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, Gabriel Taussig. 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. The library board has always known about his work for Elmont and has no problem with it, he told the reporters during a question-and-answer session that lasted nearly an hour and 15 minutes.
“I’m a workaholic,” he said.
Galante, Taussig and member Jackie Arrington, who chairs the board’s Administrative Committee, took questions, with library officials Joanne King, Jennifer Manley and Jeremy Walsh also on hand to help guide the discussion.
Galante said all the work he does for Elmont is done in the district or at his home — none in his library office.
“I do not do work for them here, or any place other than their place or mine,” he said.
Galante earns approximately $150,000 a year from Elmont.
His compensation package as library CEO was agreed upon in 2005, Taussig said, and reflected the median for heads of nonprofit organizations of similar size. A clause in the contract gives Galante cost of living increases every year, ones that keep pace with those received by his counterparts at other nonprofits.
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, the Hay Group, 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.
Asked by one of the journalists if the board would be willing to reduce Galante’s pay if that’s what the Hay Group advises, Taussig and Arrington declined to answer, since the agreement is one they have to negotiate.
One element of Galante’s contract that will not be in the next one, however, is the “evergreen clause,” under which his agreement with the board has been automatically renewed for another five years every day. The board decided to remove that clause from all future contracts at last Thursday’s meeting.
The officials also addressed an approximately $2 million payout Galante would be eligible for under his contract if he were dismissed for no reason. They noted that he would not get the money if he were fired with cause, or if he decided to leave his position on his own.
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 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.
Two days before last weeks’ library board meeting, Borough President Melinda Katz had sent Taussig a letter outlining reform measures she expected the panel to adopt. Taussig said Monday that the board had addressed every one of them in some manner.
Katz advised the members to:
• establish a fixed term of employment for the executive director;
• hire an outside consultant to analyze his compensation, including fringe benefits;
• limit his outside employment and that of other “key Library personnel”; and
• adopt a series of “best practices,” some of which, she said, are already required by law under the state’s Nonprofit Revitalization Act, adopted last year.
Those best practices include establishing an audit committee; abolishing the library’s Administrative Committee and replacing it with a new Executive Committee; reforming financial disclosure and outside employment policies; establishing a panel to deal with labor relations; and other reforms.
Acknowledging at the top of her letter that the library “is one of the most treasured assets in the Borough of Queens,” Katz said the board must implement reforms for the good of the library system.
“Faith must be restored in our library system and the Board of Trustees must act swiftly to do its part to restore the trust that has been lost before any more damage is done to an institution that has given the City so much,” she said.
The City Council had previously held a hearing on the library’s finances, during which Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Public Advocate Tish James both expressed concern that Galante earns too much.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), the majority leader and chairman of the chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations, who called the hearing, was especially concerned about the library’s having reduced its in-house, unionized custodial workforce in recent years and hiring more outside employees at a lower rate.
Galante said that if fiscal trends continue, the library will be able to reduce its use of outside cleaning contractors and hire more full-time custodians.
The library is not facing a funding cut in this year’s proposed city budget, for the first time in six years, Galante noted during the roundtable discussion.