Last Effort To Overturn Removal
Six ousted members of the Queens Borough Public Library board of trustees won’t return to their posts after a federal judge threw out their lawsuit against Queens Borough President Melinda Katz on Sunday, Nov. 30.
To many observers, this was the inevitable outcome of the suit filed in August by attorneys representing Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades. Soon after briefs were filed, a federal judge denied the trustees’ request for an injunction blocking their removal and immediately restoring them to the board.
The trustees sued Katz along with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York State claiming their dismissal violated their constitutional free speech rights. Acting with new authority set forth in legislation enacted in June, Katz removed the six in July after they rebuffed calls for reform.
Specifically, the six members resisted an April resolution to send Queens Library President and CEO Thomas W. Galante- under investigation over library spending-on a leave of absence pending the outcome of the inquiries.
They also voted in May to authorize limited financial disclosure in cooperating with an audit conducted by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who sought full disclosure of the library’s finances.
Both Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio-who removed two other members in July-filled six vacancies since September. The revamped board voted that month to put Galante on a temporary leave of absence, named Bridget Quinn-Carey as interim president and CEO and agreed to fully cooperate with Stringer’s audit.
“This lawsuit was a bitter attempt by the removed trustees at personal retaliation devoid of consideration for the public interest,” Katz said in a statement Sunday. “The court’s action underscores just how specious their claims were, and I am gratified this has finally been dismissed from official course of business.”
Galante and Queens Library came under fire in February of this year after reports surfaced that the library leader received a nearly $400,000 annual salary and authorized a six-figure renovation of his Jamaica office. The expenditures came at a time the library cut staff and services amid reduced funding from the city; questions also surfaced about how the library hired outside contractors to perform certain services.
The borough president and mayor share responsibilities in appointing trustees to the Queens Library board, but up until this summer, trustees could only be removed through a two-thirds majority vote of their peers.
After the board deadlocked on the Galante leave vote in April, Katz worked with two state legislators-State Sen. Michael Gianaris and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry-to draft legislation granting the borough president and mayor authority to remove trustees if necessary. It also reduced the trustees’ terms of service; imposed new residency and business requirements; requires annual budget hearings and a public comment period for the same; and made the library system subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL).
The bill was overwhelmingly passed in June by the state legislature and signed soon after by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.