Thursday, October 3, 2019

RIRA Members Walk Out Of Roosevelt Island Residents Association Meeting Last Night Protesting Lack Of Info & Transparency Over Financial Irregularities - Is This Beginning Of End For RIRA?

Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) President Lynn Strong-Shinozaki reported September 5:

... On August 27, 2019 RIRA President Lynne Strong-Shinozaki discovered irregularities in the RIRA bank account.

Officers of the organization initiated an internal investigation, during which the Treasurer resigned.

An official investigation by law enforcement is underway and RIRA is fully cooperating with the authorities.

At present, there appears to be no loss of funds in the account.

Because an investigation is underway, there are limits to what may be publicly discussed. RIRA will provide updates as permitted....
On September 30, I asked Ms. Strong-Shinozaki:
.... It's been almost a month since Lynn announced RIRA Bank account irregularities.

To date, no further information has been disclosed to the Roosevelt Island community.

I've received reports that certain members of RIRA are covering up information about what happened.

Is there any statement from RIRA as an organization or individual members to explain to the Roosevelt Island community what happened and what is being done to make sure it does not happen again....
Ms Strong-Shinozaki replied October 1:
Following advice of RIRA’s Tax Accountant and during the course of the police investigation, I am unable to address questions about the former treasurer and the RIRA bank accounts. There were irregularities in the checking account and the funds have been recovered.

The police have been invited to attend the next RIRA meeting to give an update on their investigation, which may take up to 90 days.

The matter of the bank account and the former treasurer was discussed in Executive Session and should have remained among the members of the Common Council. Any allegation of a cover-up suggests that discussion has been inappropriately held with individuals outside the Common Council....
During last evening's (October 2) RIRA meeting, 7 of the 15 Common Council members present for the meeting walked out during the President's report to protest the lack of information made available to them about the allegations involving the community organization's financial irregularities.

RIRA Children, Youth & Education Ad Hoc Committee Chair Adib Mansour explained the group's action:
 ... We're walking out. It's a shame RIRA is now under the control of 5 people from the Cherry Blossom Festival.
 Public Safety Committee Chair Erin Feeley-Nahem added:
It's a matter of transparency.
Here's the walkout during Ms Strong-Shinozaki's President's Report.

After the walkout, Ms Strong Shinozaki noted that she was willing to provide the requested information to RIRA members so long as they sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Following the walkout, there were only 8 RIRA members remaining, not enough present for a quorum to continue the meeting.

The remaining RIRA members continued their conversation about the non-disclosure agreement, though it was not an official meeting.

A short while later I was asked to leave the RIRA conversation so the members could continue their discussion in private. I left as requested.

Once outside in Good Shepherd Plaza, I spoke with the protesting RIRA members who explained the reason for the walkout and expressed concern that RIRA as a community organization may soon cease to exist because of the lack of transparency and internal turmoil.

The police did not attend last night's meeting.

Today, I asked RIRA members:
Any statement from RIRA or individual members regarding last night's walk out by almost half of the membership in what those members say is in response to the lack of information and transparency by RIRA President and other RIRA members regarding the discovery of financial irregularities?

Also, please confirm that RIRA President Lynn Strong-Shinozaki indicated that she would provide information about financial irregularities to those members if they signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and the NDA would be in effect for a period of time ending with what is described as a Police investigation.

Also, please confirm that those RIRA members who have previously been informed of the facts regarding the financial irregularities have already signed the same NDA. If not, why not?

Please let me know if there will be any answer provided by RIRA?
Adib Mansour replied:
An embezzlement was committed against the RIRA common council. A majority of common council members have been asking RIRA’s president for financial documents and bank statements that should have been submitted to the board months ago, even prior to the embezzlement. There is neither the need to disclose them in an executive session nor the need for the directors to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in order to review them. The aforementioned documents must be available to the Common Council members regardless of any investigation.

Adib Mansour, A.F.
RIRA Common Council
Children, Youth & Education Ad Hoc Committee
Ms Strong-Shinozaki forwarded her President's Report statement.
Moving forward, we need to keep in mind what is important to our community as a whole. We have experienced a lot of changes in the last few years.

Many of the things we would like to see happen, like the elevators on the Manhattan side of the Tram and the full completion of Octagon Field, are taking much longer than anticipated, yet there has been progress. We were very happy to hear that Octagon Field will be renamed in honor of Retired PSD Chief Jack McManus. His approach to community policing dramatically changed how Public Safety officers interacted with the residents and how people view our Public Saftey Department.

For our organization to function at its fullest, we need our time and energy to be spent in our committee meetings working toward the betterment of our community. The very keystones of a high functioning organization are trust, collaboration, and a willingness to participate.

Members of the Common Council are the ones who are mandated to focus on the quality of life issues and have a voice in what happens to our buildings and our community. Many are happy we will soon have more affordable housing on Roosevelt Island and there are some who are not. There are those who look forward to the Cornell Hotel and those who foresee traffic issues and dread its opening. Many Islanders are very unhappy that we seem to have a steady influx of tourists, yet this group may be the very vehicle to keep our small Island retail establishments in business. What we can do is listen to our neighbors, respond to them and bring their concerns to our Common Council for discussion and possible action.

How can we support the residents of Roosevelt Landings and Westview as their buildings change ownership? Have we heard the concerns of our neighbors about the bike ramp and east side bike lane? We are hearing about a new venue, “The Sanctuary” in the former Day Spring Church, next to Octagon. What lies ahead in terms of traffic and the quiet ambiance at the northern end if the Island with this new place?

Finally, as you may recall, I asked for your patience and understanding in regard to the irregularities in our checking account that were discovered and reported in executive session last month. Again, as was stated last month, there are outstanding Subpoenas as the police continue their investigation. We need to wait for the investigation to be concluded before relevant materials may be shared, as requested. Moreover, you will probably be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement prior to the review of any materials as a reminder of confidentiality and to remove the potential threat of libel against RIRA as an organization.

I look forward to working with you and very much appreciate your work and ideas.
It's a real shame that RIRA appears to be breaking up. A well functioning community organization is needed to represent the interests of Roosevelt Island residents.

UPDATE 10 PM - RIRA Island Services Committee Chair Rossana Ceruzzi adds:
As a rule, all CC members should have full access to the financial data.

Historically, I am not aware there has ever been a requirement to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement to review any data pertaining to the operations of our 501c4 organization.

Well before the current matter, we have strongly requested to RIRA's President such documentation along with the last two years of bank statements and all data associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival 2019.

In conclusion, we are asking for full transparency.
UPDATE 10/7 - The group of RIRA members who walked out of the meeting jointly send the following statement:
RIRA is neither splitting up nor is it “the beginning of the end.”

The group of CC Members that walked out of the last RIRA Common Council meeting on Wednesday October 2nd is merely asking for transparency from the RIRA leadership and the SC&E/Cherry Blossom Committee.

We have been repetitively requesting bank statements and financial reports/materials at every CC meeting since April 2019.

While we all have been informed that the embezzlement act is undergoing investigation, we want to know why only a small group of five CC members was chosen by the President to act as “advisors” on the matter while the rest of the CC is kept in the dark.

We remain committed to Roosevelt Island, its residents and the projects we are working on.


Adib Mansour, A.F.
Rossana Ceruzzi
Dave Evans
Erin Nahem-Feely
Dimaura Cole
Stephanie Jackson
Enequa Lewis
Shirley Coley
Frank Farance
Cynthia Ahn