A hastily called meeting of the Queens Library Board was hastily canceled last Thursday under pressure from some of the elected officials seeking to reform the embattled institution, led by Borough President Melinda Katz.
A faction of the divided board was plotting to work out a new deal with President and CEO Tom Galante in advance of tighter restrictions on their governing capabilities that were about to be signed into law by Gov. Cuomo. It is the same faction that recently voted, by a narrow majority, to continue defying City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s demands for all the library’s financial records for an audit he is conducting.
The members on that side called the planned special meeting to amend Galante’s contract just two days before it was to be held. Once Katz learned of it, she blasted it in a statement to the media and asked the chairman, Gabriel Taussig, to hold off.
At 1:37 p.m. Thursday, library spokeswoman Joanne King announced that the meeting had been canceled. At 2:42, state Sens. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Tony Avella (D-Bayside) separately announced that the governor had signed the bill.
According to Katz, who has led the effort to reform library practices since the financial scandal there came to light in late January, the members who called the meeting wanted to renegotiate Galante’s salary in such a way that he would be paid nearly $800,000 over the next 18 months though he no longer would 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 renovation to his office that first sparked the controversy. The library is a private nonprofit group under contract with the city, but it gets about 85 percent of its funding from the taxpayer.
According to the borough president, the Library Board members who called the meeting were looking to push through the $800,000 “golden parachute” for Galante before the reform bill was signed by the governor and took effect, because under its provisions such an action would be much more legally difficult, or even impossible, to take.
Meanwhile the library is locked in a court battle with Stringer, whose audit was 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 probing its finances.
Katz blasted the board members behind the meeting plan in a prepared statement calling their plot “shameful,” which was issued before the session was canceled.
“I am getting tired of calling the behavior of this Board ‘an outrage,’” Katz said. “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.”
The legislation in fact was signed into law within the next few hours.
Katz confirmed to the Queens Chronicle on Tuesday that she is looking to remove the board members who voted against giving Stringer all the records he seeks. That faction cites a 1997 court-approved agreement with a former comptroller as their legal justification for not providing all the documents.
Along with her June 26 statement, Katz included one from seven of the board’s members in the other faction, who both voted to give up the records and 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 mayor and borough president take turns appointing the regular members. 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 bill by Gianaris, and Assemblyman Jeff Aubry (D-Corona), reduces the members’ terms from five years to three; allows the borough president and mayor to remove a member she or he appointed at any time; subjects the library to the Freedom of Information Law, allowing citizens access to most of its documents; and imposes restrictions on the hiring and outside employment of some library workers.
King, the library spokeswoman, also issued a statement Thursday from Taussig, the board chairman, in response to an article published that morning 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 and the criminal investigation
In his piece, Gonzalez said 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 was not accurate.
“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.”
Even under FOIL, contracts still being negotiated are withheld from the public.
There are no more meetings of the Library Board scheduled, Katz said.