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Queens Chronicle

Avella wants more library restrictions

Introduces bill in Albany following disclosures on its president, Galante

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:00 am, Thu Apr 24, 2014.

Not to be outdone by other Queens elected officials, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) announced a bill Monday that would not only limit pay for the Queens Library president, but also call for an entire new board of directors by January.

“The other bill, initiated by Borough President Melinda Katz, doesn’t go far enough,” Avella said. “My bill limits outside employment [for the director] and reduces the number on the board.”

The measure was introduced in Albany on Monday and Avella said he is seeking a sponsor in the Assembly. The other bill was announced earlier this month by Katz and several Queens members of the state Senate and Assembly. It is being pushed by Senate Deputy Democratic Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria).

Both proposals stem from the controversy surrounding Queens Library Executive Director Tom Galante’s salary and outside pay, as well as the funds spent on remodeling his office.

Katz’s bill would shorten board members’ terms from five to two years; force them to live in Queens or have a business here; and ensure that key library personnel get board approval on outside employment.

Avella’s proposal calls for an 11-member board rather than the present 19-member setup; and would require that one member be a certified public accountant, one a community board district manager, one a community board chairman and two librarians.

In addition, Avella wants to prohibit outside employment for the executive director and any key library official who receives a salary in excess of $150,000.

For transparency, the senator is calling for the board to hold a yearly public budget hearing and make all three public library systems in the city — which are actually private nonprofit organizations — be subject to city conflict of interest laws and the Freedom of Information Laws.

“Changing the board is absolutely necessary,” Avella said. “That’s the most important; the current policy on appointing board members is weird.”

Seven are now appointed by the borough president and seven by the mayor.

He agrees with Katz’s proposal regarding the creation of an audit committee, labor committee and removal provisions for board members, but believes his bill has a better chance of passage.

“Now that I’m a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, I’m in a different position and I’m not in the minority,” Avella said. “I think my bill has a much better chance of getting passed.”

The conference consists of a few Democrats lined up with the Republicans to make up the majority coalition in the state Senate.

Avella said his bill has been in the works for some time and believes it will be welcomed by other legislators since it includes all three city library systems.

“I have the opportunity to make change and we must do it right,” he added.

Galante has been under investigation since it was learned earlier this year that he had accepted $287,000 over 22 months as a consultant to the Elmont, LI school district. His salary as Queens library director is $392,000.

In addition, he spent $140,000 to have his office renovated, including an outside deck allegedly used for smoking.

Avella is the only elected official to call on Galante to resign outright. On April 3, Katz asked the library board to place him on temporary leave, a call later echoed by City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), but the vote was deadlocked at 9-9, and Galante was allowed to remain.

“The reports of excessive payments, lavish renovations and questionable employment practices have compromised the integrity of the entire Queens Public Library,” Avella said.

“Such clear mismanagement calls for drastic action ... that provides for more transparency and gives the public an opportunity to weigh in on the budget of an institution that relies heavily, if not entirely on city, state and federal funds,” he added.

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