BY JOE MARVILLI
Two bills have been introduced into the State Legislature to deal with the recent problems concerning the Queens Library.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) are sponsoring a bill in their respective chambers that would restructure aspects of the Queens Library, to make sure it cannot misuse public funds. State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has introduced his own bill that goes further in what it wants to change.
The two pieces of legislation came out of several revelations earlier this year, regarding Queens Library’s chief executive officer, Thomas Galante. On top of a $392,000 salary, Galante had a second job as a consultant, earning more than $114,000. The executive also spent $140,000 on office renovations.
The Gianaris/Aubry bill would decrease the terms of the Board of Trustees from five years to three years. It would put into effect a process to remove a trustee in the case of misconduct, incapacity, neglect or failure of duty. Trustees must either be residents of Queens or operate a business in the Borough. The bill would create an audit committee to oversee the library’s finances, create a labor committee, subject it to conflict of interest laws and limit the outside employment of key library staff.
“The Board of Trustees itself had to be more accountable. The financial transactions of the library needed to be more transparent,” Gianaris said.
Avella’s legislation includes everything in the Gianaris/Aubry bill, but goes further in the changes it wants the library to undergo. It would require the appointment of a new Board of Trustees, reducing the number of members to 11, effective January 2015. It also calls for all three New York library systems to be subject to State and City Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL).
Outside employment would be prohibited for any executive director and any key library executive personnel who receive a salary in excess of $150,000. The board would have to approve any outside employment for all other executive personnel. The trustees would also have to hold a yearly public budget hearing and provide a 30-day public comment period prior to its adoption.
Avella said that he reached out to Borough President Melinda Katz about his bill, believing that the one she worked on with Aubry and Gianaris did not go far enough.
“I take a look at hers and my first reaction was ‘this is nice, but it doesn’t fix the problem.’ I took everything of her bill and put it in mine, plus the stuff I wanted to do,” he said.
Katz and Gianaris both said that their bill has a good chance of passing before the session ends this month, mentioning that the entire Queens Delegation, minus Avella, and the City Council supports it and that Avella does not yet have a sponsor in the Assembly. However, Avella argued that as a member of the IDC, he is part of the majority with the Republican Caucus and his bill would have a better chance of getting through the State Senate.
“Sen. Avella did reach out to me. That was very kind of him,” Katz said. “My issue right now is to get a restructuring passed. As far as I can tell, if you don’t have an assembly sponsor, it’s not going to become law this year.”
However, Katz and Gianaris’ office said that their bill would be adding an amendment to include Avella’s proposals about FOIL for the Queens Library and the public budget hearings. Avella’s representative said the Senator was happy about the addition, but he is still going ahead with his bill.
The Queens Library’s representative, Joanne King, said the legislation was unnecessary.
“The Board of Trustees of the Queens Library already has in place many of the policies in the proposed legislation, including policies on conflicts of interest, an audit committee, a labor relations committee, policies on financial disclosure for key personnel and outside employment,” she said. “We will move forward to continue to deliver the best public library service to the people of Queens, while keeping Queens Library, as a private not-for-profit, appropriately free of undue government and political control.”
Earlier this week, the library’s executive vice president, Bridget Quinn-Carey, testified before the City Council about the need to increase its funding during a Council budget session.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @JoeMarvilli.