Tag Archives: Melinda Katz

Community leaders urge BP to focus on creating new schools throughout Queens


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Angy Altamirano

It turns out that it’s not just western Queens that has a problem with overcrowded schools.

Community leaders from across the borough urged Borough President Melinda Katz to push for school expansions during a budget meeting on Monday. Katz is in the process of developing the Queens budget for 2016, and she invited the public to comment on what mattered to them and their priorities for 2016.

“We’re experiencing a huge influx of children and we just don’t have the space,” said Karyn Petersen, Community Board 10 district manager. “We could use more schools or expand the schools we have. Both would be preferable.”

Petersen’s wishes were echoed by many others. Across the borough, people are reporting an increase in population and a swelling number of school children. In Woodside and Sunnyside, parents petitioned the city to create a new middle school. In the Jackson Heights area, Giovanna Reid bemoaned the fact that a new high school hadn’t been created in decades.

One hundred and fifty people, many representing hospitals, libraries, colleges and other institutions, signed up to speak at the hearing.

“We need a new high school,” Reid said.  “It’s about time for one.”

Along with a demand for more school seats, community leaders sought out funding to expand libraries, which, like the schools, are overcrowded. Along with a problem of limited space, many libraries are located on streets that are dangerous for pedestrians to cross.

“Kids have to cross the boulevard of death just to get to the library,” said Frank Gulluscio, the district manager for Community Board 6. “I mean I’m not trying to be dramatic but it’s a very dangerous place for kids to be even though many have to be there.”

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Borough President Katz names Melva Miller as her new deputy BP


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Lillie Miller, mother; Borough President Melinda Katz; Melva Miller, newly appointed Deputy Borough President.

Melva Miller, a top economic development official in the Queens borough president’s office for the past eight years, was promoted on Tuesday to deputy borough president.

Borough President Melinda Katz announced the appointment during a speech before a breakfast meeting of the Queens Chamber of Commerce at St. John’s University.

Miller will fill the vacancy left after Leroy Comrie departed to take his seat in the New York State Senate last month.

“Economic development is a key priority of my agenda for Queens, and Melva’s multidimensional expertise to this end is second to none,” Katz said. “Her understanding of Queens’ neighborhoods is extensive and comprehensive, from both the holistic, macro-policy level to a block-by-block community basis. Melva’s ideas, professionalism and experience in government have been tremendous assets to my administration. For the communities, her focus is relentless, her passion is unwavering. Melva has also been a trusted member of my senior leadership team since day one. Her ascension as my deputy is a natural one, and I thank her for accepting this responsibility.”

Katz made the announcement in front of an audience made up of community board members and dozens of Queens residents. Many in the audience were graduates of St. John’s, a point that the school’s new president Conrado Gempesaw stressed.

Gempesaw spoke before Katz and talked about the intertwined fates between the school and  the borough.

“What’s good for Queens is good for St. John’s,” Gempesaw said, referencing Katz’s State of the Borough speech when she stressed the importance of families. “And what’s good for St. John’s is good for Queens.”

Gempesaw than invited Katz to speak. She praised the service of community board members, whom she called “the first line of defense when issues come up. It’s because of them that government runs so well.”

Katz’s announcement of Miller’s appointment elicited applause from the audience.

Miller has served as the director of economic development for the Queens Borough President’s Office since 2007. Previously, she was the founding executive director of the Sutphin Boulevard Business Improvement District and of KECDE!, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing the arts to community youth through dance. Miller was also previously the project director for the Downtown Jamaica Cultural District and a community organizer for the Laurelton Local Development Corporation. A lifelong resident of southeast Queens, Miller has dedicated her life to community advocacy through creative organizing and citizen participation.

“It’s an honor to be tapped by Borough President Katz to help execute her vision for the World’s Borough,” Miller said. “Government makes the biggest impact when it is continually engaged with our communities. I am grateful that Borough President Katz chose to promote from within and is allowing me the opportunity to continue building the economic viability of the borough and expand to other service areas of the borough. Across all issues – from education to housing to quality of life to tourism and culture – economic development and community development are one and [the] same.”

Speaking at the the D’Angelo center on the school’s campus, Katz made several other announcements about her economic development strategy for the borough. She mentioned that $6 million has been collected to restore the New York State Pavilion, a site from the 1964 World’s Fair that Katz called a “treasure” that could become a tourist attraction. She expressed a desire to create jobs on the western Flushing waterfront, an area that Mayor de Blasio singled out for affordable housing during last week’s State of the City speech.

Katz also talked about the “Jamaica initiative” to stimulate the business district’s economic activity.

“We want to invest heavily in Jamaica’s infrastructure and local businesses,” she said, without elaborating on any specific projects.

As former head of the borough’s economic development team and now as deputy borough president, Miller will play a key role in helping Katz to push forward Queens projects.

“This is an exciting time for Queens, and in this chapter of growth, development and opportunities for our borough, it’s an absolute privilege to work with a dynamic leader of such passion and vision,” Miller said.

Miller received her master’s degree in social work from CUNY Hunter College School of Social Work and her Bachelor of Science from CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  She is an active doctoral candidate in social welfare at the CUNY Graduate School and University Center.  Miller currently resides in Laurelton, Queens.

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BP Melinda Katz delivers her first State of the Borough address


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Borough President Melinda Katz delivered her first State of the Borough speech on Thursday, celebrating the borough’s diversity, its recent prominence as a tourism destination and the nurturing environment that she said has made Queens “the borough of families.”

“If it’s good for our families, it’s good for Queens,” said Katz, repeating what she said is her administration’s motto at Borough Hall and what was the focus of her 50-minute speech at Colden Auditorium at Queens College.

After a five-minute video that included Queens residents talking about the borough and Katz recounting how she grew up here, the daughter of civic-minded parents proud of the borough they called home, Katz took to the stage and welcomed the audience in eight languages.

“My parents believed that Queens held all the elements of any great city, and that no one should need to cross a bridge or tunnel to experience arts, culture, fine dining or great neighborhoods,” Katz said. “I inherited their vision while growing up here, from my childhood in Forest Hills to my education at our public schools to studying law at St. John’s.”

Packed into the 2,124-seat auditorium, filled nearly to capacity, were a host of elected officials, civic leaders and residents from across the borough.

Elected officials Katz mentioned individually included State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, as well as the borough’s entire City Council delegation and state lawmakers.

She made a special point to welcome newly-minted state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who she hired as a deputy during her first year as borough president before he was elected state senator.

And Katz twice asked for a moment of silence, once for the two officers killed in Brooklyn last month and another for former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a son of Queens, who died on New Year’s Day.

While Katz spent much of the time celebrating recent successes, like the borough’s designation as the nation’s top tourist destination for 2015 by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet and its recognition as being “the intersection of the world” for its sweeping ethnic and racial diversity, she also laid out challenges and goals ahead. They included the following:

  • Job creation, especially for LaGuardia and JFK airports and the health sector.
  • Advocating for the return of the Rockaway Ferry, which saw a brief existence during the post-Sandy recovery but was discontinued soon after.
  • Creating more pre-K seats to expand the program’s reach and expanding the Gifted and Talented program. She also emphasized the need to invest in the CUNY schools within Queens “so that folks stay in Queens or they come back and build a family.”
  • Providing affordable housing, especially for seniors, many of whom become the caretakers for young families.

Katz, who is raising her two children in the same Queens home where she grew up, blasted Common Core, the controversial new teaching curriculum being used across schools in the city and state.

“I feel in my gut that there’s something wrong here,” she said. “It’s not a common core. It’s a common problem. We’ve got to do something about it.”

And at the core of all of these issues, Katz said, is the family. Here in the “World’s Borough,” Katz said, the American dream is alive and well. And that’s all thanks to the families.

“Both new arrivals and long-established families create the communities which make it uniquely attractive, for visitors and for investors alike,” she said. “And like generations before them, they come here to work hard and raise their children as Americans. People spend their life savings to come here from all over the world just to educate their children right where we are sitting right now.”

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Comrie bids farewell to deputy BP seat, gears up for state Senate


| slicata@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Borough President Melinda Katz’s office

Leroy Comrie has been serving Queens as deputy borough president for about a year, but he’s getting ready to return to an arena he’s more familiar with.

He is starting his bid as the new state senator of the 14th District of Queens covering Jamaica, Queens Village, St. Albans and Hollis. Borough President Melinda Katz and her staff said goodbye to Comrie last week and praised him for the work he did there.

Katz mentioned his tireless work ethic on behalf of the people of Queens and thanked Comrie for his wise counsel during her first year as borough president. She also mentioned that she believes he will do an outstanding job for his new, smaller group of constituents.

Comrie served as a public figure in southeast Queens from 2002-2013 as councilman for the 27th District, which covers St. Albans, Jamaica, Hollis and Cambria Heights. In 2013, he ran for the borough president’s seat in Queens but later dropped out. When Katz won her seat she hired him as the second-in-command as the deputy borough president, a position he held until his nomination for state Senate in April.

Comrie defeated incumbent state Sen. Malcolm Smith, whose political career took a turn for the worse after he was hit with federal charges for trying to bribe his way into the 2013 mayoral election as a Republican candidate. Comrie defeated Smith in the September primary for the Senate seat and ran unopposed in the November general election.

Comrie, a Democrat, will take his seat in the Republican-controlled state Senate as of Jan. 1. The 63-seat branch of the Legislature will now house 32 Republicans and 31 Democrats, making it more challenging for Democrats like Comrie to press their agenda in Albany.

Comrie’s commute to work — he’ll now have to travel to Albany when the Legislature is in session — is only one of several trade-offs he’ll make by going from the borough president’s office to the Senate. He’ll take a hit in the pocketbook too, trading his $135,000 deputy borough president salary for the base salary of $79,500 as a state senator.

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Axed Queens Library director will sue for wrongful termination


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Update 4:30 p.m.

It’s the end of Tom Galante‘s chapter as director of the Queens Library.

The institution’s board of trustees fired Galante during a meeting Wednesday night—prompting his lawyer to say Thursday that he will be suing for breach of contract.

“This evening, the board of trustees heard a report by counsel. Based on that and a prior report by counsel, a decision was made to terminate immediately Mr. Galante’s employment,” a statement from the library said. “As the library moves forward, the board of trustees will continue working to ensure greater transparency and the proper administration of the library and its funds in furtherance of its mission. Queens Library will continue to provide outstanding value to the people of Queens.”

In September the board voted to suspend Galante, appointing Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, to carry out his duties. He continued to collect his $392,000 annual salary while on administrative leave.

According to the resolution voted on by the board, Galante was fired with cause. Library officials would not specify what constituted cause in his case.

Galante is looking to sue for breach of contract, although nothing has been filed yet, according to Hillary Zilz Prudlo, whose firm Sclam Stone & Dolan is representing Galante.

If Galante can prove in court that the board did not have cause to fire him, he could be due five years’ salary under the terms of his contract—nearly $2 million.

In September, the board voted  to open its books for the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, to perform an audit on all financial data from the library, which receives 85 percent of its funding from taxpayer money but is not officially a city agency or department.

In a statement released on Wednesday Stringer said Galante’s termination was “long overdue.”

“Transparency and proper controls are the cornerstones of good nonprofit governance. My office is currently conducting comprehensive audits of all three New York City library systems. Separately, in my capacity as an ex-officio trustee at the Queens Library, we have already begun working with the board to strengthen internal controls to ensure greater transparency,” he said. 

Galante has been under fire since a series of media reports revealing the renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck and expenses he rang up on a library credit card during his time as library director.

Earlier this week, Joseph Ficalora, CEO of NY Community Bank and past president of the Queens Library Foundation Board, told The Courier that the expenses Galante made during his time as library director were not “inappropriate” and had all been approved by the board.

Ficalora was one of the six Queens Library trustees dismissed by Borough President Melinda Katz in July. Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two, and two others resigned. Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated. Last month, a federal judge granted the request of the former trustees to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Katz’s decision to remove them from the board.

“Tonight’s action further restores public faith and trust in the management of the Queens Library,” Katz said in a statement following Galante’s termination. “The reformed board of trustees continues to move the library in the right direction consistent with its educational purpose.”

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Former Queens Library trustee defends Tom Galante’s reported expenses


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

One of the six Queens Library trustees dismissed by the borough president has stepped out to defend the expenses by suspended library chief Tom Galante, who could potentially face being fired at a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.

Joseph Ficalora, CEO of NY Community Bank and past president of the Queens Library Foundation Board, told The Queens Courier that the expenses Galante made during his time as library director were not “inappropriate” and had all been approved by the board.

According to the NY Daily News, Galante had been using funds “like a personal piggy bank” before being suspended in September, based on a preliminary review of library finances by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Some of the credit card charges that Galante rang up included dinners with groups of library trustees, concert tickets and various hotel charges while the library chief was on out-of-town library business.

However, according to Ficalora, the expenses that are being reported had all been approved by the board and were consistent to those of others who held Galante’s position. He also added that six of the board members who had approved the expenses are still on the board.

“This was nothing that they didn’t know and the board members that are still sitting knew this and there was nothing about the expenses that were inappropriate,” Ficalora said.

He also said that other reports that brought up international trips Galante took were a “miscarriage of justice” because he had been traveling around the world as the ambassador of the library and also to accept awards on the library’s behalf.

“These activities were board-approved and consistent with the library having earned awards,” Ficalora said. “Tom was invited to speak at world-class events because of the world recognition and awards the Queens Library was receiving. None of those expenses were inappropriate and they were all approved by the board.”

In regards to the “fine dining,” Ficalora added that these meals have been typical for library directors for decades and they took place to discuss library business such as new programs or any problems.

Galante was suspended in September and his duties have since been carried out by Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

In July, Borough President Melinda Katz fired six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. Two others resigned. Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated. However, two weeks ago a federal judge granted the request of the former trustees to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Katz’s decision to remove them from the board.

According to one of the lawyers representing the former trustees, the lawsuit was dismissed because the former trustees did not have the financial ability and emotional willpower to pursue the lawsuit.

A special meeting of the board of trustees will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Robert T. Groh Board Room at the Central Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. According to sources, the election of officers might be taking place during the meeting.

In addition, the Audit Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. and the Finance & Investments Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m.

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Northern Queens parents gain no traction during meeting with BP Katz over school program


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Whitestone and Flushing parents were sent back to the drawing board after meeting with Borough President Melinda Katz to discuss their desire to create a gifted and talented program for middle schools in the northern and central Queens area.

Lisa Fusco and a growing number of parents are building a case for the creation of gifted and talented programs for middle schools in their district. During a meeting with Katz and education officials on Wednesday, the parents were told that the district’s superintendent was the only one with the power to extend the program from its limited elementary school reach to middle school.

“They’re giving us the run around,” Fusco said. “We’ve spoken to [Superintendent Danielle Di Mango] before and that hasn’t gotten us anywhere. We’ve tried everything else.”

Mango declined a request for comment.

Fusco’s fourth-grade daughter is enrolled in the gifted and talented program in P.S. 79 and — unlike in many other school districts — the program does not continue into middle school within District 25, which covers most of central and northern Queens. Neighboring districts 26 and 30 provide the program to students in middle school. More than 150 parents have signed a petition to bring the program into their middle schools in places like Flushing and Whitestone.

The gifted and talented programs are meant to provide extra services for students who show academic promise and get bored easily in a traditional classroom setting. Parents must sign up their children for tests to get into the program by November, and children are tested in January and February.

“We have made some real strides engaging community leaders,” Fusco said. “And we will continue to push for the program in our communities.”

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Jamaica of the future imagined by residents


| slicata@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Imagine Jamaica with more affordable housing, better transportation and more, higher-paying localized jobs.

That was the vision put forward for the neighborhood when more than 100 residents and community advocates attended the city-run Jamaica Planning Initiative meeting this past weekend.

“We’ve been talking to ourselves for too long in this community,” said Borough President Melinda Katz. “We care about the future and are so excited for this plan going forward.”

With so much change having hit the neighborhood already, the city came up with the idea of meeting with local residents to find out what they want in the future. The Jamaica Planning Initiative was a community workshop that broke up residents in attendance into four small groups: 1) transportation, public space and urban design, 2) housing and commercial development, 3) Jamaica identity, branding and marketing and 4) Jamaica jobs. Residents chose the issue that they felt was most pertinent.

They focused on the study area east of the Van Wyck Expressway to Farmers Boulevard and north of Linden Boulevard to Union Turnpike.

Topics discussed were plans for more affordable housing units, finding safer ways for pedestrians to cross streets, creating a localized job market for residents in the community, upgrading small business opportunities and bringing better transportation to the neighborhood.

One issue that was brought up by residents was the concern for more affordable housing.

“We need affordable places for people to live that don’t make much money,” one resident said in a focus group. “That is where the money should be invested.”

At this point, the city agencies working on the project, which include the DOT, Regional Plan Association, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and the NYC Small Business Service among local elects, were looking for community feedback so they can move along to the next phase, which is the Jamaica Action Plan. It is the final step before actual implementation.

“The Jamaica Action Plan will incorporate your crucial feedback on topics of focus and opportunity,” said Cali Williams, vice president of the NYC EDC. “Based on today’s charrette sessions, the city will release a set of realistic projects and programs to improve and enliven the experience of Jamaica.”

The workshop turned out to be a major success for all parties.

Regarding the next step, which is the implantation process, the projects will be identified as short-, medium- and long-term proposals. Some of the short-term projects will begin “right away,” according to the EDC, and they and local elects are looking for the continued support of the neighborhood.

“Queens is the diamond of all boroughs,” Congressman Gregory Meeks said. “But we can’t have the greatness we are unless everybody participates in the building of our community.”

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Borough President Katz assesses Queens’ Ebola readiness


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Borough President Melinda Katz's office

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz met with Health Department officials on Monday to consider Queens’ ability to deal with an Ebola outbreak.

Katz also emphasized the need to work closely with the department given the large population of the borough, which hosts two busy airports.

“There is a very deep interest in [Queens] about this,” Katz said.

Dr. Jessica Kattan, a city health official, fielded questions from Katz and community board members.

But Kattan didn’t have the answer to many of the questions and advised people to call 311 if someone has Ebola.

“Does Purell work on this thing?” Katz said.

Kattan said she didn’t know the answer but promised to get back to Katz with an answer.

A community board member asked if planes coming from West Africa to Queens were being sanitized and the air ventilation system flushed out.

Kattan didn’t know, but she said, “the chances of New Yorkers getting Ebola is very slim.”

Katz also made a suggestion about the airports.

She said they should be reporting to Kattan’s department so that communication and information between the airports and the city is greater.

“We’re relying on you guys for vital information,” Katz said. “It’s important.”

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‘The World’s Borough’ tagline added to Welcome to Queens signs


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Melinda Katz’s office

It’s official. Queens is where the world comes to live.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and Dalila Hall, the Queens Borough Commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), revealed the new Welcome to Queens street signs, which include the tagline describing Queens as “The World’s Borough.”

The phrase is meant to reflect the cultural diversity in the borough, which is home to residents representing more than 120 countries and speaking more than 135 languages, according to a statement released by Katz. “You haven’t really seen New York City unless you have experienced the diversity that is in Queens,” said Katz, adding that the new signs with the slogans will help “to get that word out.”

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg praised the signs and said they “proudly highlight the level of diversity making Queens unique among the five boroughs and also nationwide.”

The new signs were installed in 10 key locations that act as a gateway to the borough by Oct. 7.

These include the Cross Island Parkway, Grand Central Parkway, Queensboro Bridge and Long Island Expressway.

Each 72-by-42-inch sign has retro-reflective letters that make them easily visible to drivers. Katz’s office funded the fabrication and installation of the signs. All the signs were made in Maspeth.

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Astoria Cove gets green light from City Planning Commission


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Rendering courtesy of STUDIO V Architecture

Despite opposition from residents, the community board and Borough President Melinda Katz, the Astoria Cove development won over the City Planning Commission.

The 2.2-million-square-foot project along the Astoria waterfront cleared a major hurdle Monday as the commission voted to approve its land-use application despite the push back from community members with a majority vote of 10 yes, two abstentions and one partial no.

“We are pleased by the outcome. And we are looking forward to working with Councilman Constantinides and the City Council and going forward with the process,” said Howard Weiss of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, which represents 2030 Astoria Developers, the team behind the project. “This project heralds a new era in affordable housing. It’s a great step forward in terms of the mayor’s 10-year housing plan.”

The partial no-vote centered on claims of insufficiency of affordable housing in the application. Community Board 2, Katz and others that opposed the project also called for more affordable housing to be included in the buildings, while developers are proposing 345 units or 20 percent of the 1,723 dwellings.

Members of the building services union 32BJ were displeased by the result and pledged to fight at the City Council level for more affordable housing and unionized jobs.

“Alma Realty should not be granted permission to develop Astoria Cove until they commit to responsible development,” said Lenore Friedlaender, executive director of Build Up NYC, a coalition of organizations that includes 32BJ. “We will continue to fight for the good jobs and affordable housing working families in Astoria need to grow and strengthen the middle class, and we look forward to engaging the entire City Council to make sure this gets done right.”

Astoria Cove will consist of five buildings, three on the waterfront ranging from 26 to 32 stories and two on the upland portion of the site, including a six-story residential building.

The project, which is expected to take more than 10 years to complete in four different phases, will also include about 84,000 square feet of publicly accessible open space.

Recently 2030 Astoria Developers purchased the remaining land needed for the project for more than $43 million.

The City Council has 50 days to vote on the application, and affordable housing will be one of the main subjects reviewed.

“While the new housing stock is sorely needed, the development must work for all Astorians,” Constantinides said. “When the project comes before the City Council, we will work with the developer and focus on providing ample affordable housing, dramatically increasing public transportation capacity on and off of the peninsula, and keeping the development within the fabric of the community.”

 

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Board suspends Queens Library President Tom Galante


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The Queens Library has shelved its president.

The library’s board of trustees voted Thursday night to suspend embattled library boss Tom Galante.

Galante will continue to collect his $392,000 annual salary while on administrative leave, library officials said.

His duties will be carried out by Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

“Queens Library has a critical mission to provide information and education. It has long been a model of excellence, “ Quinn-Carey said in a statement.  “I look forward to working with the board of trustees, our elected officials and colleagues at all levels of the organization, including our union, to build on the library’s outstanding work. There are 2.3 million people depending on it.”

Galante declined to comment on Friday.

The board also voted to open its books for the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, to perform an audit on all financial data from the library, which receives 85 percent of its funding from taxpayer money.

Galante and the board, which has seen 10 trustees removed or resigned, had refused to surrender the information relying on a decades-old agreement with the city that allowed the comptroller to audit only that portion of the budget that came from public funds.

That dispute, as well as a revelation in the Daily News that Galante was earning a hefty wage moonlighting for the Elmont school district, sent lawmakers into action, granting the borough president and mayor the power to remove board members for cause. Galante has also been under fire after the renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck was revealed.

In July, Borough President Melinda Katz fired six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio canned two.  Two others resigned.  Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated.  They were unsuccessful in getting an injunction to prevent their permanent removal, which became official after Katz rejected their appeals.  The suit, which also demands monetary damages from Katz, is pending in Brooklyn Federal Court.

Katz lauded the board’s decision, saying that it would allow them to “take immediate steps to improve the Queens Library’s governance and increase the transparency of its operations.”

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Ousted Queens Library board members sue Katz; demand reinstatement, money


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Calling their ouster a “brazen and unconstitutional power grab,” six former trustees of the Queens Library filed a federal lawsuit to be restored to the board.

The suit, filed on Friday by Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades, also demands that the 2014 law that gave Borough President Melinda Katz the power to bounce them, be invalidated.

The six plaintiffs also demand unspecified monetary damages against Katz—including punitive damages—“on account of the egregious nature of the unconstitutional violations and Katz’s malicious and punitive conduct in publicly smearing plaintiffs in order to aggrandize herself,” according to court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

After a protracted battle focusing on the stewardship of Tom Galante, the library’s director, the state legislature gave Katz the power to remove trustees of the library before their terms expired.

Katz bounced the six plaintiffs on July 23 because they reportedly attempted to renegotiate Galante’s contract and award him an $800,000 consultancy.  He was already under fire for his near-$400,000 salary—coupled with a high-paying side gig at the Elmont School District—and a controversial renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck.

The library receives more than 80 percent of its funding from the public coffers.

Katz did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

 

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Vandals damage NYS Pavilion


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of John Piro

BENJAMIN FANG

Vandals caused mischief at the storied New York State Pavilion last weekend, setting a stolen van ablaze and damaging its terrazzo map, according to a member of an advocacy group for the structure.

John Piro, co-founder of the New York State Pavilion Paint Project, a local group dedicated to restoring the 1964-1965 World’s Fair figure in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said the delinquents were causing havoc.

“They came in with a stolen van, broke the lock [of the park] and set the van on fire,” said Piro, who saw the aftermath on Monday morning after the Parks Department saw it on Sunday.

He said they also burned the tarp on the gravel, knocked down steel beams and even damaged what’s left of the Pavilion’s terrazzo map on its ground by using a cinder block to smash the map’s corner panel.

“It’s heartbreaking, after all the work we’ve done,” Piro said. “Hopefully it will never happen again.

THE COURIER/File photo

The incident, first reported by the New York Daily News, comes at the heels of the World’s Fair 50th anniversary celebration just two months ago. The Pavilion opened to the public for the first time in decades this April to also commemorate the historic event.

Last November, the Parks Department released plans to fix the relic, with cost estimates starting at $43 million. Borough President Melinda Katz created a task force of local officials, and civic and community leaders to construct a plan for the Pavilion’s future.

For now, Piro said he is just grateful nothing worse happened.

“They could have caused a lot more damage,” he said. “Now we have to try to do something preventative.” He said they’re looking into something along the lines of an alarm.

The Parks Department said it inspected the site and only found minimal damage.

“This will not have any effect on our efforts to stabilize and preserve the New York State Pavilion,” parks officials said.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

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New Juniper Valley Park bocce courts met with skepticism


| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Juniper Valley Park’s three new bocce courts opened on Wednesday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and talk of meatballs and spaghetti. But for the players, most of whom are older Italians, the new courts don’t meet their standards.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said that the new courts, which replaced two older ones, were “Grade-A.” But many of the players present during the ceremony weren’t such generous graders.

 “It looks nice. They spent a lot of money on this,” John Pistone, 62, said. “So I give them an A for effort but for efficiency, I give them an F.”

Pistone and his fellow bocce players complained that the new $850,000 courts weren’t leveled correctly and that the design of the overhead shades didn’t prevent rain from soaking the courts. The bulk of the money came from Katz’s office and Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley allocated another $50,000.

Queens Park Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski boasted that the shades placed on all three courts would keep the players cool. But Frank Trocchia said the shades were too small to provide any real protection from the sun.

“We get here in the morning and by 11 o’clock it’s too hot for us to even play,” Trocchia, 64, said. “They didn’t consult us on this design.”

Trocchia and Pistone then proceeded to argue with each other over the ineffective shades and the unbalanced field and which one truly made the bocce courts flawed.

 

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