New Board, Accountability and Oversight Measures Restore Public Faith and Trust in Library’s Management
QUEENS, NY – Judge Frederic Block of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York dismissed the lawsuit filed by the six former Trustees of the Queens Library Board against Borough President Melinda Katz (Arrington et al v. Katz). The lawsuit filed against Borough President Melinda Katz in both her official and individual capacities had challenged the removals and sought reinstatement to their former positions on the Board.
“This lawsuit was a bitter attempt by the removed Trustees at personal retaliation devoid of consideration for the public interest,” Borough President Melinda Katz said. “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.
“The millions of families who rely on the Queens Library services deserve nothing less than a world-class library system,” Borough President Katz continued. “The new Board continues to do an excellent job of making sure the Library is governed in a transparent manner and according to the highest standards of fiscal accountability. The reforms, accountability and oversight measures implemented in recent months have successfully restored public faith and trust in the Library’s management and spending practices.”
The Queens Library has served the people of Queens for over a century and is almost entirely funded by taxpayer dollars. Since the removal of several Trustees in July, the Queens Library has had several significant successes including:
- Turned over financial and personnel records that had been requested by City Comptroller Scott Stringer (and rebuffed by the now-removed members of the Board) as part of his investigation into the Library’s spending practices under Thomas Galante, the Library’s former President and CEO;
- Appointed Bridget Quinn-Carey as the Interim President and CEO;
- Re-hired 19 full-time union custodian employees who had previously been laid off and replaced with contract cleaners;
- Launched a program that allows mobile Wi-Fi hotspots available for lending to library customers. Customers will be able to borrow free Wi-Fi hotspots at terms that mirror those currently in place for circulating Google tablets. Through the hotspots, customers will be able to access the internet for free from their homes or schools;
- Started construction on the long-delayed renovations for the Queens Library Peninsula Branch in the Rockaways, which was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy;
- Chartered two new Friends of the Library groups in the neighborhoods of Arverne and Briarwood;
- Became the first library, and the only NYC site open to the public, to provide the National External Diploma Program, an alternative path to a high school diploma that does not require a student to take the HSE (formerly GED) exam. Successful candidates receive regular diplomas rather than “equivalency” diplomas;
- Received the NY Library Association (NYLA) Public Library Section’s award for Best Use of Technology to Promote Library Services recognizing its Google Tablet program and custom interface.
“The Queens Library Trustees are proud of the Library’s many recent achievements,” Queens Library Board of Trustees stated. “We are committed to further improving the services provided by the Library to Queens residents in a transparent and inclusive manner.”
“I look forward to continuing to work with the Board of Trustees,” Queens Library Interim President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey said. “Elected officials and other key stakeholders to give library users and our staff the best we can deliver, and I am committed to ensuring the Library is a good steward of the public’s trust and investment. I am so proud of our dedicated employees who continue to provide essential and innovative services in our communities which support education, job readiness and so much more.”
“Trustees serve selflessly as unpaid volunteers on a board that oversees an invaluable library system,” Borough President Katz said. “I commend them for fulfilling the tremendous responsibility and commitment that comes with their appointment, and thank them for their hard work, integrity and dedication to the people of Queens.”
Borough President Katz’s efforts to reform the Queens Library’s governance began early in February 2014 when news reports surfaced about questionable spending decisions made by Mr. Galante. Despite Borough President Katz’s repeated requests for information about how these decisions were made, the requests were rebuffed by both Mr. Galante and by a vote issued by the now-removed Trustees.
Borough President Katz then took action with New York State Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry and State Senator Michael Gianaris on legislation that would make the Library’s management more accountable. The bill was enacted into law and significantly reformed the structure of the Board as follows:
- Reformed the appointment and removal structure of the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees so that a Trustee can be removed by the elected official who appointed him or her. (That official would either be the Mayor of the City of New York or the Queens Borough President);
- Reduces the term by which a Trustee serves from five years to three years and mandated that Trustees either be residents of the Borough of Queens or own or operate a business in the Borough of Queens;
- Requires that the Queens Library be subject to state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL);
- Requires key Library staff members to file financial disclosure forms, places limits on their outside employment and requires the Board of Trustees to approve their hiring;
- Requires the Library to hold annual budget hearings and offer a 30 day public comment period before it can adopt its annual budget.
On July 23, Borough President Katz, acting under the authority of the newly enacted state law, removed six Trustees who had blocked efforts from accountability for the governance of the Queens Library. In tandem with Borough President Katz’s actions, Mayor Bill de Blasio removed two other Trustees who had been appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Borough President Katz cited the removed Trustees’ failure to act in a manner that furthered the educational purposes of the Queens Library and for taking actions that contradicted the interests of taxpayers, including failing to properly oversee the finances of the Library (which receives more than 85 percent of its funding from taxpayer dollars) and to protect and preserve the Library’s resources and physical property.
On August 1, the removed Trustees filed the complaint against Borough President Katz in both her official and individual capacities, and against Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his official capacity.
On August 6, Borough President Katz further denied the removed Trustees’ appeals for reinstatement in an effort to prevent further disruption from interfering with the business of running the Queens Library.