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.
“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.