BY JOE MARVILLI
Six of the recently removed Queens Library trustees have filed a lawsuit against Borough President Melinda Katz.
The six trustees that Katz removed are suing her, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the State of New York. The lawsuit stated that it means to halt a “brazen, and unconstitutional, power grab by the Queens Borough President to transform the Queens Borough Public Library into an organ of City Government controlled by the Queens Borough President and Mayor.”
On July 23, Katz removed board chairman Joseph Ficalora, Jacqueline Arrington, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades “because they failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library.” Among the grievances Katz mentioned were the board’s rebuff to suspend CEO Thomas Galante, its blocking of an audit by Comptroller Scott Stringer and its refusal to share the contract for the renovation that added a smoking deck to his office at Central Library.
The suit claims that the recently passed State legislation that allowed the Borough President and Mayor to remove board trustees violated the Contract Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause prohibits a state from enacting any law that retroactively impairs contract rights.
“The 2014 Amendment shatters the independence central to the Library’s civic mission and the Legislature’s 1907 grant of corporate status,” the suit said.
Katz countered in a statement sent out Wednesday afternoon that the suit was without merit, noting that the trustees had “no constitutional right” to be on the board. She added her goal was to place the Queens Library on the “proper path of transparency and good governance.”
The document accused Katz of wanting to take control of the Library for political use, telling the trustees how to vote and engaging in a “public smear campaign” when they did not follow her lead.
“The trustees have long been careful stewards of the public’s funds,” the trustees’ spokesman, Richard Mahony, said. “The actions by the Borough President are nothing more than a naked power grab that would harm the Library and the people it serves.”
The suit said that Katz’s ability to add or remove trustees would create a chilling effect, where trustees may feel that they have to vote in agreement with the Borough President, or risk removal.
The plaintiffs are looking for the legislation to be declared unconstitutional and void in its entirety, for their positions as trustees to be restored and for damages awarded against Katz.
The removed trustees had seven days to file an appeal, which they did. This week though, Katz rejected their request.
“The former trustees are making a federal case out of something that is very simple,” Katz said. “You can’t make a federal case out of disappointment.”
A hearing is set for Aug. 11 in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.