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Queens Chronicle

Queens Library Board discusses ex-officio status

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Posted: Friday, May 23, 2014 1:59 pm

A new state law will at least temporarily keep ex-officio members of the embattled Queens Library Board of Trustees from participating in matters involving audits, conflict of interest and whistleblower matters.

And in a related matter from Thursday’s board meeting, a proposal from Public Advocate Letitia James to give her appointee and other ex-official board members a vote on board matters might not be voted on until the fall if it is included in an overall reassessment of the board’s structure and composition.

The five ex-officio members include appointees by James, Mayor de Blasio, Borough President Melinda Katz, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Comptroller Scott Stringer.

They serve on board committees, but cannot vote as ex-officio members do on library boards in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The board on Thursday voted to adjust its bylaws as a result of the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which overhauled the state’s rules and regulations.

One of the new regulations requires that matters of audits, whistleblower accusations and conflicts of interest be handled only by “independent trustees.”

Attorney Rebecca Brazzano, serving as counsel to the board, said the definition in the state statute does not allow board members who are employees of entities that have given money to the library in the last three years to be classified as independent trustees.

All five ex-officio members are employed by New York City, which provides the Queens Library with the vast majority of its funding.

“While that may meet the letter of the law, I don’t think it was the Legislature’s intention to bar us from hearing these matters,” Elisa Velazquez, Katz’s appointee said.

But Brazzano, Board Member Joseph Ficalora and other members said that it is the letter of the law with which the library must be compliance by July 1.

They said further inquiries will be made to the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

“This isn’t permanent,” Ficalora said. “We can always go back and change things after July 1.”

As for restoring ex-officios’ voting privileges, which they have not enjoyed in the on the Queens Library Board since 1907, board members said they would be willing to take the matter up this summer at some sort of undetermined meeting aimed at examining the entire board.

James first proposed the measure in March after controversy began to swirl around the library’s finances and some actions of CEO Tom Galante.

The matter was tabled in the April meeting due to its coming up on the agenda well after 10 p.m. Some ex-officio members said that had the measure passed that night, a resolution to place Galante on leave would not have ended in a 9-9 tie, thus defeating the motion.

Welcome to the discussion.