Dismissed library trustees prepare to take Katz to court
by Jess Berry
Aug 13, 2014 | 3115 views | 0 0 comments | 18 18 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Accusations are flying as tensions rise between Borough President Melinda Katz and the six Queens Public Library (QBPL) trustees she recently removed from the QBPL board, who are preparing to take Katz to court over their dismissal.

Katz sent six board members letters outlining reasons for their dismissal on July 24. She claimed in the letters that the board members were not doing their job to “further the educational process” of QBPL.

They failed to do so, she said, by keeping QBPL President and CEO Thomas Galante on staff after accusations surfaced of his misuse of library funding to build a private, $27,000 deck outside of his library office and the inappropriate nature of his high salary along with a second six-figure job as a consultant for the Elmont school district.

She also removed them because of their refusal to provide necessary financial documents to Comptroller Scott Stringer for a comprehensive audit of QBPL’s spending.

After the removal, the trustees had seven days to appeal the decision, which they did, but Katz rejected their appeals.

“The unfortunate truth is that your actions, along with the actions of Mr. Galante, have led to ill-will, created an atmosphere of public distrust and have caused the public outcry, outrage and demand for reform,” Katz wrote in her appeal rejection letter to each trustee.

The board members, in turn, sued Katz and have since claimed that recent state legislation that now allows the borough president and mayor to remove board members they have appointed at any time, is an “attempt to seize control of the Queens Library for her own political ends.”

Doug Grover, counsel for the QBPL trustees, said that the removal of the board members necessitates court interference, as “her actions threaten the independence of every community institution and the freedoms they protect.”

“For more than a century the Library has provided excellent service to the community, free from political interference and favoritism,” Grover said in a statement. “[Katz] wants to toss that aside, using an ill-conceived law that we believe is unconstitutional. The threat to the independence of the Queens Library should be of concern to every nonprofit group in New York and to every citizen.”

State Senator Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bill, disagrees with Grover, saying that Katz is now within her legal right to remove the board members as she did.

“The law we passed was specifically to allow the borough president and the mayor to remove trustees that are not doing their jobs properly,” Gianaris said. “That’s what’s happened here and I think the decision will be held up in court.”

In a statement released after she rejected the board members’ appeals, Katz reiterated Gianaris’ sentiment.

“You can’t make a federal case out of disappointment,” she said.

Regarding the claim that libraries were built with the intention of being free from government involvement, Gianaris said the board members “can’t have their cake and eat it too.”

“When almost all of their funding is coming from government sources, they need to be held more accountable,” he said. “What we’ve seen over the last several months is that there are significant problems, lack of transparency and lack of accountability that forced us to take action.”

In their lawsuit, the board members have rejected all of Katz’s accusations that they have failed to do their jobs as trustees of QBPL.

They argue that the city and comptroller have complete access to all of QBPL’s records on their use of city funds. They have not given Stringer approval to look at their spending of private funds and donations.

They also say that Galante’s compensation, which amounts to nearly $400,000 a year, has always been available for public review and is filed every year with the QBPL’s IRS Form 990 filing. They unanimously approved his compensation in Nov. 2012 and found that he was “paid below the median salary of his peers at comparable non-profit institutions.”

Finally, the $27,000 deck, the board member’s counsel wrote in a statement, “was a very small part of a renovation budget of $20 million, and details of its construction have been part of the public record for some months.”

Grover also said that the City Council held a hearing on the deck on Feb. 5 that Katz attended, where it was made clear “that no city funds were used to build the deck, and that the deck is used by staff and management for meetings and other library business.”

Katz disagrees, saying she held two separate conference calls with several board members to ask if they had approved the deck and whether or not city funds had been used to build it. At that time, she claims, no one was able to confirm if there had been a vote or what funding had been used.

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