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Queens Chronicle

The library controversy

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Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Feb 6, 2014.

The Queens Library is one of our borough’s most important institutions, its 62 locations vital to children learning to read, people seeking jobs, immigrants looking for material in their native language and just about everyone else, in one way or another.

That said, it is, like any human institution, imperfect. And some of its imperfections were revealed this week by the Daily News, sparking an oversight hearing by the City Council and an audit by the city comptroller.

Library CEO Tom Galante, the News revealed, is earning $391,594 a year and had lavish renovations made to his office, including the establishment of an outdoor rooftop deck, which he apparently uses to smoke. Meanwhile the library has been cutting low-paid janitors, saying it can make do with fewer. And of course each year the library insists that any budget cuts — which it certainly did suffer along with other city-funded institutions in recent years — would be devastating.

It all looks a bit unseemly, especially for such a highly regarded institution. And we trust that both City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer of Sunnyside, who as chairman of the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee called the oversight hearing, and Comptroller Scott Stringer, who will conduct the audit, will be painstaking and thorough in their efforts to see exactly where the library is spending the public’s money.

And it’s important to note that Galante is not alone. The head of the New York Library system, which runs the libraries in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, is paid more than $711,000 a year (the head of the Brooklyn system earns a much more modest $250,000).

One likely problem is the fact that the Queens Library is not a city agency but a private nonprofit group, though the vast majority of its funding comes from New York taxpayers. So it can operate with less transparency than say, the Police Department. The library says it did not spend any public funds on Galante’s office upgrades, but of course it cannot say that about his salary.

Gov. Cuomo, fed up with worse abuses at largely state-funded nonprofits, issued an order meant to keep salaries at such institutions below $200,000. While we can debate the dollar figure, maybe the city should consider something similar for institutions, such as the library systems, that provide what are essentially municipal functions. We hope that idea, and many others, are explored at the Council hearing, which is expected to be held next week.

Welcome to the discussion.