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Queens Chronicle

Electeds introduce library reform bills

Legislation calls for transparency in revamping the entity’s structure

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Posted: Thursday, April 10, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:28 am, Thu Apr 17, 2014.

In the wake of the Queens Library scandal surrounding embattled CEO Tom Galante’s questionable salary and spending practices, area lawmakers have introduced legislation to reform the library’s structure and add oversight measures.

“This is not about whether or not the Queens Library is a good system. It is,” Borough President Melinda Katz said at a press conference last Thursday. “This is about the public trust and public accountability to a system that is funded 85 percent by public funds.”

The twin bills introduced in both the state Senate and Assembly on March 26 and April 1, respectively, were announced outside Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Most of the bills’ sponsors, including state Sens. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) and Assembly members Jeff Aubry (D-Corona), Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), Michael Den Dekker (D-Jackson Heights) and Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), as well as City Councilmembers Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) were in attendance at the announcement.

Among many reforms, the legislation calls for the shortening of the Board of Trustees’ terms from five years to two, beginning on Jan. 1, 2015.

The bill also demands that those on the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees must either be residents of Queens or operate a business in the borough, and anyone on the board can be removed by either the mayor or the borough president, whichever entity appointed the member in question, if there is reasonable cause for such action.

Additionally, the executive director and other “key library executive personnel” must report to and get the approval from the Board of Trustees regarding any outside employment opportunities before they accept a second job.

The legislation also calls for those head officials to annually disclose the library’s handling of finances “when public money is used to fund staff salaries,” and an audit committee formed by the Board of Trustees will be charged with overseeing the financial reporting process.

Gianaris said the measure has the support of “just about everyone” in the state Legislature from Queens.

“Everyone knows that the Queens Library has had a major failing in regards to its finances, its compensation of its paid employees and outside income rules,” Gianaris said. “In the state Legislature, we thought we should take some steps to reform the way the Queens Library is run and put some best practices in place to make sure that this kind of situation is not repeated.”

“We’re concerned with a board that may have become a bit too comfortable with themselves,” Aubry added. “They should have the responsibility to answer to those who appoint them.”

Last week, the library released a statement detailing a series of similar reforms it plans to adopt, but a change in the term limits of the trustees was not among them.

Despite calls by Katz and others for Galante to temporarily step down while federal and city investigations into the library’s finances continue, the CEO will remain at his post after a vote by the Board of Trustees over whether to place Galante on paid leave ended in a 9-9 tie.

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