BREAKING NEWS: Katz, de Blasio Oust 8 Library Board Members

BY STEVEN J. FERRARI
Editor-in-Chief

The months-long stand-off between elected officials and the Queens Public Library system received a new twist on Wednesday, as a library spokeswoman announced that several members of the library’s Board of Trustees had received notices, removing them from their posts.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz released a statement late Wednesday afternoon, stating that she has removed six trustees from the Queens Library’s board “because they failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library.”

The six members removed by Katz include board chairman Joseph Ficalora, Jacqueline Arrington, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades. Two additional board members, Patricia Flynn and Stephen Van Anden, were removed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The eight board members had voted in April to oppose the firing of Queens Library director Thomas Galante, who had come under fire for his near-$400,000 salary while many library workers had been laid off or went without raises. Galante was also taken to task for authorizing a private smoking deck outside his Queens Library office, while also bringing in close to $200,000 as a consultant for a Long Island school district.

Complicating matters, the Library also refused to cooperate with an audit into all three City Library systems, conducted by Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office.

In letters sent to the ousted members on Wednesday, Katz cited the board’s refusal to remove Galante as a principle reason for the decision.

“Mr. Galante’s ability to obtain resources for QBPL to achieve its institutional purpose has been compromised,” the letter from Katz read. “In fact, his ongoing presence appears to deplete QBPL of even more taxpayer money that should instead be going directly to the provision of library services in the borough as provided by law.”

Katz indicated to members that they have seven business days to submit an appeal or response in writing.

The decision received support from both Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James, who had also been critical of the library board’s lack of transparency.

“I commend Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for initiating changes to the Queens Library Board that I believe will be in the best interests of taxpayers, accountability and good governance,” a statement from Stringer read. “It is my hope that the information requested by my audit team will be made available without further delay.”

James, who noted that her office blocked a meeting last month that would have removed Galante while giving him an $800,000 severance, also applauded the measure.

‘These changes will ensure more accountability and improve the delivery of library services for 2.3 million Queens residents,” James said in a statement. “In light of recent distractions, it is important that the library return to its main mission of serving all residents, particularly our children, seniors and English-language learners. The Queens Borough Public Library is one of the best systems in the country and today’s move will ensure that the system is respected around the country again.”

A statement issued by the Library Wednesday afternoon listed no names of removed board members, only giving a statement of support for board members who have “helped make Queens Library a recognized national model of excellence.”

“The Board consists of volunteer high-profile professionals and community activists who make time out of their busy schedules,” the statement read. “Every one of the tens of millions who has enriched his life through Queens Library thanks them for their service.”

When questioned for more information, a library spokeswoman said the matter involved “confidential information,” and the Library would not release anything else.

A call to Ficalora for comment was not returned.

Reach Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 122, sferrari@queenstribune.com or @stevenferrari.