Secretary/Office
On the Friday before Christmas, December 21, I learned of a meeting scheduled that day between Larry Schwartz, Secretary to NY State Governor Andrew Cuomo, and certain residents of the Roosevelt Island community. I asked to attend the meeting and was told it was closed to the press. Since that meeting, I have been seeking comment about what was discussed and was told a statement would be made available after the holidays.
Yesterday, I received the following statements from former Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President Matt Katz who was one of the attendees at the meeting. From Mr. Katz:
This report to the community of the December 21 meeting with Lawrence Schwartz has waited a long time to be shared with you, and we apologize for that. A statement that would be inclusive of the material discussed but sensitive to the provisos stipulated by Mr. Schwartz and the other State officials attending the meeting took us some time to draft. In addition, and as a courtesy to the officials who agreed to meet with us, we offered the attached report to Schwartz’s office with today as a deadline for comments. Having received none, we are pleased to offer this account, which follows twenty months of work since the appointment of a non-resident to the RIOC Board of Directors and a year of work mounting two Board elections.and:
To the Community:Below is the briefing document submitted to Mr. Schwartz referenced above.
Since the February 2012 RIOC Board election, a small group of Islanders has been steadily following up about appointment of the nominees with Assembly Member Micah Kellner and State Senator Jose Serrano, and pressing for a meeting with Governor Andrew Cuomo or his staff in order to explain the importance and context of the elections. (The effort to engage with gubernatorial staff via these elected representatives dates from the June 2011 formation of The Democracy Team, following Cuomo’s appointment of unelected non-resident Salvatore Ferrera to the Board.)
As reported both on the Roosevelt Islander blog (October 26, 2012) and in The Main Street WIRE (November 3, 2012), there was a special meeting of the RIOC Board on October 25, 2012, with Lawrence Schwartz, Secretary to Governor Cuomo, at which Schwartz promised to work more closely with the Board and with residents. This small group of Islanders attended the public session of that meeting. Then-President of RIRA Matthew Katz gave Schwartz his card, and said that he would follow up to request a meeting with him. When contacted, Schwartz's office responded that he would meet with the group, and it was arranged for December 21, 2012, at New York State premises in Manhattan.
In order to provide background for the meeting -- whose purpose was to discuss the two elections that RIRA mounted in 2012 to fill seats on the RIOC Board of Directors -- we, the undersigned Island attendees, sent a two-page briefing document in advance (copy available from firstname.lastname@example.org). It consisted of an historical timeline of the Island’s efforts to attain representative local democracy, and an updated version of the related goals that had been provided to Kellner and Serrano by The Democracy Team in July 2011: restoration of the Island’s electoral precedent; documented agreement to the goals; regularization of the expiration dates of Board terms; and, ultimately, legislation providing that all seven public RIOC Board members be Roosevelt Island residents elected by the community.
At the December 21 meeting, attended by several other NYS staff, we were pleased to learn that the State recognizes the responsibility that residents were given in earlier administrations to act as a “search committee" for gubernatorial appointments to the Board. They also recognize that the June 2011 appointment of a non-resident to the Board was seen by the community as a setback to the objective of “a government .... deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (per the Declaration of Independence) that would give residents more inclusion in decision-making. Schwartz noted that Board appointees must satisfy the fiduciary responsibilities imposed upon them by statute, and we noted that the residents elected to serve on the Board are all professional people, all dedicated to serving this community to the best of their abilities, and all carefully vetted by the State prior to appointment. He agreed that the Island’s elected nominees would be considered when Board appointments are made.
The conversation was cordial, frank, and wide-ranging, including fundamental questions regarding the appropriateness of local government by Public Authority, and even whether New York State should be in the business of running a locality. We spent considerable time on a detailed discussion of the 1984 law that created RIOC, and current and historical personnel questions. We hope to sustain and build on the new relationship with these State officials who determine the Island’s future.
In alphabetical order by last name:
Ashton Barfield David Bauer Vicki Feinmel Linda Heimer Sherie Helstien Matthew Katz Ellen Polivy
DEMOCRACY and THE ROOSEVELT ISLAND OPERATING CORPORATIONOf course, this statement does not really tell us anything about what really happened in the meeting and what NY State's position is on, as Mr. Katz puts it:
1984 - Legislation creates the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC), a public benefit corporation, to administer and further develop the residential community.
1984-97 (and beyond) - Many decisions that adversely affect the community and residents are made by non-resident Board members and managers, who are ill-equipped to grasp and solve local problems and capitalize on local opportunities. In addition, patronage and/or conflicts of interest characterize most Board and executive appointments.
1997 - Fed-up residents begin seeking both better Island administration and representative democracy, with direct election of residents to all seven public Board seats. (In advisory referenda conducted during the ensuing years, large turnouts repeatedly indicate overwhelming community support, ranging from 80-96%.)
2002 - Governor George Pataki endorses legislation mandating that residents occupy five of the Boardʼs seven public seats. (There are two ex officio seats.)
2007 - Governor Eliot Spitzerʼs administration offers residents the opportunity to create an Island-wide election to nominate residents for his appointment to Board seats.
6/2008! & 5/2009 - Governor David Paterson appoints four of the top vote-getters from the first election (2/2008), and reappoints an unelected resident first appointed in 1994.
1/2010 - Governor Paterson appoints the top two vote-getters from the second election (5/2009), and reappoints a 2008 elected appointee whose term was only one year. Of the seven public Board members, all are residents and six are community nominees.
6/2011 - Governor Andrew Cuomo appoints an unelected non-resident to the just- expired seat of an elected resident. The other two resident Board members with expired appointments (one of them unelected) continue to serve.
2/2012 - Residents hold a third election, for three expired seats, and send Governor Cuomo the names of the three top vote-getters as the communityʼs nominees. The highest vote-getter is the former elected-resident member who was replaced in 6/2011 by the unelected non-resident; the other two are incumbents. There is no gubernatorial response.
11/2012 - Residents hold a fourth election, for the three seats whose appointments will expire in mid-2013, and send Governor Cuomo the names of the three top vote-getters as the communityʼs nominees for this separate group of seats. One nominee is an incumbent. The resumes of the two non-incumbents are requested by, and provided to, the Appointments Office.
In light of this history of Roosevelt Islanders striving for local democracy, and with knowledge of Governor Cuomoʼs commitment to "strong and vibrant urban communities," we are respectfully seeking the following:
Legislation providing that all seven public RIOC Board members be
• Roosevelt Island residents
• elected by the Roosevelt Island community
• seated in order of election results (even if executive appointment and legislative approval must
be retained because Board members are State officers)
Restoration of our recent electoral precedent
• by having the nominees from our February 2012 election be appointed to the three expired seats. (Two nominees are incumbents; the other, a former Board member, would replace an unelected resident. See related request below, in Regularization of Board term expirations.)
• by having the nominees from our November 2012 election be appointed in June-July 2013 to the three seats that will expire then. (One nominee is an incumbent.)
A Memorandum of Understanding
• documenting agreement to the Intermediate Goals.
• agreeing to honor our Ultimate Goal, while the legislation is sought, by continuing the process of recognizing our elections (which, in the future, will always precede expirations).
Regularization of Board term expirations (related to February 2012 election goal, above)
• Durations of Board terms are covered by the legislation governing RIOC, but expirations are not. They appear to have been set by the timings of the first appointments.
• The term expirations of two of the seats contested in the February 2012 election are out of synch with those of the other five public seats.
• If the nominees for those seats, who are incumbents, are reappointed, we hope that a simple administrative adjustment in term expirations can be accomplished at the same time.
• The two requested changes are illustrated by arrows and dashed-line boxes on the second page of the attached table (RIOC BOARD TERMS), which contains detailed information about elections, appointments, and term expirations for Board members and nominees since 2008.
• Further context will be provided when relevant.
... fundamental questions regarding the appropriateness of local government by Public Authority, and even whether New York State should be in the business of running a locality. We spent considerable time on a detailed discussion of the 1984 law that created RIOC, and current and historical personnel questions....Hopefully, in the coming days, our fellow Roosevelt Island residents will be more forthcoming in what was said during the meeting with Mr. Schwartz and the other NY State officials.
Here's previous post on earlier meeting by RIOC Directors with Mr. Schwartz and background on the appointment of the non-resident to RIOC Board in June 2011.