In a 12-hour period on April 3, state senators introduced a bill to change oversight of the Queens Library system; Borough President Melinda Katz reiterated her call for library CEO Tom Galante to be placed on temporary leave; the Library Board of Trustees issued a list of changes it intends to vote on to improve oversight; a board measure to place Galante on paid leave was defeated when the vote ended in a 9-9 tie; and the board reissued the list of changes intended to improve oversight.
For the moment, at least, Galante is staying on in a position that pays him more than $390,000 per year.
Some of the library’s expenditures in recent years, along with revelations about Galante’s employment as a six-figure per year consultant with the Elmont, LI, school district have led not only to those actions but to federal and city investigations, as well as an audit by the office of City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“I’m not going to comment,” Galante said last Thursday, moments after the paid leave measure failed and the meeting was adjourned.
But Katz did.
“I am deeply disappointed,” Katz said in a statement issued by her office last Friday. “As I have said repeatedly, the Queens Library is one of the great institutions in this city and is one of the best libraries in the country. As such, it deserves uncompromised leadership and the best set of corporate governance practices. ... Unfortunately, the Board of Trustees missed an opportunity to restore faith in the institution by its vote last night.”
Even Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), a former Queens Library employee, is calling on Galante to temporarily step aside.
The series of technically separate meetings at the Central Library in Jamaica began with a library official attempting to tell a Chronicle reporter to not take photographs of the proceedings until challenged under the state’s open public meetings statutes.
The special meeting dealing with Galante’s status was postponed until board member Terri Mangino arrived from Florida; but by the time the vote came around about three hours later, Jacqueline Arrington had to leave, thus removing a tiebreaking vote from the mix.
The evening also included back-to-back executive sessions — the first one lasting about two hours — separated by less than one minute.
Among the changes offered by the board both before and after the meetings are the creation of an audit committee; a review of executive contracts and new conflict of interest policies.
They don’t yet include other measures proposed several weeks ago by Public Advocate Letitia James.
James or her designated representative serves as a nonvoting ex officio member of the Queens Library board. So too do representatives of the mayor, speaker of the City Council, the comptroller and Katz.
One of James’ proposals is to give ex officio members a vote.
“As they do in Brooklyn and Manhattan,” said Ibrahim Khan, James’ representative at the meeting.
The proposal to allow ex officio members to vote was on the agenda for a third meeting, which was postponed just after the 9-9 tie and just prior to the board adjourning until next month.
“This wouldn’t have ended in a tie if the taxpayers’ representatives were allowed to vote,” Ibrahim said in the corridor outside the boardroom. “They just kicked the can down the road again.”
Another of James’ proposals is that a library CEO’s compensation be no more than that of the mayor.
While the Queens Library and others in the city operate as nonprofits, they receive an overwhelming majority of their funding from the taxpayers.
Multiple news agencies have reported that the FBI and the city’s Department of Investigation are investigating related matters.
Comptroller Scott Stringer said last month that his office is auditing the books of the Brooklyn and Manhattan library systems as well as Queens.
At the state level, state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Jeff Aubrey (D-Corona) have introduced companion bills [see story this page] that the senator said will “rein in the excess of the Queens Library and provide a long-term blueprint for efficiency, transparency and accountability.”