After news came out that Queens Library President Tom Galante agreed to renovations of his offices in the Central Library branch, including an outdoor “smoke deck,” elected officials were quick to support Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s (D-Sunnyside) decision to conduct an oversight hearing.
The meeting started off calm Wednesday as Galante opened with the number of accomplishments the Queens Library has achieved since he was appointed — including being named the best library system in the country in 2009 — but soon escalated into a tense back and forth between Galante and Council members who called his salary excessive and his outsourcing of custodians in need of reform.
“Mr. Galante, I think your salary is too high,” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) said.
Galante replied saying that his salary is determined by the Board of Trustees, who are appointed by the mayor and Queens borough president, and is the average pay of any nonprofit head of a similar scope.
“Yes, but the other nonprofits you mention are not as reliant on the city for funding,” Crowley said. “Your job seems more aligned with city management.”
Many other Council members were also concerned about his high pay of $446,000 — more than the mayor and MTA chairman.
“I realize that this is a lot bigger than you,” Public Advocate Letitia James said. “The other borough library systems pay a great deal too but unfortunately you’ve become the poster child for this problem. I think your story is a prime example of excessive executive pay. In regards to your $446,000 salary, I know a lot of smart and effective people who make much less than you.”
Galante, who repeatedly said the hearing should be about the library system and expansion of libraries, did not apologize for his income and would not confirm or deny if he was receiving additional outside income.
“If you want the right people to do the job, you have to pay them something that will make them want to stay with you,” he said. “I have kids that I need to put through college.”
It was that last statement that offended several Council members, including Labor Committee Chairman Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), as many were concerned with the decision Galante and other administrators made to fill the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs by outsourcing. In comparison, a union worker at the library makes $32 an hour while contract workers make only $15.
“We all make less than you do and a majority of us also have kids that we need to send to college,” Rosenthal said. “And I’m sure some of your custodial staff who are making $32 an hour will have to pay for their children to go to college and the contracted workers making $15 an hour who cannot afford to send their children to college would probably like to do so.”
Van Bramer, a former Queens Library employee whose stepfather had been a custodian there, asked Galante to commit to shifting from outsourcing to relying on union workers.
“I cannot promise that we will fill all 18 jobs with union workers because it all comes down to funding,” Galante said.
Crowley also asked that Galante consider placing a labor representative on the Board of Trustees, though he does not have the power to do so.
While the Council understood that a decrease in budget can be hard on a nonprofit, many suggested that it was unfair that Galante’s contract — which remains in effect until 2019 — and salary remain unchanged while the Queens Library has had to consolidate its workforce and book budget.
“I remember very clearly you coming before this Council and asking us for a bailout and restoration and we did that for you,” Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said. “But then a month before Christmas, people start getting pink slips. While it’s great to highlight all the things the library does, we are here in response to a story that shows very disturbing things and we are the ones who have to go back to our districts and explain what is going on.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced last week an audit of the Queens Library to ensure that taxpayer dollars were not used for the lavish office upgrades — something Galante said needed to be done due to the age of the building. He assured the Council that city money was not used for the “smoke deck” portion of the project.
The Council assured Galante that they would be keeping an eye on spending and await results from the audit.
“What came out of this hearing is a commitment from you to end the contracting out of custodians,” concluded Van Bramer, who chairs the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee. “We want a specific plan with that change, but this does not diminish the importance of libraries and the work you do in the community.”