BP and mayor remove eight Queens Library board members
by Jess Berry
Jul 30, 2014 | 2936 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio removed a total of eight members from the Queens Public Library (QPL) Board of Trustees, saying that they “failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queen’s Library.”

Under recently passed legislation, which Katz had a strong role in writing, the borough president and the mayor may remove board members that have been appointed by their respective positions. Of the 19 total board members, Katz removed six members and Mayor de Blasio removed two.

The mayor and borough president must now fill the seats emptied by George Stamatiades, Stephen Van Anden, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino, Patricia Flynn, Jacqueline Arrington, William Jefferson and Joseph Ficalora.

The removal, according to letters from Katz sent to the beep-appointed members, is due to each member’s contribution to keeping library President and CEO Thomas Galante on staff after accusations surfaced of his misuse of library funding and job negligence, as well as the board members' refusal to provide necessary financial documents to Comptroller Scott Stringer for a full audit.

Galante reportedly used the library’s capital construction money to build a rooftop deck outside of his executive office. He was also holding a second full-time consulting job with the Elmont School District, which may have affected his contributions to the library.

After the accusations surfaced in January, Katz asked the board in March to require an immediate leave of absence from Galante during the investigation of the charges.

Days later, a resolution was introduced, but a tied 9-9 vote meant that Galante was allowed to stay. Seven of the now-removed board members had voted to keep him, and the eighth, Arrington, had left the meeting before the vote was taken, allowing for the tie vote to occur.

“Your vote to allow Mr. Galante to continue to serve as President and CEO of QBPL under the current circumstances, as well as the Board’s failure to adequately monitor important aspects of the QBPL’s operations, including the use of capital funds and the outside employment of top library leadership, demonstrates a failure to assiduously protect QBPL resources and ensure that such resources are used for proper library purposes,” Katz’s letter reads.

“Therefore, it appears to my satisfaction that your actions have not carried into effect the educational purpose of QBPL and have jeopardized QBPL property and scarce taxpayer resources,” it continued.

As for the two other board members who voted to allow Galante to stay, one, Leonard D’Amico, resigned before he could be removed and the last, mayoral appointee Mary Ann Mattone, remains on the board.

In her letter, Katz also accused the six beep-appointed board members of failing to appropriately manage the library when they voted to withhold financial information from Comptroller Scott Stringer when he announced that he would be conducting an audit of the library to look into the accusations against Galante.

“My opinion is that a responsible board would know that a responsible director is not someone who is refusing to hand over documents to the comptroller,” Katz said in a phone interview after the letters were sent out.

Choosing to defend the decision to withhold financial books from Stringer will cost the library approximately $1,000 per hour of taxpayer money that would otherwise be spent on programming and services for the library, according to Katz.

The board also voted to indemnify Galante’s legal fees in connection with the criminal investigation, costing the library an undetermined amount of money, as no information has yet been given to the board outlining the costs of that legal undertaking.

Stringer thanked Katz for her efforts to make his investigation of the library easier.

“I commend Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for initiating changes to the Queens Library Board that I believe will be in the best interests of taxpayers, accountability and good governance,” Stringer said. “It is my hope that the information requested by my audit team will be made available without further delay.”

The removed board members have seven days to appeal the decision, making Wednesday, July 30, their deadline.

One board member, who asked to remain anonymous due to potential pending litigation, said that those board members who had been fired had tried to meet with Katz to discuss the issues at hand, but that she remained unavailable.

Katz disagreed, claiming she held a conference call that not all of the board members participated in, and even hosted a meeting at Borough Hall, where she was the only one to show up.

As far as Mattone, the only member left who had voted to keep Galante as president and CEO, Katz explained that this is because a working majority of ten people is needed for the library to continue to conduct business.

“What we have to do is appoint one more person, and then we no longer need that person [Mattone] to be a working majority anymore,” Katz said.

While Katz has not yet reached out to anyone to fill the open slots on the board, she says she has ideas of who she would like to appoint. Those appointments will happen very quickly after the seven-day appeal period is over, if litigation is not pursued.

If the board members decide to argue the decision, however, a representative from Katz’s office said that they are confident in the legality of her actions. The passing of the bill that she helped author allows for removals of board members before their term is up if they can be proven of “misconduct, incapacity, neglect of duty or where it appears to the satisfaction of the appointing party that the Trustee has failed or refused to carry into effect the library’s education purpose.”

“We’re very confident that the way we went about making these removals is in full compliance with the law,” the representative said.

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