By STEVEN J. FERRARI
As the new Board of Trustees for the Queens Library meets this week to discuss the future of suspended president Tom Galante, a former board member and president of the Queens Library Foundation this week spoke out against the recent removals of eight board members and called the situation “very unfortunate.”
In a conversation with the Queens Tribune Wednesday morning, Joseph Ficalora, who served as president of the Queens Library Foundation and on the Board of Trustees until his removal earlier this year, also lashed out against Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for her role in the trustees’ removal.
“The Borough President was not interested in correct information, she was interested in spinning,” he said. “Melinda Katz went out of her way to go public with a number of negative stories, many of which were a distortion of the truth.”
As reports circulated this year about possible questionable financial tactics by Galante and an apparent refusal to cooperate from the Board of Trustees, Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio removed eight board members over the summer. Ficalora called the move a “serious disruption” to the library’s public image, and questioned Katz’s reasoning – that the removed trustees were not working in the best interests of the Library’s educational mission.
Ficalora countered that the removed trustees were instrumental in creating a library that has been recognized across the country and the world for establishing educational programs and meeting the needs of the community.
“There was never any evidence that the people removed were standing in the way of the library’s educational requirement,” he said.
Of the audit requested by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, which the board initially refused to cooperate with, Ficalora called it “an opportunity to join the argument.”
“The commentary from [Stringer] was jargon, jumping on the bandwagon,” he said.
The information requested from Stringer’s office, he argued, was for private funding brought in from the Library foundation, which was determined by an earlier court case to not be under the supervision of a City audit. Katz, Stringer and other officials ignored that court decision because of a perceived vulnerability of the board based on media reports, he added.
Ficalora noted that the expenditures that have made the rounds in the media over the last few months – including thousands of dollars charged to a library credit card for meals, concert tickets, international travel for conferences and other items – were all items that were approved by the Library’s Board of Trustees, including several who remain on the board in the aftermath of the situation.
“They make it sound like he was having a ball on the library,” he said. “These were all library events.”
Ficalora said he believed that the foundation would have trouble raising money going forward. Ficalora, through his role with New York Community Bank, said he helped raise upwards of $1-to-2 million during his time with the foundation.
He noted that other former trustees, including Mary Anne Mattone, who resigned from the board earlier this year, would also be unlikely to raise money for the library.
“There’s no way we’ll be raising money for the library in its current configuration,” he said. “There are plenty of groups in need of funding that we can provide funding to.”
Vincent Arcuri Jr., who was Ficalora’s second-in-command at the Queens Library Foundation and the current foundation president, said he hoped to reach out to the members who were removed to keep them on board as fundraisers, while also reaching out to other interested donors. He also praised the efforts of Ficalora, Mattone and others in raising funds for the library.
“My first role is to build the board up and bring in new members,” he said. “I want to make sure we still have their support.”
When told of Ficalora’s comments of not raising money for the library, Arcuri said he thought they would come around and continue to support the library.
“I think that’s foolish to think that way; they’re much better people than that,” he said. “It’s like walking away from your family and I don’t think they’ll do that.”