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Queens Chronicle

The library asked for it — see Editorial Page Library reform bill goes to the governor

Measure would tighten up rules on trustees, make more details public

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Jul 3, 2014.

A bill designed to reform the governing structure of the embattled Queens Library system and make its operations more transparent has passed both houses of the state Legislature with nearly unanimous support and needs only Gov. Cuomo’s signature to become law.

Authored by state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Corona), along with Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, the measure would impose a series of reforms on the Library Board of Trustees and subject the institution to the state Freedom of Information Law, allowing the public to examine most of its records, just like those of government agencies.

The bill passed the Assembly 132-0 on June 9 and the Senate 59-1 on June 20, the last day of the legislative session. The lone nay was cast by outgoing Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), who Gianaris said cast a few solo dissenting votes as his term has been winding down.

Gianaris said he expects Cuomo to sign the bill, which also has the support of Mayor de Blasio.

The senator hailed the measure’s passage in a prepared statement issued shortly after it was approved.

“I am thrilled the Senate so overwhelmingly passed my bill and look forward to it becoming law so we can end the abuses that plagued our library system,” Gianaris said. “Once enacted, my bill willrein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud.”

The library has been under fire from elected officials and some newspaper editorial pages, including that of the Queens Chronicle, since a series of revelations about questionable spending and management decisions began in late January. It is now the subject of a city audit and a joint investigation by the Department of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Libary Board made some reforms in response to the controversy but did not pass two measures elected officials especially wanted to see enacted: putting President and CEO Tom Galante on paid leave while the investigations go on and fully complying with City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s demands for documents for the audit he is conducting. Stringer is suing to get the records.

The board’s actions on both those questions galvanized political support for more drastic measures, resulting in the reform bill.

Cuomo’s office did not respond when asked if the governor will sign the measure.

The bill would reduce the tenures of library trustees from five years to three, allow the elected official who appointed them to remove them at will and require that they either live or own or operate a business in Queens.

The members are appointed by the mayor and the borough president.

The bill also would require that the board hold annual budget hearings. Though it is a private nonprofit organization that provides its services through a contract with the city, the library gets about 90 percent of its funding from the taxpayer.

Library Board President Gabriel Taussig criticized the bill in a prepared statement that alluded to the fact that the institution was set up as a private organization so that it could be free of political interference.

“This bill has generated grave concerns and raised red flags with statewide and national groups,” Taussig said. “The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence, and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation.’

“The New York Council of Nonprofits, in its Memo of Opposition, wrote: ‘The reduction of trustee terms from 5 years to 3 does a disservice to the community in that it does not allot the proper amount of time and experience needed for the library board to engage in effective governance, budget analysis and long-range planning.’

“I share those concerns.”

Welcome to the discussion.