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Queens Chronicle

Pols to library chief: Step aside, for now

Boro president, Council leader make plea as $ investigations go on

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Posted: Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 12:58 pm, Thu Apr 10, 2014.

Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante should take a leave of absence while the various investigations into the institution’s operations and finances are carried out, Borough President Melinda Katz said Monday in writing.

Katz made the recommendation in two letters, one to Galante — the embattled library chief whose compensation, office renovations and outside employment have prompted a City Council hearing, city audit and city and federal probe — and one to the board of trustees that keeps him employed at the library.

She said the move must be made for the good of the library and the people of Queens, because “recent events have undermined the faith in the Library and its leadership.” And she said it should be done at the board’s meeting set for tonight, April 3.

“As I said to Tom, I do not believe that there is faith that the Library can operate effectively and more importantly, continue to receive the taxpayer money it receives from government funders while he continues to serve as President,” Katz said in her letter to the board. “As an elected official charged with allocating taxpayer dollars, I must ensure they are appropriated wisely —and I cannot do that while the Library’s sitting President faces a federal investigation.”

Two days later, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, echoed the call, and the concern that the controversy could affect the budget.

“The months of April through June are the most important for the organization as they lead into budget adoption,” Van Bramer said in a statement emailed to the Queens Chronicle. “It is imperative that the organization have a laser-like focus on this effort. To that end, I share Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s concern that the issues currently faced by Mr. Galante and the ongoing revelations in the news media distract everyone from the work the library does and could impact the library negatively at budget adoption. ...

“Given the ongoing investigations, I believe that it is in the best interest of everyone at the library if the CEO takes a temporary leave of absence,” Van Bramer, who is also the Council’s majority leader, continued. “This should not be perceived as a presumption of guilt, but rather as an understanding of the gravity of the ongoing investigations.”

The library is a private, nonprofit entity under contract to provide its services, but it gets the vast bulk of its funding from the city, with more coming from the state and federal governments, as well as donations.

Galante has been under fire since late January, when a Daily News article revealed that he earns nearly $400,000 a year in salary, and a subsequent City Council hearing showed his compensation to be near $450,000 with benefits included. Further reporting by the News revealed that Galante also works part-time for the Elmont School District on Long Island, earning more than $100,000 a year there.

Questioned about his work schedule by Van Bramer and Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), Galante said he works 70 to 80 hours a week for the library, with his work for Elmont on top of that. The News subsequently obtained time sheets from Elmont that, the paper said in an editorial calling for Galante to step down, show he either “can bend the space-time continuum,” overbilled Elmont or is not working enough for the library.

Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and city Department of Investigation recently served the library with subpoenas for records, though the Queens Chronicle could not determine what documents those were.

The News also reports that Galante has an association that traces back to Elmont, which lies just over the city line opposite Hollis and Cambria Heights, with a construction manager who won contracts for a number of the library system’s recent renovation projects.

In response to the criticism, the library and its board have said that Galante does an excellent job as CEO, pointing to its modernization, the upgrades at numerous branches, its response to Hurricane Sandy and its broad array of programs and services for the community.

In a recent exclusive interview with the Chronicle, Van Bramer recently said he will continue to press the library on the questions surrounding Galante, including the administration’s decision to reduce its reliance on unionized janitorial staff in recent years, in favor of more outside contracting, and is considering legislation to address the problems raised in the media and the hearing he called.

Van Bramer and Katz both say the top priority as the controversy continues is to ensure the library’s ongoing success.

“I know the Board agrees that ensuring the Library’s continued operation, growth and success, along with its constant funding, must be our highest priority,” the borough president said in her letter to the board. “I believe that these goals can only now be achieved by temporarily removing Tom from leadership.”

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) had previously called for Galante to step down for good, and reiterated that stance this week in a prepared statement sent to the media.

Library spokeswoman Joanne King said the library had no immediate response to the calls for Galante to take a leave of absence. Galante himself had previously declined to comment on Avella’s call that he quit.

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