Katz vs. Library

An outraged and clearly frustrated Melinda Katz used the powers of the borough presidency last week to halt an end run by several rogue trustees on the board of the beleaguered Queens Library system.

Who said the office of the borough president doesn’t have clout? Katz proved that when the beep, as she is known in the vernacular, speaks loud enough, the people who make the laws listen.

Katz was alerted last week that several members of the library board planned to hold a special meeting to approve an $800,000 golden parachute for Tom Galante, the CEO who has come under fire from lawmakers for his unusually high salary and questionable spending practices.

She blew the whistle on the hastily called meeting, which was canceled just in time. If Katz had not demanded that the session be adjourned immediately, the cabal would have been able to renegotiate Galante’s contract before a bill prohibiting such action was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

After some political maneuvering within their ranks, Queens’ state senators agreed on a measure two weeks ago that would shorten the terms of the library trustees and let Katz or the mayor remove them if they failed in their fiduciary duties. The same version passed the Assembly and last week it was still on the governor’s desk when the special meeting was arranged.

In unusually blunt language for an elected official, Katz sent out a press release accusing several trustees of blocking her calls for oversight reforms and trying to “shamefully ram through” an exit package to keep Galante at the library for another 18 months on taxpayers’ money.

Since February, Katz had been asking the library to change its practices, but her requests had fallen on deaf ears in the boardroom even in the face of investigations by the FBI, City Council and city comptroller.

But within hours after Katz’s angry press release made the rounds, the governor acted and signed the bill into law June 26, ending the efforts of the small group of trustees to hijack the operations of the library.

As Katz pointed out, the institution that has been “the educational and cultural backbone of every neighborhood in Queens” deserved better than that group of trustees was prepared to give.

But Queens ultimately got what it deserved from the borough president, who never backed down and led the fight to restore integrity to the library system, which has enriched the lives of so many in this corner of the city.

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