The Queens Library is under fire after news reports regarding the system’s head, Thomas Galante, collecting a large salary as budget cuts have trimmed more than 100 jobs over the past five years.
The New York Daily News reported that on top of Galante’s $391,594 salary, he spent $140,000 on renovations for his offices at the Central Library in Jamaica, which includes a private outdoor smoking area.
The lavish upgrades were done despite the elimination of 130 jobs over the past five years, the News reported.
Councilman and newly appointed Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who is the chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, has called an oversight hearing on the renovations and library operations in general in response to determine if taxpayer dollars were used to fund Galante’s smoke deck and office renovations.
“As Majority Leader of the City Council and as Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries, and with the support of Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito (D-Manhattan), I am calling for an immediate oversight hearing on the Queens Library, its Central Library project, and its operations,” he said in a prepared statement.
Van Bramer, who is a big supporter and former employee of the Queens Library, said the library system “is bigger than any one person” and trusts “that my concerns and those of the public at large will be addressed.”
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park)went a step further and called on City Comptroller Scott Stringer to audit the Queens Library System.
“[This] news is extremely disturbing not only to me but to every taxpaying New Yorker,” Ulrich said in a statement. “The city can hardly afford the annual operating costs of running three separate library systems, let alone foot the bill for expensive salaries, extravagant renovations and other wasteful spending. I believe that one central citywide library system would save millions of dollars annually by reducing the bureaucracy and streamlining library services throughout the five boroughs.”
Galante’s annual salary is more than that of the mayor, the MTA chairman or the schools chancellor.
Galante’s salary and the salaries of the other two library heads are not determined by the city but rather each board of trustees.
Ulrich has asked the Independent Budget Office to explore his proposal and applauded Van Bramer for holding an oversight hearing.
On Wednesday morning, Stringer announced that he will conduct comprehensive audits not just of the Queens Library but of all three of New York City’s library systems.
According to the News, Linda Johnson, head of the Brooklyn Public Library, made $250,000 last year. Paul LeClerc, the former head of the New York Public Library, made $711,114 in 2011.
“Our public libraries are vital resources for New Yorkers and taxpayers deserve to know that public money is being used appropriately,” Stringer said. “My auditors will assess whether the spending practices of our library systems follow applicable rules and prudent business practices. We want our libraries to maximize the value of the public funds they receive while finding ways that they can be more efficient and effective from top to bottom.”
In response to the recent allegations, the Queens Library released a fact sheet that reports no public funds were used to renovate Galante’s offices.
“Transparency and responsible spending are our obligation and an integral part of the way Queens Library does business,” Queens Library spokeswoman Joanne King said in a statement. “Queens Library will be providing the City Council with all the testimony necessary to understand our operations. It is our honor to serve the people of Queens with life-enriching programs and services, from 65 library locations serving over 40,000 people a day.”
According to Stringer’s office, as Queens Library is a private nonprofit group, specifics on what public funds allocated to the system are used for are not readily available.
The comptroller’s database Checkbook NYC shows every time a check is cut by the city and given to Queens Library and provides a general description as to what it will pay for.
But lavish spending isn’t the only thing that has put Galante in hot water.
A comment he made about Queens Library janitors has also stirred up a sour response.
“This whole thing was set up by [the union] ... I was paying $35 an hour to janitors to mop floors, and now we’re paying $15,” he told the News. “We still have 72 [custodians], we didn’t need 105.”
“I am deeply offended by comments made by president Tom Galante about the Library’s hardworking and dedicated janitorial staff,” Van Bramer said. “On a personal level, I was raised by my stepfather since I was 7 years old. He was a janitor at a local public school who mopped floors so that me and my siblings might have a better life. He died in 2009 before I was elected to the City Council but I honor his hard work and that of floor cleaners everywhere. Janitors at the Queens Library serve an important and vital role in keeping libraries clean and safe and they deserve respect from their boss and need to make a living wage so they too can raise their families.”
In a written statement, Galante apologized for his comments and any offense that may have been taken.
“I want to apologize for comments that I made recently that were insensitive,” he said. “I am deeply appreciative and proud of the work done by the hard-working employees of Queens Library at all levels of the organization and especially our custodial team who keep our libraries safe, clean and running smoothly day after day. They do a great job serving thousands of people every day.”