Borough President Melinda Katz on Tuesday called on the Queens Library to implement several reform measures in light of the controversy over its executive director's salary, benefits, office renovations and outside employment.
It was recently revealed by the Daily News that the director, Tom Galante, earns at least $392,000 a year at the library, which is a private nonprofit institution but is mostly funded by city taxpayers. Some members of the City Council say his pay is actually $446,000. He also earns a six-figure salary from a side job with the Elmont School District on Long Island, and recently had his office upgraded as part of a renovation project at the Central Library in Jamaica.
Katz, in a letter to the library Board of Trustees, recommends several reform measures and said she will seek state legislation to implement others, working with Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey (D-Corona) to move a bill forward.
The board is meeting today, Feb. 20, and Katz advised the members to:
• establish a fixed term of employment for the executive director;
• hire an outside consultant to analyze his compensation, including fringe benefits;
• limit his outside employment and that of other "key Library personnel"; and
• adopt a series of "best practices," some of which, she said, are already required by law under the state's Nonprofit Revitalization Act, adopted last year.
Those best practices include establishing an audit committee; abolishing the library's Administrative Committee and replacing it with a new Executive Committee; reforming financial disclosure and outside employment policies; establishing a panel to deal with labor relations; and other reforms.
Acknowledging at the top of her letter that the library "is one of the most treasured assets in the Borough of Queens," Katz said the board must implement reforms for the good of the library system.
"Faith must be restored in our library system and the Board of Trustees must act swiftly to do its part to restore the trust that has been lost before any more damage is done to an institution that has given the City so much," she said.
The board will meet at 7:15 p.m. Library spokeswoman Joanne King provided a statement in response to Katz's letter from Gabriel Taussig, the board chairman.
The statement alludes to a City Council hearing on library finances recently convened by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, following the press coverage of Galante's compensation.
“After concerns were raised in a public forum, the Board took immediate action," Taussig said. "A special meeting was held the day after the City Council hearing to review and address the issues. We are taking positive steps toward addressing the concerns and anticipate taking actions at our next scheduled board meeting on February 20th.
"Queens Library fully supports transparency and accountability. It is the best way to preserve the tremendous value the library provides to the community and to serve their best interests and to preserve the bond of trust the library has with our stakeholders."
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After the board meeting, the library put out another statement from Taussig, saying the members had initiated several reforms, including the elimination of a component in Galante's contract, called the "evergreen clause," that saw it renewed it every year for the next five years.
Taussig described the reforms as "assertive steps" taken to address the concerns raised over the last few weeks.
"As evidenced by the spirited discussions, this Board of Trustees remains committed to ensuring the residents of Queens continue to have a world-class library system, which meets the many diverse needs of the community," he said. "Actions initiated this evening included the Board’s commitment to promptly enter into a new executive contract with a fixed term and without an evergreen clause. They also included the initiation of a new executive contract study and several reforms to the Board’s governance, including taking steps toward the establishment of an Audit Committee and drafting a Conflict of Interest Policy, demonstrate this commitment.
"I want to thank our partners in government and all of the hard working staff, for working with the Board to strengthen Queens Library.”
The Daily News ran a story after the meeting saying that the board had nixed a "golden parachute" $2 million payout to Galante that he would get if he were to leave the job.
King, the library spokeswoman, said Friday that the News article had taken the payout out of context and that the dollar figure was "incorrect."
"Mr. Galante can be released at any time for any number of reasons," King said, such as poor performance on the job. "Needless to say, there is no payout. They misinterpreted a clause in the contract where if he is dismissed for no reason, there's a payout."
By "no reason," King said, she meant no legitimate reason, such as "if a new board chairman came in and wanted to give his brother-in-law the job."
The reporter who wrote the News article did not immediately respond to an email seeking a response to King's statements.
The News story also referred to Galante's work in Elmont, saying that among the reforms the library board passed was one forcing senior-level officials to disclose outside income and any potential conflicts of interest.
The article also referred to Galante's salary again as $392,000. Van Bramer's office this week remained unable to clarify why some city officials said during the City Council hearing that he actually earns $446,000. King said she could not reveal Galante's salary because the contract is a private document, and the library is a private nonprofit organization. The office of Public Advocate Letitia James, one of the officials who cited $446,000 as the salary during the hearing, did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.