Tag Archives: trustees

BP library powers could lead to censorship: former trustee


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre  / File photo

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2:15 p.m.

The power of the Queens borough president to remove trustees from the Queens Library board could set the institution on the slippery slope to state censorship, one former trustee told The Courier.

George Stamatiades, a longtime Long Island City civic leader who spent two decades on the library board was removed — along with five other trustees — by Katz, who was granted the power to fire board members through recent legislation during a bitter battle over who controls the library.

Stamatiades said that much sway over the library board could be dangerous.

“Today, she gets rid of the board members,” Stamatiades said. “Tomorrow, through her influence, she says, ‘Hey, don’t buy any more of these books.’

“And then next week, she says, ‘Hey, get rid of all these books.’”

And, Stamatiades said, such power could lead to government monitoring each person’s reading habits.

“Next thing she’ll say is, ‘I want to know what books the community is reading,’” Stamatiades said. “Then it’ll be, ‘I want to know who’s reading them.”

Stamatiades, who was appointed to the board by former Borough President Claire Shulman, said that neither Shulman nor her successor Helen Marshall ever demanded specific action on any issue.

“Based on his comments, Mr. Stamatiades clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Neither I, the mayor, the Queens delegation of the City Council, the entire New York State Assembly, almost the entire New York State Senate nor the governor has commented on the content of materials at the Queens Public Library,” Katz said in a statement.

A firestorm erupted over the salary and spending practices of library boss Tom Galante and the board’s refusal to open the library’s books to city auditors. City funds — about 85 percent of the library’s budget — are routinely audited but the board steadfastly refused to make all of the financial data available to the city.

After much back and forth, state legislators passed a law giving Katz the ability to remove members for cause.

Last month, she ousted six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. All six of the trustees forced out by Katz appealed for reinstatement but were shot down by Katz in early August.

“The removed trustees, including Mr. Stamatiades, have fought against transparency into how library resources are spent and do not feel that they are accountable to the taxpayers of the city of New York,” Katz said. “My goal is to assure the people of Queens that their money is spent on furthering the educational purpose of the library. We need to end the static and get to work on advancing the purpose of the library.”

The six also filed a federal lawsuit against Katz, seeking to be returned to their positions, revocation of the state law that allowed for their ouster and money damages from Katz personally.

Court papers revealed the board hired former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct to investigate information leaks from within the library.

The judge hearing the suit against Katz, U.S. District Court judge Roslynn Mauskopf, recused herself on Monday because of her long-standing friendship with Jones.

Stamatiades, who initiated the whistleblower probe, said 19 board members voted in favor of the investigation. But, he said, library staffers were uncomfortable investigating their bosses as were the library’s legal staff, so the job was outsourced to Jones.

“We needed an independent person,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein held a hearing on a motion from the ousted trustees asking for a temporary restraining order against Katz. He recommended to the trial judge that the motion be denied. The former trustees have until Aug. 29 to appeal the recommendation.

Doug Grover, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said the former trustees could not Let Katz’s actions go unchallenged.

“They brought this action to assert the independence of the Library and the right of every trustee to act without political interference,” Grover said.  “They are understandably disappointed by today’s outcome but remain true friends of the library and hope for its continued success.

“The trustees are evaluating their legal options in light of the decision today.”

Away from court, Mary Ann Mattone, a mayoral appointee to the library board, announced her resignation in a letter to de Blasio.

Mattone said she served on the board for 16 years “without blemish”  and is a member of the Queens Library Foundation.

But, she wrote,” I can no longer urge my friends to participate because of the acrimonious atmosphere that has been created.”

 

Stamatiades looked back fondly on his service to the library and said his commitment to the institution stemmed from love of his neighborhood.

“I guess it’s because I care about my neighborhood and the people around me,” he said. “There’s no other reason. If that’s bad … what can I tell you?”

He also said he being a library trustee was a blessing.

“If you could go to [a literacy class] graduation and hear a grandmother say, ‘I can now go home and read to my grandchild because of the Queens Library,’ well, you’d be going something,” he said.

 

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


| 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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Responsibilities of A Special Needs Trustee


| editorial@queenscourier.com

A supplemental needs trust (SNT) is a vehicle through which an individual can provide for the needs of a chronically and severely disabled beneficiary by supplementing the beneficiary’s government benefits, rather than diminishing such benefits. Many government benefit programs, including Medicaid, count the assets and income of an individual for purposes of determining eligibility for assistance. With a supplemental needs trust, however, a person such as a parent or relative may establish and fund a trust for a disabled individual without jeopardizing the beneficiary’s eligibility for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The trustee of an SNT has all the same duties of any trustee, plus the specific added responsibilities due to the special needs of the beneficiary. All trustees are responsible for the prudent investing of trust property, bookkeeping and accounting of trust activities, communicating with trust beneficiaries, tax reporting for the trust and appropriately distributing trust property to the beneficiary or beneficiaries – taking into account both current and future needs. In addition to these responsibilities, the trustee of an SNT must also inquire into the needs of the trust beneficiary, ensure that the beneficiary maintains their eligibility for public benefit programs, report to the agency or agencies administering these programs and work with the family members, social workers or other individuals providing support for the trust beneficiary.

Due to these demands, many families find that a professional trustee is better equipped to serve as trustee or as co-trustee with a family member. Professional trustees, such as banks, trust companies and some attorneys, are prepared to handle details like establishing accounts for the management of trust assets, handling trust recordkeeping, hiring and overseeing the activities of any service providers, making distribution decisions and investing trust assets.

With respect to the taxation of the trust, the trustee is responsible for notifying the IRS that the SNT has been created and requesting that the IRS issue an employer identification number. This number is necessary for opening any account in the name of the trust and is also used on the trust’s tax returns.  The trustee is also required to prepare and file annual federal and state fiduciary income tax returns and reporting any income that the trust earns.  It is critical for the trustee to know when potential tax reductions may warrant making distributions to or on behalf of the trust beneficiary.

The trustee also has sole responsibility for distribution decisions. To avoid compromising a beneficiary’s eligibility for public benefits, distributions generally should be made directly to providers of goods or services, rather than to the beneficiary. When a beneficiary receives a distribution that exceeds their allowable monthly limit, it is considered unearned income and SSI benefits are reduced on a dollar for dollar basis. If the trust beneficiary is a recipient of SSI benefits, the trustee must be aware of the income distribution guidelines so as not to jeopardize the beneficiary’s eligibility. Further, the trustee must also adhere to the guidelines posted in the trust by the grantor.

The trustee is required to look at the big picture when it comes to a request by the beneficiary for a trust distribution. A trust often initially appears to hold an excessive sum of money. However, when taking into consideration the life expectancy of the beneficiary and the anticipated use of the funds, the funds in the trust may have to be used sparingly.Accordingly, the trustee may have to deny the beneficiary a distribution if the trustee is concerned about depleting the trust assets.  It can often be easier for an independent, professional trustee to deny a beneficiary’s request rather than a family member.

Finally, the trustee has a fiduciary responsibility for the management of trust assets, even if the trustee chooses to hire professional investment managers to make day-to-day investment decisions.

SNTS are a unique and helpful tool in elder law and special needs planning. Consulting with an attorney who specializes in these fields is helpful in determining when the creation of such a trust should be utilized.

Ronald A. Fatoullah, Esq. is the principal of Ronald Fatoullah & Associates, a law firm that concentrates in elder law, estate planning, Medicaid planning, guardianships, estate administration, trusts, wills and VA benefits. The firm has offices in Forest Hills, Great Neck, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Cedarhurst, NY. Mr. Fatoullah has been named a “fellow” of the NationalAcademy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a former member of its Board of Directors. Mr. Fatoullah has been certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation, and he is a co-founder of Senior Umbrella Network of Queens. We wish to thank Special Needs Answers for their contribution to this article.This article was written with the assistance of Debby Rosenfeld, Esq., a senior staff attorney at the firm. Ronald Fatoullah & Associates can be reached by calling (718) 261-1700, 516-466-4422, or toll free at 1-877-ELDER-LAW or 1-877-ESTATES.