When Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante invited members of the borough’s press corps to the Central Library for a roundtable discussion, he boasted that he works “probably close to 100 hours a week” for the institution, even while he does another 20 or 25 hours at his side job.
When asked in writing by two members of the City Council how many hours he works for the library, Galante dropped the estimate a little, saying he puts in between 70 and 80 hours a week on average.
The question was one of many asked of Galante in a Feb. 20 letter sent to the library by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst). The answer came in a point-by-point response sent March 7.
“The President & CEO’s position is, of course, more than a full time position and requires many long and frequently unusual hours, including events and work related activities on evenings and weekends,” the library’s response, signed by Galante, said. “On average, the President works an estimated 70-80 hours a week for the library during varying hours including; early morning work, at late evening events, on weekends, and attending many meetings with the Board of Trustee[s] and its committees. Indeed, the library functions on a 24-hour cycle.
“The President’s mandate is to meet the expectations of the Board of Trustees and the job requirements. This has been done successfully.”
Van Bramer, the Council’s majority leader, chairs the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations. Ferreras chairs the Finance Committee.
The existence of the library’s response to the Council members’ 19 questions, and many more subquestions, was revealed to the Queens Chronicle in an exclusive interview with Van Bramer last Thursday, a conversation that lasted more than an hour and was about nothing but the library situation.
Galante has faced public criticism and at least one lawmaker’s call for his resignation since the Daily News revealed in late January that he makes nearly $400,000 a year as head of the library, a private, nonprofit organization that performs its municipal service under a contract with the city.
Further reporting by the News and other media outlets, and a Council hearing Van Bramer called as soon as he saw the first story, have shown Galante’s compensation, including benefits, to be just under $450,000. He also had his office remodeled as part of a renovation of the Central Library, at a cost of $140,000 and, according to the News, has ties to a Long Island construction manager handling many of the library’s projects. Most recently, agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and city Department of Investigation issued subpoenas to the library, indicating a criminal probe.
Van Bramer said the hearing he called, which was held Feb. 5, was no walk in the park.
“We reacted very swiftly and strongly,” he said during last week’s interview. “That oversight hearing on Feb. 5 was the toughest oversight hearing I have ever witnessed in the 15 years I have been around government and the City Council.”
Before winning his seat in 2009, Van Bramer worked for the library for about 11 years, starting as a community organizer and community relations specialist and ending as chief external affairs officer, charged with building public support for the library.
He said that his connection to the institution has not caused him to pull his punches during the controversy at all, and in fact has been beneficial to his oversight role.
“I would actually argue I’m the most well-positioned to do a good and thorough job because I understand libraries more than most,” he said, adding that he immediately called the “emergency” hearing after reading the Daily News story, forcing Galante to face hours of “grueling” questions.
“The record is one that speaks for itself,” he said. “I care first and foremost about the institution. I care about the institution’s long-term health and survival, and that is because the institution serves the people of Queens, and the people of Queens need their library.”
Asked if he believes Galante can survive the controversy, Van Bramer would not say yes or no.
“There are multiple investigations going on at this point,” he said. “We need to allow those investigations to proceed and conclude before we make any declarative statement on that.”
That reasoning, he said, is also why he has not issued unsolicited statements about the library controversy since the “incredibly strong and incredibly forceful” one he put out when the story broke. In that statement he said reports about the library “cause me great concern” and added that he was “deeply offended” by comments Galante had made about the library’s janitorial staff. Van Bramer’s stepfather was a school custodian. Under Galante — and the city budget cuts of recent years — the library has reduced its full-time janitorial staff and farmed out some of the work.
“I was paying $35 an hour to janitors to mop floors, and now we’re paying $15,” the library chief had told the Daily News.
Van Bramer — whose office issues more press advisories, statements and press releases than just about any elected official in Queens — said no one should get the impression from his lack of public statements on the library that he is not working hard to address the controversy. He hasn’t wanted to issue “knee-jerk responses” to issues raised by the media and in the oversight hearing, he said.
“I do care about this and I’m probably going to introduce some pieces of legislation that are aimed at reform and transparency, and that are aimed not just at the Queens Library,” he said. “I’m doing a lot of work behind the scenes that folks don’t see. Trust me, I’ve been active on this since Jan. 27, when I saw the Daily News and my jaw dropped.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz has been pressing the library for reforms more openly, sending to the media a series of letters she has written to its Board of Trustees and the mayor without prompting.
Asked if Van Bramer has been working with her office, Katz spokesman Michael Scholl issued a statement saying, “The Borough President and other elected officials are all working together through their different offices to restore public confidence in the Library’s governance.”
The borough president appoints seven of the library board’s 14 regular members and is one of its five ex-officio members. The statement noted that Katz is using her role to press for certain reform measures, as well as working with Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey (D-Corona) and state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) to codify some of them through legislation.
“The City Council has a different but important oversight role over the Library,” the statement continued, noting not only Van Bramer’s oversight hearing but a more recent regular budget hearing, at which some lawmakers, especially Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) again hit Galante hard over financial questions.
Among the many questions related to funding and governance in the Van Bramer-Ferreras letter to the library was one on a different topic: smoking. Galante smokes, and as part of his office renovations had an outdoor seating area built, which some have decried as his “smoke deck” — though the library says it is for meetings.
“Is the QBPL a smoke-free facility, including its outdoor areas?” the lawmakers asked, using the initialism for Queens Borough Public Library. “If not, in which areas is smoking allowed?”
The library chose not to answer directly.
“The Library complies with all applicable New York City and State Laws,” it said.
Van Bramer did say some questions would require following up.