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State lawmakers introduce Queens Library reform bill

By Bill Parry

Now Albany is turning up the heat on embattled Queens Library President Tom Galante. Two state legislators have crafted a bill to reform the operations of the library’s Board of Trustees and improve the organization’s overall governance.

The bill was introduced by state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) and Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and drafted with the assistance of Borough President Melinda Katz who hosted Thursday’s news conference at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

Katz, who called for Galante to take a leave of absence Monday, said, “Recently, the public’s trust in the library system has been questioned. Passage of the bill into law would be an important step toward making the Queens Library an institution that all Queens residents can be proud of once again.”

Galante has been under fire over his $391,549 salary, the green-lighting for the construction of an outdoor space at the central library in Jamaica and the outsourcing of custodial jobs. A special City Council oversight committee grilled Galante on his executive compensation and outsourced labor in February. The city comptroller is conducting a high-profile audit of the library’s operations while the Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into construction contracts the city awarded to an associate of Galante’s at the Elmont School District.

Queens Library spokeswoman Joanne King said, “Over the last six weeks, the Board of Trustees has adopted a series of reforms aimed at improving upon existing policies, increasing transparency and strengthening the library and its governing practices. The proposed state legislation includes several specific measures that are already in place.”

The Aubry-Gianaris legislation calls for the implementation of several “best practice” reforms including creation of an audit committee to oversee the library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits. It would also establish a labor relations committee to address labor issues and oversee the contracting out of services. Key executive staff of the Queens Library would be required to file financial disclosure forms, and the bill would subject them to limitations on any outside employment that may present a conflict of interest with their library duties.

The bill would also restructure the Board of Trustees and the process governing the removal of trustees from the board.

“The Queens Library is not only a symbol of our commitment to education and an invaluable resource for those seeking to enrich their understanding of the world,” Gianaris said. “It is also a tax-payer funded institution with no right to unjustly enrich its employees at the expense of New Yorkers.”

The senator added that the bill would provide a long-term blue print for efficiency, transparency and accountability.

Aubry called Queens Library a gem with an extraordinary history of service in every community in the borough.

“Recent events have the potential of dulling this jewel,” he said.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who joined a half dozen other elected officials at the Borough Hall announcement, had served as a representative of Council Speaker Andrew Stein in the 80’s and remembers mismanagement back then.

“I always questioned the extravagant spending when I worked there. It’s time that the money they spend on luxury go back into the libraries,” Koslowitz said. “My library in Rego Park is tiny and absolutely lacking of immigrant services for my community. Frankly I’m sick of it.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.

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