Roosevelt Island Residents Association Meetings Most Dysfunctional In 17 Years Says RIRA Planning Committee Chair Frank Farance - Examples Include Island Shakespeare, Korean Pavilion And Meeting Procedures
Image Of September 2013 RIRA Meeting
Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Planning Committee Chair Frank Farance reports:
As a RIRA Common Council representative from Island House, I am reporting the very sad state of affairs in RIRA. We are half-way through our RIRA term, the meetings have been the most dysfunctional in my 17-year recollection. Our monthly Common Council meetings start at 8 PM, there is a 15-minute Public Session, and then we get onto the business (President's report, committee reports) and conclude around 10 PM. Our September meeting was the worst ever: Roll Call started at 10 PM. At our October meeting, in reaction to a year's worth of poor meetings, we spent much of the time trying to change procedures, e.g., taking away our right to speak and debate at RIRA meetings. The procedural change failed (another a waste of time), yet we were still prohibited from discussing committee reports.
For the decades history of RIRA, the main purpose of our monthly meetings is information-sharing: the public sharing with us (the Public Session), and us Building Representatives sharing among ourselves in reports, progress, etc. from each of our committees. The monthly meetings are our main governance event where we make decisions. This is all dysfunctional now.
The solution to our problems is not more rules, the solution is following the rules we already have: the RIRA Constitution and By-Laws, and Roberts Rules. The most important and most visible function of the RIRA President is to conduct those meetings properly and efficiently. With four years prior as RIRA Vice President, and years as a CB8 representative, one would have expected Ellen Polivy to be prepared for this role. Unfortunately, she has done a terribly poor job as RIRA President. About a half dozen of us with deep experience have tried to coach her (myself a former RIRA Parliamentarian and RIRA President), but with little success. Her reactions are thin-skinned, emotion-laden, and avoid the topics of substance, e.g., suggestions/feedback from Common Council members she frames as "character assassination".
Sure, a new leader might need some help, but rather than embrace the organization's culture and procedure, she sees this essentially as "Ellen's Meeting": not a meeting of equals in an atmosphere of fairness (we're treated equally), openness (everyone has a right to speak), and transparency (information should be revealed, not hidden).
Rather than learn the basics of running a meeting by Roberts Rules, a year later, she still is unable to competently take a vote. Some suggest getting rid of Roberts Rules, which devolves into chaos. Our October meeting saw the first time a Public Safety Officer was guarding our meeting, presumably Ms. Polivy (as RIOC permit-holder for the space) was ready to eject anyone she thought was unruly.
These problems have had significant negative effect upon our community. Just to highlight a few, at the September meeting, thanks to Ms. Polivy's poor actions, our community has lost the Island Shakespeare (IS) organization -- they have decided to move off of Roosevelt Island. IS was looking for a more permanent home for their temporary productions, but rather than Ms. Polivy moving this topic to (say) the RIRA Planning Committee (as RIRA Presidents Matt Katz, Steve Marcus, and I have done the decade prior), Ms. Polivy allows a free-for-all discussion, including members of the public to participate in ganging up on IS, with Ms. Polivy worrying out loud "I'm worried that you'll burn down Motorgate" (the outdoor steps area on the East Promenade between Motorgate and the bridge was a possible temporary site). Ms. Polivy's comments were inflammatory (no pun intended), and furthered this pile-on mentality.
What should have happened was: IS would present their suggestions to the Planning Committee, there were some concerns/suggestions about their prior use/permits, the issues would have been vetted and resolved with related organizations and appropriate RIOC staff, and then the Planning Committee would come back to the RIRA Common Council with a package of information, options, and recommendations -- all presented in a civil manner. Ms. Polivy is resistant to that approach. In departing, the head of IS described the September RIRA meeting with the words like "blindside pummeling", "extreme exaggerations", and "invective lies". Ms. Polivy, your concern about Island Shakespeare's Burning Down Motorgate is now moot, but the Island has lost an important organization.
Another example was the UN development committee to present an expansion project that would be constructed in the UN area (visible from the southern tip of the Island). Because one of the presenters happened to be Peter Krokondelas (who consults on a variety of projects, including the Cornell effort), RIRA members who are also in Ms. Polivy's other organization (RICC) focused upon Mr. Krokondelas' involvement and they could not seem to think past the Cornell effort: complaints about Cornell ("Why can't you give the community $70 million?") were lobbed at the UN. The UN people looked truly perplexed in that some RIRA members could not think clearly and could not keep separate in their mind: the Cornell project HERE on the Island versus the UN project OVER THERE on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Again Ms. Polivy should have delegated this to the Planning Committee where Common Council time would have not been wasted on free-for-all discussion.
Another example is the Korean Pavilion (a large, 500-sq-ft gazebo) to be built in Southpoint Park, see video at http://bit.ly/1fgFNiD. Even after the September RIRA meeting, and myself (as Planning Committee Chair) arranging for the Korean association to address a variety of important community concerns (e.g., Where might this large structure be placed?, and What about other community organizations that would request their own structures in Southpoint Park?), Ms. Polivy was Gaveling Through her own proposal in RIRA to approve this organization's request without the normal RIRA review. In our October meeting, motions were made to prohibit the rights of members to express their points of view during this debate.
As a last example, RIRA representatives to RICC were to be elected the beginning of our term in December 2012, but Ms. Polivy delayed their election until the after the main City planning activities were over with Cornell. Now, a year later and without notice, Ms. Polivy gives us a half-dozen nominees for these RIRA representatives to RICC: the nominees' names are embedded in her Presidents report, there was no open call for volunteers or nominees, just Ms. Polivy's selections. She needed immediate approval for her selections and, again, they were Gaveled Through.
For whatever reason, Ms. Polivy is unable lead the Common Council in a fair and competent manner -- her resistance to improvement has resulted in its ongoing dysfunction in countless ways. RIRA members (that's all of us residents, not just the Common Council), you have a stake in this, you need to advocate to your building representatives that you want this fixed right away. We can't have another year of dysfunctional meetings, of community organizations abandoning the Island, and ill-conceived resolutions.