Gov. Cuomo has signed the library reform bill, according to Queens state Sens. Mike Gianaris and Tony Avella, who both issued announcements of the move at 2:42 p.m.
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The meeting has been canceled, Library spokeswoman Joanne King announced at 1:37 p.m. Public Advocate Letitia James had been threatening to go to court to block it from being held.
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The cascading controversy surrounding the Queens Library is taking yet another turn today, as several of the institution's board members are plotting to work out a new deal with President and CEO Tom Galante in advance of new restrictions on their governing capabilities expected to take effect within the next few weeks.
According to Borough President Melinda Katz, who has led the effort to reform library practices since the financial scandal there came to light in late January, some members of the board have called a meeting for tonight so they can renegotiate Galante's salary in such a way that he will be paid nearly $800,000 over the next 18 months though he no longer will technically be head of the institution. Galante now earns $392,000 a year under a contract that had been automatically renewed every single day to continue for another five years.
It was Galante's salary, along with other benefits, his six-figure part-time side job with a Long Island school district and $27,000 renovations to his office that first sparked the controversy. The library is a private nonprofit group under contract with the city, but it gets about 90 percent of its funding from the taxpayer.
The state Legislature just passed, with only one dissenting vote, a bill to reform the library's governing structure and make its activities more transparent to the public. The governor is expected to sign the bill at any time, according to Katz and one of its co-authors, state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria). The bill was co-written by Gianaris, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) and Katz.
According to the borough president, the Library Board members who called the meeting tonight are looking to push through the $800,000 "golden parachute" for Galante before the reform bill is signed by the governor and takes effect, because under its provisions such an action would be much more legally difficult to take.
Meanwhile the library is locked in a court battle with City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is performing an audit sparked by the controversy, and is also under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and city Department of Investigation conducting a joint probe of its finances.
Katz blasted the board members behind tonight's meeting in a prepared statement calling their plan "shameful" and saying that she asked for the meeting to be adjourned.
"Today, several members of the Board of Trustees of the Library have called a special meeting to pass yet another bad resolution," Katz's statement begins. "I am getting tired of calling the behavior of this Board 'an outrage.' The Board, tonight, is putting forth a resolution that renegotiates Tom Galante’s contract. This comes amidst 3 different investigations and several grand jury subpoenas.
"This 'amendment' to Tom’s contract gives him almost $800K in taxpayer money to remain in the Library for the next 18 months and is being shamefully rammed through the Board on two days’ notice. The short notice and speed of the meeting is purposeful. Two pieces of legislation making the success of this proposal more difficult will become law in the next few weeks and it is the Board’s intent to beat the clock."
Along with her statement, Katz included one from seven of the board's members who oppose any contract renegotiation. Their statement says in full:
"Mr. Galante and the Queens Public Library are still under investigation by the U.S. Attorney; the Library is currently involved in a lawsuit with the NYC Comptroller over access to to the library's financial accounts; and legislation effecting the governance of the Library, passed nearly unanimously by both houses of the New York State Legislature, is awaiting the signature of the the governor.
"Given the serious and extensive matters involving Mr. Galante that are still pending, the undersigned Trustees believe it in the best interests of the Queens Public Library and the people of Queens that any and all contract negotiations with him be suspended until all issues are settled."
It was signed by Trustees Michael Rodriguez, Haeda Mihaltses, Ed Sadowsky, Matthew Gorton, Maria Cocolino, Julissa Gutierrez and Judy Bergtraum.
The Library Board comprises 19 regular members and five ex-officio members. The 19 are appointed in turns by the borough president and the mayor. Having taken office in January, Katz has only appointed one member so far; and Mayor de Blasio, whose term also began in January, has not yet named any.
The Gianaris-Aubry bill, if signed by the governor, will reduce the board members' tenures from five years to three; allow for the borough president and mayor to remove a member she or he appointed at any time; subject the library to the Freedom of Information Law, allowing citizens access to most of its internal documents; and impose further restrictions on the hiring and outside employment of certain library workers.
Library spokeswoman Joanne King confirmed that there is a meeting at 7 p.m. today and that its purpose is to consider a matter regarding Galante's contract.
King also issued a statement from the board chairman, Gabriel Taussig, in response to an article published today in the Daily News by Juan Gonzalez. It was Gonzalez who broke the library finance story on Jan. 27, leading to the state reform bill, the audit, an oversight hearing by the City Council and further reporting on and criticism of the library board and administration in the media, including in the Queens Chronicle [see "Library reform bill goes to the governor" and the editorial "Library gets what it paid for" in this week's print editions, or here at qchron.com].
In his piece, Gonzalez speaks to tonight's meeting and the planned amendment to Galante's contract in detail, saying that the haste with which the meeting was called appears to show that the trustees behind it want to get the deal done before Katz removes them from the board.
Taussig's statement claims Gonzalez's report is not accurate and was based on a confidential document he should not have been given access to.
"The Daily News story is an inaccurate report of a proposal being presented to the Board of Trustees for its consideration," Taussig said. "A confidential draft of a proposed agreement was provided to the members of the Board as the first step in an effort to begin a conversation on the conditions of a possible transition of leadership at the Library. It is disturbing that there appear to be members of the board who believe that it is acceptable for them to attempt to achieve their goals by disclosing information they know to be confidential and thus breaching one of their fundamental fiduciary responsibilities as Trustees."
King also was asked for a response to Katz's statement, but the library had not yet been given the document, so she could not provide one immediately.
This article originally misstated the number of regular trustees on the Library Board. It is 19. We regret the error.