Assembly Approves Reform; Stalled In Senate
The clock is ticking on state legislation aimed at providing greater oversight at the Queens Borough Public Library.
Last Tuesday, June 10, the Assembly voted unanimously on a bill to institute a series of reforms at Queens Library, which has been under fire since earlier this year over the compensation of its president and CEO, Thomas W. Galante.
The bill moved to the State Senate, where it has stalled. According to published reports, State Sen. Tony Avella-who recently joined the Independent Democratic Conference that shares Senate control with Republicans-blocked the legislation in favor of his own bill which, he claims, includes more stringent standards.
However, the state legislature’s session ends today, June 19, and as the Times Newsweekly went to press yesterday afternoon, June 18, it was uncertain whether the legislation would get a vote.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and State Sen. Michael Gianaris-who partnered with Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry in sponsoring the legislation-urged the State Senate to act in press releases issued last week.
“It is a sensible measure that would dramatically improve the governance and oversight of the Queens Library and guarantee that it remains one of our borough’s most treasured institutions for many years to come,” Katz said. “I look forward to the bill’s approval in the Senate before the current legislative session ends next week.”
“The quick progress this bill has made in the Assembly and the support it has received in the Senate from every part of Queens reflect how strongly the public feels about the need for reform at the Queens Library,” added Gianaris. “The Queens Library is a treasured resource for those seeking to enrich their understanding of the world, and any misuse of taxpayer funds is an insult to that notion. I urge my fellow Senators to pass this bill as quickly as possible so we can rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for efficiency, transparency, and accountability.”
On Monday, June 16, Gianaris informed the Times Newsweekly a vote on the legislation had yet to be scheduled but he remained optimistic it would happen.
“Now that the Aubry/Gianaris bill represents the only hope for reform, I am optimistic this bill will get the vote it deserves so we can achieve real change,” Gianaris said. “I also hope that petty political games do not get in the way of a necessary good government reform for an institution as treasured as the Queens public library.”
If passed by the State Senate and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the legilsation would reform Queens Library’s Board of Trustees, which butted heads with Katz and other lawmakers in recent months over Galante’s fate.
Reports surfaced in January that Galante received a nearly $400,000 annual salary from Queens Library- which he and the library defended as a figure comparable to the salaries of other nonprofit leaders-and authorized a six-figure renovation of his Jamaica office.
This came at a time when Queens Library reduced services and slashed payroll, claiming the system was racked by cuts in government funding.
The firestorm over Galante grew further when it was reported that he received over $100,000 to work as a part-time consultant for the Elmont Union School District in Nassau County while on the job at Queens Library.
Katz and other lawmakers called for Galante to step down and/or take a leave of absence, charging his continued presence at Queens Library threatened its viability. Nonetheless, in April, the library’s board of trustees deadlocked on a vote to force Galante to take leave.
Then in May, the board of trustees further bristled lawmakers by agreeing to release financial documents to City Comptroller Scott Stringer based on an information sharing pact it reached in 1997 with then-City Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Stringer, who is auditing Queens Library, publicly denounced the move and has filed a lawsuit to nullfiy the pact and compel Queens Library to disclose all financial records.
The FBI, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the city Department of Investigation each launched criminal probes of Galante and Queens Library management.