Friday, October 31, 2014

Roosevelt Island Residents Association Election Controversy - Is RIRA Allowing Vice President Candidate To Run For Office In Violation Of RIRA Constitution?

The Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) can't seem to escape internal controversy, not even when it comes to running own election scheduled for Tuesday November 4 to select a new Common Council.

Here's the latest. RIRA Vice President Sherie Helstien served on the RIRA Election Committee as its Chairperson during the current election cycle until she resigned in an email dated October 25 saying she resigned at the close of the October 24 RIRA nomination deadline. Sometime before the October 24 nomination deadline, while still RIRA Election Committee Chair, Ms. Helstien submitted her nomination for RIRA Vice President in the 2014 election.

The controversy is that the RIRA Constitution prohibits a member serving on the RIRA Elections Committee from  running for RIRA Vice President.

According to RIRA Common Council member Frank Farance:
RIRA Election Scandal: Sherie Helstien is not permitted to run as RIRA VP candidate; serving in Election Committee prohibits President and VP candidates. Here's wording from the RIRA Constitution Article 5, Section 5, Election Committee:

"There shall be an Election Committee to administer all elections in accordance with the provisions of Article VII. The Election Committee shall include representatives from at least five election Districts. No candidate for President or Vice President may serve on the Election Committee. Candidates for the Common Council may serve on the Election Committee but may not participate in the elections for their own election Districts. No member of the Election Committee may participate in the election campaign of any candidate other than himself/herself or give support to any other candidate. The Common Council shall approve by Majority vote of the Council Members a Chair to the Elections Committee who will coordinate such activities."

Ms. Helstien was approved RIRA Election Committee Chair on June 4 (about 5 months ago) by the RIRA Common Council....
Mr. Farance continues:
... Simply, the RIRA Constitution's Election Committee prohibition on running for President and Vice President is broad: if you serve on the Election Committee, you can't run for those RIRA positions. Ms. Helstien has served as Election Committee Chair, thus she cannot run for those positions. She has been involved in the Election Committee almost 5 months, and now she resigns 10 days before an election so (in her mind) she can run for RIRA VP? I doubt the legal interpretation would support such a narrow interpretation, e.g., on the day of the election, if you're not on the election committee, you are free to run for President and Vice President....
I asked Ms. Helstien and other members of the RIRA Elections and Nominations Committees for comment.  To date, Ms. Helstien has not commented on the matter.

RIRA Nominations Chair Aaron Hamburger responded to my inquiry. According to Mr. Hamburger:
We had an unusual situation for the 2014 elections. I believe RIRA has never had an existing Vice President also be the Chair of the Election Committee. How did this come about? When the Common Council (CC) was ready to form the Election Committee, no one on the Common Council volunteered to take the job of Chair. Fortunately Sherie did accept the position and was voted in by the CC. Had Sherie not stepped forward, we would have had to cancel the 2014 elections because you can't have an election without an Election Committee to organize and run the election.

So, Sherie began to work on the election and, frankly, did a terrific job of getting the process and voting system organized. Late in the nomination period, Sherie decided to be a candidate for re-election as Vice-President, which was her right. She submitted her nomination form on the last day (Oct. 24) of the nomination period. She then resigned as Chair of the Election Committee. Other members on the Election Committee then took over for the last week before voting.

Every thing Sherie did was legal and proper in dealing with this unusual situation. Her goal was to make sure an important RIRA election could be held. None of the people now criticizing Sherie offered any real help in organizing and running the Nov. 4 election.

The CC needs to thank Sherie for the job she did before she resigned.
I asked Mr. Hamburger:
Just to be clear on your position.

Is it your position that the RIRA constitution does not prohibit a person serving on the RIRA Election Committee from running for RIRA Vice President during the same election cycle?

Or is it your position that the RIRA constitution does prohibit a person serving on the RIRA Election Committee from running for RIRA Vice President during the same election cycle but in the particular instance at this time of Sherie serving on the Election Committee there should be an exception and she should be allowed to run for RIRA Vice President.

If you think there should be an exception for Sherie in the current election, what is the reason for that exception?
Mr. Hamburger:
I thought my statement was very clear that everything Sherie did was legal and proper, even thought it was an unusual situation.

As far as the Constitution, it simply says a candidate for President or VP can't be on the Election Committee. Well for most of the time before the Election, Sherie was not a candidate for VP. She became a candidate on 10/24/14, when we received her nomination form, and therefore resigned from the Election Committee.

As I said, this was perfectly legal.

In my statement, I pointed out that we had an unusual situation in having the existing VP being elected by the Common Council to be Election Committee Chair. I also clearly pointed out why and how this came about. I'm surprised that you think you need further explanations from me.
My reply:
My understanding is that the RIRA constitution says that No candidate for RIRA Vice President may serve on the election committee.

Sherie served on the election committee. The RIRA Constitution precludes her from being a VP candidate. Why does it matter that she resigned after the nomination period closed?

Also, On October 16, Sherie sent me the Absentee Ballot flyer with her name on it as the contact person. Later that day she asked me not to post it and then sent me a second Absentee Ballot with your name as the contact person.

Why would she take her name off the Absentee Ballot on October 16, if she was not a candidate for VP? It appears she was or at least intended to be a candidate by October 16 and continued to serve on Elections Committee.

It appears that certain RIRA members are intentionally ignoring the RIRA Constitution on this matter in order to protect Sherie VP candidacy.
Mr. Hamburger:
I don't think you seem to understand. The Constitution says no Pres. or VP candidate may serve on the Election Committee. Sherie didn't become an official candidate until she submitted her nomination form. She may have told various people that she intended to run for re-election but that's doesn't count as being an actual candidate. She was a candidate on Oct. 24.

As I mentioned in my earlier statement, we had a very unusual situation this year. We've never had a VP who was elected by the Common Council to be Chair of the Election Committee. You also know why this came about. Any time after the CC election, Sherie could become a candidate. At that point, she'd have to resign from the election committee. This is exactly what happened. Unusual perhaps but perfectly legal.

Now no more arguments from you about this situation. You have enough from me.
My reply:
The RIRA Constitution provision prohibiting a person serving on the Elections Committee from running for President or Vice President is meaningless if a person is allowed to resign after the nomination period is closed and then run for Vice President during the same election cycle.
Mr. Hamburger:
I told you we had a very unusual situation this year. I doubt it will be repeated in the future. Nonetheless, Sherie resigned as required when she became an official candidate.

Perfectly legal. The constitution doesn't prohibit any one from running as Pres. or VP. It says a candidate can't be on the Election Committee. This provision didn't come into play until Sherie became a candidate. Period.

Let's stop this circle dialog. Let's just say you and I have a difference of opinion...
RIRA President Jeff Escobar added:
Ultimately, it should be up to, and will be up to, the voters -- RIRA's 'shareholders', using the 'corporation' parlance that some Common Council members seem to enjoy employing, who will decide on election day whether or not Sherie Helstien's recent discretions should rise to the level of her not being elected to the position of Vice-President. As with any election, whether it be to a position of public service or to an officer position within a corporation, the stakeholders will have a chance to decide whether or not one should or should not be elected based on their actions. I thank those members of the Common Council who have brought the issue to light, and have full faith that our community will make the right decision based on such information come election day.

Neither the Chair of the Nominations Committee or members of the Nomination Committee -- who are charged with ensuring that the candidacy of an individual is proper -- nor the Chair of the Constitution and By-Laws Committee or its committee members -- who have been charged with safeguarding the Constitution and By-laws, all of whom I deeply respect both professionally and personally and whom I have full confidence in their execution of their roles and responsibilities within the Common Council, have voiced concern or an objection as to the appropriateness of Ms. Helstien's Nomination for Vice-President.

Until then, and as it should be, it will be up to the voters to decide whether Ms. Helstien or another should serve as Vice-President in the upcoming term. We have a very contested race for which this issue, amongst many, will take center stage. It would be prudent for the candidates of Vice-President, as well as others in the Common Council who are facing their own very contested races -- to expend their time, energy and resources on concentrating on their own election efforts rather than on the minutiae of others.
UPDATE 9:05 PM 11/2 - According to Ms. Helstien:
This will be my only comment on Farance’s willfully false statements. He is, as usual, blowing blue smoke and mirrors at the Roosevelt Island community and blog readers. He enjoys sowing chaos and doubt. Those who encourage him work to the detriment not only of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association, (RIRA) but more sadly, to the detriment of this entire community.

Here is what the RIRA Constitutions says:

First: {Article IV, Officers; Section 2, VP; ¶ 1-2} “The Vice President shall supervise all RIRA elections. To perform the responsibilities of office, the Vice president shall supervise the Nominations Committee, the Elections Committee…”

Then: {Article V, Committees of the Common Council; Section 5, Election Committee} “No candidate for President or Vice President may serve on the Election Committee. Candidates for the Common Council may serve on the Election Committee but may not participate in the elections for their own election Districts.”

When nominated in May to the position of Election Committee Chair, I put off accepting the job to see if anyone else on the Common Council would step up. No one did. In June, I accepted the nomination because again, NO OTHER Common Council members offered to take this on. After 38 years, I couldn’t see how RIRA could NOT hold its required biennial election; that would end this essential Island organization. I reluctantly accepted the position and asked continuously for anyone who was interested in serving on this committee to please contact me. No one responded to my request, including Farance and Chirivas. I then chose Committee Members from the people I knew would be helpful and able to work collegially to get this extremely difficult and time-consuming job done. We held two “working group” meetings to work on changing the way RIRA held its elections per the request of RIRA’s President Escobar.

As with all the candidates, my candidacy was not official until the signed Nomination form was placed in the box and received by the Nominations Committee.

This is the fact: No one may run for RIRA President/VP while serving on the Election Committee.
This is the fact: As soon as my nomination form was placed in the lock box, I officially resigned from the Chairmanship and committee and thus, never served on the Committee while a candidate.
This is the fact: Official candidacy is determined by when the paperwork is actually filed in the nomination box.
This is the fact: There is nothing in the Constitution that says a Chair may not resign his or her position. This is the fact: I had no intention of, nor did I Chair or serve on the Committee while a candidate for Vice President.

Furthermore, it was decided internally, within the committee, for continuity and because of timing, with only a week and a-half before the election, and with no more RIRA meetings until the new Common Council would convene on Nov. 5, that two committee members would step up as co-Chairs and continue the work that needed to be done. As the current VP of the organization, I have been, per the Constitution as quoted above, acting in a supervisory position only to ensure timelines and goals are met. I have not been doing any committee work otherwise. Fortunately, the committee has acquired several “old hands” who have very kindly stepped in to cover what I was doing and to guide the rest of the process to its successful completion. You can be sure that when Farance has a chance, he’ll disparage these people too.

For Farance who often claims to always take the “high road” it should be noted that neither he nor anyone in his little band offered to run for this extremely strenuous, time consuming and difficult position either in May or in June, when they had a chance to offer themselves, nor did they step up as volunteers for the committee during the summer, or in the September meeting of the Common Council. They never offered to work for or support the work of their Election Committee colleagues when they were invited to do so.
Further, speaking with Aaron Hamburger, Chair of the Nominations Committee, it is clear Farance falsely claims membership on the Nominations Committee. Remember, decisions are made by the people who show up.

Farance claims that I have no right to run for the office of VP, but that is patently untrue. The RIRA Constitution sometimes lacks clarity in several sections of the document often leaving various issues up to interpretation. In this case, Farance is on the wrong side of this argument. And because of this, he makes idle threats of reporting us/me to the AG’s office. Really? Really??

Make of Farance’s misinformation and obfuscations what you will.

RIRA will have its election on November 4 and you, the community, have a very able and committed group from this Common Council to offer great thanks to for their very hard and impeccable work. I certainly hope we see you at the polls, in support of this community election.

Good luck to all the candidates.


rilander said...

Jeff wrote: "It would be prudent for the candidates of Vice-President, as well as others in the Common Council who are facing their own very contested races -- to expend their time, energy and resources on concentrating on their own election efforts rather than on the minutiae of others...."

It should read as follows:
" It would be prudent for the elected members of the Common Council who are facing their own very contested races -- to expend their time, energy and resources on concentrating on the many issues the community asks you to assist with rather than on the minutiae and infighting of the organization."