Queens Library trustees fight back

Queens Library trustees fight back

Queens Borough President is putting a new law to use in her decision to nix six members from the Queens Library board of trustees.  Photo courtesy Queens borough president’s office

Queens Borough President is putting a new law to use in her decision to nix six members from the Queens Library board of trustees. Photo courtesy Queens borough president’s office

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has a fight on her hands.

After Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio chose to remove them from the board, six former trustees with the Queens Library filed court documents this week showing the system hired a former federal judge to investigate leaks that led to months of media scrutiny about CEO Thomas Galante’s lofty six-figure salary.

Brooklyn Federal Judge Roslynn Mauskopf said Friday she was recusing herself from the trustees’ suit against Katz because she had a close friendship with former federal judge Barbara Jones, who served in Southern District of New York court for 16 years before pursuing another job at a city law firm.

Katz denied the trustees’ initial appeals after she and de Blasio nixed eight members from the board last month, which helped lead the dispute into the courtroom. The firings came not long after George Stamatiades, one of the nixed board members, filed what Mauskopf called a  “whistleblower complaint “on July 2 with hopes of finding who was leaking dirt on Galante to the media.

“All the plaintiffs were fired six days after the filing and the discussion of the whistleblower complaint,” Mauskopf said in her statement. “The results of the of the internal investigation are central to the contract claim and the First Amendment claims. The internal investigation appears to be central to the fact development in this case.”

The case was later assigned to Judge Frederic Block instead.

Katz removed six members from the board, originally appointed under former Borough President Helen Marshall, late last month after the state passed legislation to revamp oversight of the library system after reports shined a harsh light on Galante, who earned a six-figure salary during a time of union jobs being outsourced. The six defendants, Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades filed appeals soon after, which the borough president denied immediately.

“The former Trustees are making a federal case out of something that is very simple,” Katz said in a statement last week. “Their removals were clearly authorized by the state law that was enacted in June with nearly unanimous support in the Legislature. They are therefore forced to rely on the extraordinarily weak argument that their removal was somehow unconstitutional.  You can’t make a federal case out of disappointment. ”

Doug Grover of Schlam, Stone & Dolan, who was tapped as counsel to the trustees, said the borough president had her own agenda when deciding to fire the board of trustees members.

“Melinda Katz does not want the public to learn how much of her own time and her office’s resources have been spent orchestrating her campaign of falsehoods and personal attacks,” he said in a statement. “That’s why she removed the trustees who voted in favor of a whistleblower investigation conducted by a respected jurist. Katz fears the investigation will finally expose her machinations to take over the Queens Library and install her political cronies.”

Grover did not comment as to how much money was being spent on the internal investigation.

Reports showed Galante earned a roughly $400,000 salary while jobs were being outsourced and expensive construction projects were enacted. State Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) first introduced the legislation back in April with help from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who has been a harsh critic of Galante.

Under the new legislation, the library must now file financial disclosure forms, put limits on outside employment and require an annual budget hearing along with a 30-day public comment period before it is adopted, lawmakers said.

By Phil Corso


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