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Queens Chronicle

Lawmakers push library reform bill

Almost all Queens councilmembers, and BP Katz, write state Legislature

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Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:31 am, Thu May 29, 2014.

The battle between the Queens Library and the borough’s elected city officials continued this week, as nearly all the lawmakers wrote their top state counterparts to press for passage of measures meant to reform the institution.

The library responded by saying it had already implemented many of them.

In a letter signed by Borough President Melinda Katz and all but one of Queens’ city councilmembers, the officials warned that trust in the library has been eroded, and that could have a negative impact on their willingness to provide it with the necessary funding.

Starting by noting that the library has served the borough for more than 100 years and “is at the heart of every community in Queens,” Katz and the lawmakers said, “The Library’s continued success depends on the funding it receives from the City of New York, including the Mayoralty, the City Council and the Borough President’s Office. But in order for elected officials to continue allocating millions of dollars to the Library each year, we need to understand clearly how taxpayer money is being spent and we need to be confident that the Library adheres to the long standing best practices which have been the cornerstone of good governance and transparency in the not-for-profit sector for many years.”

In order to restore their faith, the authors said, the Legislature must pass legislation introduced by state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Corona). The bill would allow members of the library board to be removed by the person who appointed them, reduce their terms from five years to three and require them to either live in Queens or own a business here, among other measures.

The board infuriated Katz, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the top library oversight committee, when it voted against fully complying with Stringer’s demand for documents he wants for an audit of the library. The institution’s position is in keeping with a court settlement reached during a previous comptroller’s tenure. Stringer has gone to court to get the agreement voided.

The letter was sent to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Senate Majority Coalition Leaders Dean Skelos (R-Nassau) and Jeff Klein (D-Bronx, Westchester).

Aside from Katz, whose signature came first, it was signed by the entire Queens delegation to the City Council except for Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens).

A Weprin spokesman said he could not say why the councilman was not a signatory and would ask, but he did not then provide the Chronicle with an answer.

Library spokeswoman Joanne King provided a statement via email in response to the letter Wednesday morning.

“The Board of Trustees of the Queens Library already has in place many of the policies in the proposed legislation, including policies on conflicts of interest, an audit committee, a labor relations committee, policies on financial disclosure for key personnel and outside employment,” King said.

“The Board is already ahead of the curve in implementing the requirements of the State’s new Non-Profit Revitalization Act. We acknowledge the concerns of our public and private stakeholders in increasing accountability. We will move forward to continue to deliver the best public library service to the people of Queens, while keeping Queens Library, as a private not-for-profit, appropriately free of undue government and political control.”

The library has been under criticism and investigation of its financial practices for the last several months.

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