What began as criticism over one man’s relatively high salary and his institution’s decision to use less union labor as a cost-saving measure has now morphed into a full-blown crisis that threatens that institution’s very survival.
We are of course speaking about the Queens Library. And the fault lies almost exclusively with the library.
A vital part of life in Queens, and an institution widely considered one of the best of its kind anywhere, the library has been under criticism since late January, when the revelations about President Tom Galante’s $450,000 compensation, eternally renewing contract and part-time six-figure job began to be revealed.
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of Sunnyside, the majority leader and chairman of the relevant committee, immediately called an oversight hearing. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz recommended to the Library Board of Trustees a series of reform measures, and came up with a package of legislation to be carried in Albany by state Sen. Mike Gianaris of Astoria and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry of Corona. City Comptroller Scott Stringer began auditing the library. Eventually the city Department of Investigation and Federal Bureau of Investigation began a probe into possible criminality.
Katz and Van Bramer called for Galante to take a leave of absence as the investigations go on, but he refused, and the board split 9-9 on forcing him to, so he remains in his position.
Meanwhile the library has refused to give Stringer all the documents he seeks, citing a settlement it made in 1997 with then-Comptroller Alan Hevesi. And last week the board backed the library administration’s position, voting 9-7 to not turn over all the requested files.
With that move, the board brought the controversy to a whole new level, in the opinions of Van Bramer, Katz, Stringer and this page. Van Bramer, who used to work for the library and has always been one of its biggest supporters, told the Chronicle this week that it is now fighting for its very survival, because it looks as if the library has something to hide, even as the city contemplates its budget for the next fiscal year.
It’s time for this farce to end. The library must give up all its records so we can get back to knowing it as a shining jewel in Queens, not one that’s been so tarnished.