Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Roosevelt Island Lost A Bit More Democratic Representation Yesterday - Former Resident David Kapell Chooses To Remain On RIOC Board With Approval Or Indifference Of New Governor Kathy Hochul - NY State Senator Jose Serrano Says Bring Better Democracy To The Island

During the September 30 Four Freedoms Democratic Club Roosevelt Island meeting at The Sanctuary Event Space and Cafe, Roosevelt Island NY State Senator Jose Serrano was asked:

... There is alot of concern about the way the RIOC Board is appointed by the Governor...

... do you think there is an opportunity  for better Roosevelt Island representation on RIOC now that it is no longer Governor Cuomo but Governor Hochul?...

Senator Serrano replied:

 ...  I've been trying to find ways to get to get more representation from Island residents on that board.

I even carry the bill that the the head of RIOC should be an Island resident....

... As elected officials, we live in our districts and we can get to see what is going on and know what's important so I do believe that we have a great opportunity to fix a lot of these issues. We have no shortage of amazing opinions from Island residents as to how we can move forward and bring better democracy to the island. 

...  it's my intention to have some really important and meaningful conversations with the Governor to make sure that she understands that we need to really focus on Roosevelt Island. 

It shouldn't be an afterthought...

Roosevelt Island democratic representation suffered another setback yesterday when 1 of two Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) Board Directors who are no longer Roosevelt Island residents, David Kapell, chose to remain on the Board with the apparent approval, or indifference, of Governor Hochul and RIOC.

RIOC announced yesterday:

Jeffrey Escobar is tendering his resignation from the Board of Directors of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation due to his change in residency. Confirmed by the Senate on June 20, 2019, Mr. Escobar held one of five public member board seats designated for Roosevelt Island residents. RIOC truly appreciates Mr. Escobar’s service and contributions to the RIOC Board of Directors and the Roosevelt Island community. His presence and input will be greatly missed. 

David Kapell remains a duly appointed member of the Board of Directors of the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation. Confirmed by the Senate on June 20, 2019, Mr. Kapell holds one of the two public member board seats that do not carry a residency requirement. RIOC’s board and the community as a whole benefit from Mr. Kapell’s dedication to Roosevelt Island and we thank him for his continued service.

Both Mr Kapell and Mr Escobar moved from Roosevelt Island about a year ago yet remained on the RIOC Board until Mr Escobar's resignation yesterday.

As reported September 30:

... I submitted a written question to the September 29 RIOC Board of Directors meeting Public Session held before the start of the meeting asking:

How many members of the RIOC Board of Directors, excluding NY State Officials, are required by statute to be residents of Roosevelt Island?

Are any of the RIOC Board Directors, excluding the NY State Officials, not residents of Roosevelt Island and if so, why are they members of the RIOC Board?

Do all members of the RIOC Board of Directors, excluding the NY State Officials, list Roosevelt Island as their primary residence on personal tax forms? If no, who does not?...

RIOC General Counsel replied to my question during the Public Session:

I can briefly answer that question. 

We have two Board Members that currently do not reside on Roosevelt Island. 

I will say that Mr Kappel proactively on his own, when he determined that he was no longer going to reside on the Island, reached out to the Appointments Office to inquire as to whether his service would terminate or be in jeopardy because of that decision. 

After consultation with the Appointments Department, he was told that based on the law as it reads, he is not in violation of any rule or regulation or law and his appointment may continue until such time of his replacement.

Mr. Escobar who also recently moved off the Island has also begun that same process so based on those findings the RIOC Board Members are permitted to serve until such time that they are replaced. 

As the law reads, continued residency is silent to that. So, they were both appointed as residents when they became members of the Board and as far as Appointments is concerned, their continued services is all right

Yesterday, I asked Ms Robinson and RIOC Public Information Officer Amy Smith:

RIOC claims that Mr Kappel holds 1 of two public Board seats that does not require Roosevelt Island residency. 

Please show where in Mr Kappel’s appointment, he was designated in a Rioc Board seat that does not require Roosevelt Island residency. 

Also, please show where Mr Escobar was designated as an appointment which required Roosevelt Island residency. 

No answer received yet.

I asked Mr Kappel yesterday:

Do you have any comment on why you wish to remain on the RIOC Board of Directors when you no longer live on Roosevelt Island?

No answer yet.

Earlier this month, I asked Roosevelt Island NY State Senator Jose Serrano and NY State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright for comment on RIOC Directors remaining on the Board after moving away from Roosevelt Island.

Senator Serrano replied:

Roosevelt Island is a diverse and tight-knit community, and local representation on the RIOC board is critical to meeting the needs of its residents. We are reviewing RIOC's enacting statute and examining potential options to strengthen this representation.

Assembly Member Seawright replied:

Residents of Roosevelt Island are entitled to have their voices heard. It's time to take a look at legislation that strengthens the residency requirement so that diversity of opinion includes the viewpoints of the inhabitants of the island.

Roosevelt Island resident Matt Katz shares this message he sent to RIOC President Shelton Haynes explaining the importance of RIOC Directors living on Roosevelt Island and being members of the community:

 ... Some of us still think that RIOC decision-making should be performed by people with skin in the game, i.e. Roosevelt Island residents and we intend to meet with Gov. Hochul and win her support.. Your efforts to include former or part-time residents is an affront ... to a community that demands to be part of the decision-making process. It's called democracy and we'd like some.

Here's the current statute (effective 2019) regarding RIOC Board of Directors:

2. The board of directors of the corporation shall be composed of nine members. One member shall be the commissioner, who shall serve as the chair; one member shall be the director of the budget; and seven public members shall be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate. Of the seven public members, two members, one of whom shall be a resident of Roosevelt Island, shall be appointed upon the recommendation of the mayor of the city; and four additional members shall be residents of Roosevelt Island. Each member shall serve for a term of four years and until his or her successor shall have been appointed and shall have qualified, except that the commissioner and the director of the budget shall serve so long as they continue to hold their respective offices. Any action taken by the directors of the corporation shall be taken by majority vote of the directors then in office. The elected public officials who represent Roosevelt Island shall be representatives to the board of directors of the corporation entitled to receive notice of and attend all meetings of such board but shall not be entitled to vote. Failure to give such notice shall not affect the validity of any action taken at a meeting of such board....
UPDATE 10/21 Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) Vice President Erin Feely-Nahem adds:

Jeffrey Escobar did the right thing by resigning. 

Exacerbated by the pandemic,many issues have arisen on the Island which need to be addressed, increasing the importance of Resident input. As we are unable to vote for who manages and controls the ongoing development within our community, it is imperative to have active community members on the RIOC Board to provide insight on, and vote for what residents' feel is important for their community. 

An individual who is living within a community offers a more educated opinion than either an individual who spends 40 hours a week here, or worse, pops in for an hour Zoom meeting quarterly. .At the least, residents should be voting on who we want to represent us on the five "public member" board seats. 

David Kapell is unknown to the community and does not necessarily represent the resident's desires. Presently, although one can submit questions or concerns to the RIOC Board via email, there is no system in place for real dialogue between the RIOC Board members and the community, nor any means of accountability for decisions made.

UPDATE 11/1 - As reported 10/29, during the October 28 RIOC Board of Directors meeting Public Sessioin, I asked:

RIOC claims that current Board Member David Kapell holds 1 of two public Board seats that does not require Roosevelt Island residency. 

Please show where in Mr Kappel’s appointment by former Governor Cuomo, Mr Kapell was designated in a Rioc Board seat that does not require Roosevelt Island residency. 

Also, please show where former RIOC Board member Jeff Escobar, who resigned because he no longer lived on Roosevelt Island was designated as an appointment which required Roosevelt Island residency. 

Why does Mr Kappel wish to remain on RIOC Board since he no longer lives here and is not effected by decisions made by the RIOC Board. 

RIOC General Counsel Gretchen Robinson replied that Governor Hochul's Appointments Office:

... has confirmed and double confirmed and triple confirmed that Mr Kapell is serving in a legitimate seat and is not violating any regulation or rules or laws. We appreciate his service to the Board.


Mr Kapell was appointed to the RIOC Board with Jeff Escobar and Conway Ekpo in June 2019 by Governor Cuomo at which time all 3 were Roosevelt Island residents. Mr Escobar moved away from Roosevelt Island and resigned from the RIOC Board after the issue of his remaining was raised.

Mr Kapell refuses to resign and declined to say why he wished to remain on the RIOC Board after moving away from Roosevelt Island.

Roosevelt Island resident Matt Katz also asked during the Public Session about Mr Kapell remaining on the RIOC Board after moving away from Roosevelt Island. According to Mr Katz:

I wrote you on October 4 regarding the illegal appointments of Jeffrey Escobar and David Kappel, non-residents of Roosevelt Island, to fill seats on the RIOC Board of Directors designated by statute for Island residents. There has been comment regarding the meaning of the term resident and I said at the time that a resident is not a past resident, not a future resident or a wanna-be resident. The reason we, Island activists persuaded Gov. Pataki to require by amendment of Ch. 899 to appoint a majority of Island RESIDENTS to the Board was to ensure that people with skin in the game would determine this Island community's future. You write back, saying that you would respond to me shortly. Three weeks later, there has been no response. 

Since then, Jeffrey Escobar, a long-time advocate for and participant in the life of this community, resigned from the Board, understanding the clear (clear even to State lawyers) mandate to do so. David Kappel, never an Island activist or participant in the life of this community,and unknown to me after my many years of service to my fellow residents, has not resigned, perhaps counting on former Governor Cuomo's endorsement as sufficient bona fides for the post. We intend to bring the matter up with Gov. Hochul and to seek redress for this violation of the statute. Regards,...