Avella pens duelling bill detailing library reform

By Rich Bockmann

Several weeks after six out of seven of the borough’s state senators penned their names to a Queens Library reform bill, Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced his own proposal that one-ups his mainline Democratic colleagues.

Avella, who alienated himself from the Democratic Party in February when he joined the Independent Democratic Conference, introduced legislation Monday that includes almost all of the proposals set forth in a bill introduced late last month by Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) in the wake of ongoing criticisms of the library’s operations and its president, Thomas Galante.

“As a courtesy I did that. We have some of the provisions in that bill to make it a bit stronger,” Avella said, explaining he was already working on his own legislation when the Democratic Conference reached out and asked him to jump on board with Gianaris’ proposal.

Shortly after joining the breakaway Democratic conference Avella, a two-term senator, got the first piece of legislation he introduced in 2011 moved through committee. He said he is in the best position to get meaningful legislation passed on the issue.

”You have to understand, Gianaris is in the minority conference. It’s very tough for someone in the minority conference to get something passed, especially something of this significance,” he said. “I’m in the majority. Let’s deal in reality here.”

Both bills incorporate elements requested by Borough President Melinda Katz, who joined Gianaris at a news conference announcing his legislation.

The five remaining members of the borough’s Senate delegation have signed on to support his bill, which also enjoys the backing of about two-thirds of Queens’ state Assembly members.

Pointing to his boroughwide support, Gianaris said he would be disappointed to see Avella playing politics.

“I hope he’s not saying he and his colleagues would oppose a meritorious proposal just because it was proposed by Democrats,” he said. “That would be the ultimate cynical position.”

Both proposals share common ground in remaking the library’s board of directors, which failed to force Galante to take a temporary leave of absence in a 9-9 split vote earlier this month.

The board has come under fire for approving a $392,000 salary for Galante, who has been the subject of scrutiny by the City Council and the FBI concerning his outside income and questionable operation of the taxpayer-funded nonprofit.

Both lawmakers’ bills would reduce the terms board members serve from five years to two, would require trustees to be either Queens residents or owners/operators of a borough business, set guidelines for removing board members and establish several internal oversight committees.

The battling bills would also require the library’s executive director and key personnel to make financial disclosures, limit the type and extent of outside employment and create conflict of interest rules.

Avella’s legislation goes a few steps further, beginning with a prohibition on outside employment for any library employee making more than $150,000 a year.

His bill would also clean the slate at the board, creating an entire new group of trustees Jan. 1 and reducing the number of members to 11.

Avella would also seek to see changes to all three of the city’s public library systems, changing the City Charter to list executives at the Queens, Brooklyn and New York public libraries as public servants. He would put all three systems under the state’s public officers law, making them subject to Freedom of Information Law requests.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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