When you’re a private entity providing a municipal service, and get 90 percent of your funding from the taxpayer, and close ranks around your embattled leader when he becomes the target of a criminal investigation and other scrutiny, it’s only right that the people’s elected representatives vote to rein you in.
And that’s exactly what has now happened to the Queens Library administration and Board of Trustees.
Last week the state Senate, by a vote of 59-1, passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Mike Gianaris of Astoria that will increase elected officials’ oversight of and control over the library. A companion measure carried by Assemblyman Jeff Aubry of Corona already had passed the lower house unanimously. The bill was crafted by the two lawmakers and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
The library has been the center of controversy since late January, when the Daily News first revealed questionable spending under President and CEO Tom Galante. Further revelations prompted a city audit, an oversight hearing, new spending restrictions and a joint criminal probe by the FBI and city Department of Investigation.
Instead of reacting with contrition and openess, the Library Board showed defiance. Yes, it did pass some procedural reforms. But a majority failed in two crucial areas: refusing to release all documents sought for the audit and declining to put Galante on paid leave until the probes are complete. And then the library went before the City Council seeking, as usual, tens of millions of dollars more in funding. It isn’t getting it, thanks to the tone-deaf board’s intransigence, which infuriated Katz and other key players, including Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of Sunnyside, a former library official unmatched in his advocacy and love for the institution.
Had the board acted differently, the overwhelming support for the reform bill might not have been there. Now, once Gov. Cuomo signs it, members will get shorter terms and be more easily removed; and the library will be subject to the Freedom of Information Law.
The library was set up as a private entity specifically to avoid political interference, such as the banning of controversial books. We hope and presume elected officials will not abuse their new power over the library in that or any other manner, the way the board abused the public trust and fed this sad atmosphere of suspicion.