Queens Library reform bill passes Legislature

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Several of the borough’s legislatures reached an agreement in Albany Friday on a bill to regulate the activities at the Queens Public Library.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz praised the Senate for voting 59-1 early Friday for the measure that would reform the appointment of members to the board of trustees, replace the committee that oversees the library’s personnel with an executive committee and require the library to respond to the state’s Freedom of Information Law.

Lawmakers first started working on legislation to reform the library following revelations the nonprofit’s chief executive officer, Thomas Galante, made a $392,000 salary and the start of an FBI investigation concerning questionable fiscal management of the nonprofit, which gets federal, state and city funding.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst) and Katz, passed the lower chamber unanimously by a vote of 132-0 June 9. The legislation would restructure the library’s board of trustees in an attempt to make the nonprofit more transparent and accountable.

The Aubry measure was sponsored by Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) in the Senate and received support from the Queens City Council delegation as well as six of the borough’s senators.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who had introduced another version of the bill, said he and Aubry reached a compromise on the legislation.

Avella said the amended bill included two of his provisions, which would require the library board to hold yearly budget hearings and to be subject to the Freedom of Information Law.

The library bill will become law if Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs it.

The legislative push to rein in the Queens Library stalled because Avella left the Democratic Party earlier this year and joined the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group which shares power in the Senate with the Republicans. His decision to bolt the mainstream party has angered other Democrats lawmakers in Queens. As a result, there was doubt that the Queens Library measure would pass during this session.

“The reforms contained in the bill are needed to ensure proper governance of the Queens Library and it would have been unfortunate if we would have had to wait a year for those reforms to gain legislative approval,” Katz said in a statement.

The City Council held hearings on the controversy over management of the Queens Library, the largest in the country, and city Comptroller Scott Stringer was rebuffed when the library board voted not to allow an audit of the system’s books.

Updated 2:59 pm, June 20, 2014
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