Queens Library, Comptroller Continue To Clash

14A Stringer

BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Staff Writer

On the evening of May 8, the Queens Library board of trustees voted to reject a resolution that would require the nonprofit to fully comply with an audit by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, further fueling tensions between the two.

According to reports, members of the 19-person board failed to pass the motion, which was submitted by its members, when nine voted against it. Seven others voted in favor, another abstained and two members were absent from the meeting.

The Queens Library denied the motion on several grounds, including a stipulation made nearly 17 years ago.
“Queens Library believes in accountability and transparency,” said communications director Joanne King in an emailed statement. “The Library has released all requested financial documentation in accordance with the court ordered agreement of 1997.”

According to the resolution, which was obtained from King, 100 percent of all revenue and expenditures from funds received from the City have been made available for audit. The resolution added that any additional level of transparency is not specified in the stipulation.

“It [the audit] appropriately includes audit authority over every dime provided by the City, fines and fees collected and book sale funds,” King added. “As an additional layer of transparency, the Library voluntarily provided access to the Worker’s Compensation Fund as requested.”

The news comes just days after City officials from the Dept. of Design and Construction told the City Council that it had frozen payments that allowed the Library to use portions of its $20 million capital budget on its own projects with little City oversight.

Since Stringer launched the audit of all three library systems earlier this year, he has openly criticized Queens Library for not providing his office with “complete access to financial records.”

Allegations that taxpayer money was used to fund the Library’s embattled president Thomas Galante’s six-figure salary and lavish office upgrades, which included a private outdoor smoking area, prompted Stringer to launch the audit.

Queens Library officials have repeatedly denounced accusations that it is not being transparent with the City.

“The Library is providing access to the Comptroller to the workers compensation fund and the book sales fund,” said King in an earlier statement. “Unfortunately, the Comptroller’s Office rushed into court when the Library would have welcomed a meeting for the opportunity of an amicable solution.”

In light of the board’s decision to deny the Comptroller access to all their financial records, tensions continue to rise between Queens Library and City leaders, leaving the nonprofit’s funding future uncertain.

“What happened [on May 8] at the Queens Borough Public Library was a disgrace,” Stringer said in a joint statement with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.  “It is a shame that the members of the Queens Library board who voted against their own colleagues’ resolution have continued to embrace library management’s anti-transparency policies.”

“No public entity is above the law,” he added.

Katz, who has urged Galante to resign, echoed Stringer’s sentiments.

“Once again the Queens Borough Public Library board has raised questions about the execution of their fiduciary responsibility,” she said in the statement.

“This board is hiding the Queens Library from necessary sunlight and I am committed to making sure that a bright light is shone on this issue,” she added.

In response to the City’s decision to freeze the Library’s funding, Galante wrote a letter to Ronnie Lowenstein, executive director at the New York City Independent Budget Office, arguing that construction projects are done for cheaper when the Library supervises it.

“These savings enable us to return full services to our patrons more quickly and at the same time provide cost savings to our taxpayers,” Galante wrote. “Unfortunately, many of the facts have been omitted from public discussion about pass-through contracts and the value they provide to the people of Queens and New York City taxpayers.”

Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or nkozikowska@queenspress.com or @nkozikowska.