Six people who were removed from the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees last week filed suit in federal court against Borough President Melinda Katz and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in an effort to be reinstated.
They claim their dismissal was unconstitutional and asked the court to halt it while the case moves forward, a request that was denied.
The six — Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades — were removed by Katz on July 23, the same day Mayor de Blasio dismissed Patricia Flynn and Stephen Van Anden.
All are supporters of embattled Queens Library CEO Tom Galante, and all were removed shortly after Gov. Cuomo signed a new law — partially written by Katz — to change the conditions under which library trustees can be removed for cause.
In a statement accompanying a copy of their 26-page complaint, the attorney for the six said the trustees acted “to halt a brazen, and unconstitutional, power grab by the Queens Borough President, with the aid of the state Legislature, to transform the Queens Borough Public Library from an independent, private, nonprofit corporation into an organ of City Government controlled by the Queens Borough President and Mayor.”
The complaint states that the library board was established in its former incorporation in 1907 for the very specific purpose of insulating it from political control and allowing it to function as “an independent, self-governing institution.”
The complaint says the amendment was the end result of Katz attempting to take control of the board.
“Within six weeks of taking office she informed the Trustees that she would be pushing for state legislation to make them more accountable — to her.”
That time period would coincide with a series of articles primarily in the Daily News asking numerous questions about how Galante oversaw funds for the library’s capital expenses; the amount of time on the job he spent while allegedly working long, lucrative hours every week as a consultant for a Long Island School District; and how an associate of Galante’s from the school district came to receive Queens Library contracts.
Katz has said that a federal grand jury has issued three subpoenas
All six suing Katz, and the two dismissed by de Blasio, voted against a motion that would have placed Galante on leave while at least three city and federal investigations into the allegations are being conducted.
In the complaint and the accompanying statement, attorney Douglas Grover said trustees, under library bylaws, can only be removed by a two-thirds vote of the rest of the board.
“The Trustees remain on the board, and they can be removed only according to the Library’s bylaws, not by an unconstitutional statute or the whims of local politicians,” he said.
They also appealed to Katz to not dismiss them, a move she denied.
“The former Trustees are making a federal case out of something that is very simple,” Katz said in a statement Wednesday. “Their removals were clearly authorized by the state law that was enacted in June with nearly unanimous support in the Legislature. They are therefore forced to rely on the extraordinarily weak argument that their removal was somehow unconstitutional. You can’t make a federal case out of disappointment.”
In response, Grover issued another statement:
“After dismissing the Trustees, it’s hardly surprising that the Borough President rejected their appeal. It’s one more reason the Court must step in and halt the damage Ms. Katz has already done to the Library and the further damage that would surely follow.
“For more than a century the Library has provided excellent service to the community, free from political interference and favoritism. She wants to toss that aside, using an ill-conceived law that we believe is unconstitutional. The threat to the independence of the Queens Library should be of concern to every nonprofit group in New York and to every citizen.”