Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante, under fire from some city officials and at least one state lawmaker for making nearly $400,000 a year, told members of the borough's press corps that he probably works close to 100 hours a week.
Galante makes $392,000 a year as head of the library, a private, nonprofit group that contracts with the city to provide services. His salary was revealed earlier this month by the Daily News, prompting the City Council to hold a hearing and the city comptroller to launch an audit of the library.
But the figure, which comes to nearly $450,000 when benefits are included, is nothing unusual for the head of a nonprofit group of the library's size, according to Galante and the chairman of the library's board of directors. They and other library officials made their comments in a roundtable discussion held with seven Queens reporters Monday afternoon at the Central Library in Jamaica.
In addition to the nearly 100 hours a week he puts in at the library, Galante said, he spends another 20 to 25 handling finances for the Elmont School District, just over the city line in Nassau County.
"I'm a workaholic" he told the reporters during a question-and-answer session that lasted nearly an hour and 15 minutes. Galante, Board Chairman Gabriel Taussig and member Jackie Arrington took questions, with library officials Joanne King, Jennifer Manley and Jeremy Walsh also on hand to help guide the discussion.
The officials said the board enacted several measures at its meeting last Thursday in response to the criticism of Galante's pay, though they said some were on its agenda already anyway.
One reform they highlighted was the hiring of an outside consultant that will review Galante's contract and, after 90 days, make recommendations on it. After that the board will negotiate a new one with him.
One element of Galante's contract that will not be in the next one is the "evergreen clause," under which his agreement with the board is automatically renewed for another five years every day. The board decided to remove that clause from all future contracts at last Thursday's meeting.
During the session with the press, Galante and the other officials touted the library's successes, especially in making technological upgrades, some of which they said have freed up clerks to assist patrons in new and better ways, and in its response to Hurricane Sandy, when libraries in affected areas became hubs of assistance to the community.
Galante and the board members stood firm against the criticism they have taken in recent weeks, insisting the CEO's salary is a fair one that has to be competitive in order to get the best person for the job. Asked for a reaction to a call for his resignation made by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Galante said, "I have no reaction. I'm not giving a reaction to that. What would your reaction be?"
Although the library provides a municipal service, it is a private organization because more than 100 years ago, benefactor Andrew Carnegie set it up that way so that the government would not have any say over the material it carries, the officials explained. That means that documents such as Galante's contract are not public under the Freedom of Information Law, though meetings of the board are open to the public.
About 80 percent of the library's operating funds comes from the city, however, while 6 percent comes from the state and 2 percent from the federal government, with the rest derived from private grants and earned income, Galante said, adding that those figures are typical for such institutions.
Expect a more thorough report on the meeting in Thursday's Queens Chronicle and here at qchron.com.