Lawmakers pass Queens Library reform bill

Lawmakers pass Queens Library reform bill

Lawmakers join Borough President Melinda Katz (c.) pitch sweeping reforms to the Queens Library system outside borough hall in April.  File Photo

Lawmakers join Borough President Melinda Katz (c.) pitch sweeping reforms to the Queens Library system outside borough hall in April. File Photo

Queens politicians and community leaders alike are applauding the recent passage of a bill designed to shine a light on and reform the controversial financial practices of the Queens Library and its embattled, highly-paid chief executive, Thomas Galante.
The bill, introduced by state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Queens), would shorten library trustees’ terms from five years to three, allow either the mayor or the Queens borough president to remove trustees as necessary and also subject the library to the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), commonly used by journalists for public records requests.

Moreover, the measure would require key library staff members to file financial disclosure forms, place limits on outside employment and also require the library to hold annual budget hearings and offer a 30-day public comment period before it can adopt its annual budget.

The state Senate passed the bill by a vote of 59 to 1 on Friday while the state Assembly passed a similar version of the bill by a unanimous vote earlier this month. The measure is expected to be signed into law by Governor Cuomo, lawmakers said.

“I am thrilled that the Queens Library reform bill has passed both houses of the Legislature with resounding bipartisan majorities,” Borough President Katz said in a prepared statement. “The reforms contained in the bill are needed to ensure proper governance of the Queens Library and it would have been unfortunate if we would have had to wait a year for those reforms to gain legislative approval.”

The reform bill was written in direct response to several ongoing investigations by the city’s Department of Investigation as well as the FBI into the Queens Library’s financial and governance practices, focusing, among other things, on library trustees’ refusal to open the library’s financial records to City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office as well as troubling expenditures by Galante, including a reported $27,000 private smoking deck.

“I applaud the state legislature for successfully bringing more accountability and transparency to the Queens Public Library,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), in an emailed statement. “With this reform bill, we will help ensure our tax dollars are being spent properly and give the public access to information they deserve to know.”

The Queens Public Library, despite deriving nearly 85 percent of its funding from city tax dollars, has repeatedly refused requests by Stringer’s office to examine library bank accounts.

News reports place Galante’s annual compensation at nearly $400,000. The CEO has also been moonlighting for years as a $200,000 per year consultant for a Long Island School District, according to news reports.

Stringer initiated an audit of the Queens Public Library back in January, following numerous news reports of Galante’s lavish spending habits.

Alex Blenkinsopp, a Woodhaven resident and member of Community Board 9, called the Queens Library’s attempts to keep its finances concealed “downright scandalous.”

“Their defiance reeks of corruption and mismanagement,” Blenkinsopp said. “The Queens Library Reform Bill is a major victory for all the residents who use the library system and fund it with their tax dollars. I hope this measure will lead to the removal of the trustees who voted to keep Galante in his post and who resisted oversight of the library’s spending.”

Through a spokesman, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who worked for the library system for more than a decade and was most recently a vice president of external affairs, said that he too was “very involved” in helping to draft the legislation to reform the library.

However, the councilman did not respond with an official comment by press time.

But, Frank Galluscio, district manager of community board 6, said he was pleased to hear of the library reform bill’s passage.

“Any time we open the windows and move forward for the good of the people, it is welcomed, especially now.”

By Alan Krawitz

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