Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor de Blasio made it very clear the dismissal of nearly half of the Queens Library Board of Trustees was entirely due to the scandal enveloping the library’s CEO Tom Galante, who allegedly misused capital funds.
Jacqueline Arrington, the 2013 board chairwoman, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades received letters from Katz notifying them of their termination on July 23. Mayor de Blasio sacked two mayoral appointees, Patricia Flynn and Stephen Van Anden.
In letters sent to the members, Katz said they “failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library to adequately protect and preserve the library’s resources and physical property by voting to block the New York City comptroller’s legitimate efforts to obtain library financial information and to audit the library’s funding streams.”
The terminated members also all opposed putting library CEO Tom Galante, whose use of capital funds is under investigation, on leave.
De Blasio spokeswoman Marti Adams released a statement last week from the mayor, who was then still in Italy on vacation.
“We expect that individuals responsible for public funds ensure they are allocated wisely, act in a responsible manner, and protect the public interest,” she said. “In this case, the job of the Board of Trustees is to safeguard the library’s resources for its educational mission, and some of them weren’t doing that up to the standards the public deserves. That’s why the administration felt it was appropriate to remove these individuals from the Board of Trustees. Queens residents deserve a strong library system that is transparent and fulfills its educational purpose, and it is the city’s responsibility to protect the integrity of this important cultural and educational institution.”
The 19-member board has nine members appointed by the borough president and 10 appointed by the mayor. Katz said she acted under authority given to her by a new state law, which allows her to remove appointees before their five-year terms are up. All six were appointed or reappointed by Katz’s predecessor, Helen Marshall. Former Mayor Bloomberg had appointed or reappointed all 10 mayoral appointees.
Of the trustees Katz let go last week, the terms of Jefferson and Stamatiades were to expire at the end of this year, while the terms of Arrington and Mangino — who had been serving since 1972 — expire at the end of 2016. Lawrence’s term was up in 2017 and Ficalora’s in 2018. The terms of both mayoral appointees removed were up at the end of 2015.
Leonard D’Amico, also a borough president appointee who voted against removing Galante, stepped down from the board earlier this year.
But while de Blasio removed two members who voted no on that proposal, he did not remove a third — Mary Ann Mattone, wife of developer Joseph Mattone. The Douglaston resident who served as president of the board of trustees in 2008, has been a board member since being appointed by former Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1998. Her term expires at the end of 2016.
Adams did not address why the mayor opted not to sack Mattone when asked via email.
Public Advocate Letitia James, who herself is a nonvoting member of the board of trustees along with the mayor, comptroller, Queens borough president and speaker of the City Council, also commended the decision to remove the board members.
“I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for their swift action on removing trustees from the library board,” she said. “These changes will ensure more accountability and improve the delivery of library services for 2.3 million Queens residents. In light of recent distractions, it is important that the library return to its main mission of serving all residents, particularly our children, seniors and English-language learners. The Queens Borough Public Library is one of the best systems in the country and today’s move will ensure that the system is respected around the country again.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose proposed audit of the library’s financial records was opposed by the removed trustees, praised the removals as well.
“I commend Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for initiating changes to the Queens Library Board that I believe will be in the best interests of taxpayers, accountability and good governance,” Stringer said in a statement. “It is my hope that the information requested by my audit team will be made available without further delay.”
In a statement, the library gave a general defense of its Board of Trustees.
“Throughout the history of the Queens Borough Public Library, the people of Queens have benefitted enormously from a highly committed library Board of Trustees whose leadership has helped keep libraries open and free,” the statement read. “They have helped make Queens Library a recognized national model of excellence. The board consists of volunteer high-profile professionals and community activists who make time out of their busy schedules. Every one of the tens of millions who has enriched his life through Queens Library owes them thanks for their service.”
Adams said that the mayor will announce new board members soon. Katz spokesman Michael Scholl did not say when the borough president will name new members. Katz has already appointed one new member — Carl Koerner in March — who supported the resolution to put Galante on leave.