Two plans to reform the library system following news that Thomas Galante was earning roughly $392,000 per year for his duties as the board’s executive director and potentially misusing public and private funds for library branch renovations were introduced in April.
One bill sponsored by a pair of Queens Democrats, State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry, creates an audit committee to oversee the library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and annual audits.
Additionally, the plan includes the establishment of a labor relations committee to address labor issues and oversee the contracting out of services. It passed the Assembly last week by a vote of 132–0.
Now it needs to pass the State Senate before the legislative session ends, but it is unclear if it will get to the floor for a vote because the Republicans enjoy a majority in that body by working with a group of five Democrats who caucus with them.
Aubry said he believes a competing bill presented by Queens State Senator Tony Avella - one of those five Democrats - only hurts the chances of bringing about change in the current library structure.
“The question is whether or not Senator Avella is going to try to create influence so that it doesn’t get passed,” Aubry said. “It’s a strange set of circumstances and he has a bill that no one else is on, and wants to stomp our bill because he doesn’t like it.”
Aubry said the competing legislation from Avella is preventing their bill from getting to the State Senate floor for a vote.
“It’s really about do you want to solve this problem in the limited time that you have,” he said. “He has no respect for his colleagues. This is legislative arrogance.”
A spokesperson from Avella’s office reported negotiations with a representative from Gianaris’ office on Monday “late into the night” to try to reconcile the two pieces of legislation.
“We're hopeful that the elected officials will move past all the politics in which they are clearly engaging and allow the parties to compromise and govern for the betterment of Queens,” the spokesperson said.
In addition to what is included in the Gianaris and Aubry bill, Avella’s legislation creates new requirements and reviews for the library Board of Trustees, makes the library board subject to freedom of information laws, and also reforms all three of the city's library systems, not just Queens.
Avella contend the Aubry and Gianaris bill lacks teeth and doesn't really address the heart of the issue because it allows the Board of Trustees to effectively oversee itself.
“Change only happens when there’s a real problem, and because of the controversy we have an opportunity to do something about this,” Avella said during a recent meeting with this newspaper's editorial staff to discuss his reform proposal. “Their bill is one step above feel-good legislation. It looks nice, but it doesn’t address the problems.”
In response to the meeting on Monday night, Gianaris said it was nothing more than an attempt to convince Avella to drop his proposal to allow a clear path for his own bill.
“We’re trying hard to get it done, but he continues to be an obstacle,” Gianaris said. “I made an effort to try and convince him not to stand in the way of trying to achieve reform, and at this point he continues to obstruct.”