Queens Library Controversy Prompts Pols to Introduce Reform Bill

Elected officials gathered outside Borough Hall last week to call for sweeping reforms to the Queens library system. Photo courtesy NYS Senate

Elected officials gathered outside Borough Hall last week to call for sweeping reforms to the Queens library system. Photo courtesy NYS Senate

Following the recent high-profile controversy surrounding spending and oversight at Queens Borough Public Library, a group of elected officials gathered on the steps of Borough Hall last week to announce the introduction of legislation that they said would reform the library’s Board of Trustees and overall governance at one of the busiest library systems in the country.

The move last Thursday came after reports that Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante made a six-figure salary while jobs were being outsourced. Additionally, reports have highlighted that expansive reconstruction projects were also being process around that time.

The embattled Galante, who earns nearly $400,000 annually, has also come under fire for part-time work he does with Long Island’s Elmont School District. There, he earns about $100,000 a year.

Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) and state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) introduced the legislation, which was drafted with the assistance of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz – an outspoken critic of Galante who had called on the CEO to take a temporary leave of absence from his job out of a fear that the city would cut funding to the library if Galante was still at the helm.

The new legislation calls for the implementation of several “best practice” reforms, including the creation of an audit committee to oversee the library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits, as well as the establishment of a labor relations committee to address employee issues and oversee the contracting out of services. It would also require key executive staff of the library to file financial disclosure forms and would subject them to limitations on any outside employment that may present a conflict of interest with their library duties. And, the bill would require the Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of key library staff.

“The Queens Library System is a jewel in the borough of Queens,” Aubry said. “It has an extraordinary history of service in every community of Queens. Recent events have the potential of dulling this jewel. This legislation focuses on the governance of the library so that the services it provides can again be an inspiration to the entire borough.”

Gianaris echoed these sentiments.

“This bill would immediately rein in the excess of the Queens Library and provide a long-term blueprint for efficiency, transparency, and accountability,” he continued.

Katz continued this line of criticism, saying the public’s “trust in the library system has been questioned” and that the legislation would “help restore that trust by compelling the Queens Library to implement a series of reforms that would brings its governance practices up to standards held by similar not-for-profit institutions.”

In response, the Queens Library said in a prepared statement it “values the input of all our stakeholders, including our elected officials.”

“The library believes in good governance and is constantly committed to being better tomorrow than we are today,” the statement read. “Over the last six weeks, the Board of Trustees have adopted a series of reforms aimed at improving upon existing policies, increasing transparency and strengthening the library and its governing practices.”

The statement also noted that some of the measures being introduced by Aubry and Gianaris are already in place – including an audit committee and a labor relations committee.

Other reforms enacted by the library board includes a process and timeline for review of executive contracts, as well as a new conflicts of interest policy. The revised conflict of interest policy for senior officers is, the library said, now in place to limit outside employment. It also requires that senior officers disclose any outside employment prior to accepting outside employment.

“These changes will help ensure that the library remains transparent, accountable and effective,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Gabriel Taussig.

By Anna Gustafson

Still quiet here.sas

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