BY JOE MARVILLI
The Queens Library Board of Trustees is set to vote on whether to renegotiate CEO Thomas Galante’s contract, a week after a library reform bill passed in the State Senate.
About a week after the State Legislature’s session ended, the Board of Trustees has called for a special meeting to vote on a resolution on Galante’s contract. While the vote would remove him as director, it would come with a severance agreement. The amendment would give him nearly $800,000 to remain at the Library as a consultant for the next 18 months. The vote was set to take place on Thursday night.
The meeting has prompted Public Advocate Letitia James to reach out to State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, so the two of them could seek a court order to block the vote.
Borough President Melinda Katz also slammed the move as an attempt to push through decisions before Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the reform into law. The Governor signed the bill on Thursday afternoon. She threatened to remove trustees who voted for the measure.
“The short notice and speed of the meeting is purposeful. Two pieces of legislation making the success of this proposal more difficult will become law in the next few weeks and it is the Board’s intent to beat the clock,” she said. “This is another painful example of how several of the Trustees of this Board have consistently blocked any sort of good governance or increased oversight reforms. I asked for an adjournment of tonight’s meeting immediately upon receiving notice. New York City taxpayers deserve better than this. I will have to remove trustees who are not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.”
Library officials shot back at reports of the meeting in a statement sent out Thursday afternoon, slamming what they called inaccurate published reports, while chastising board members who may have leaked a confidential draft of a proposed agreement.
“It is disturbing that there appears to be members of the board who believe that it is acceptable for them to attempt to achieve their goals by disclosing information they know to be confidential and thus breaching one of their fundamental fiduciary responsibilities as Trustees,” Board of Trustees chair Gabriel Taussig wrote.
Katz would have an easier time removing Queens Library trustees thanks to the legislation sponsored by State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona), which passed by a vote of 59 to 1 in the State Senate last week.
The bill will change the appointment and removal process of the Board of Trustees, so a trustee can be removed by the official who appointed him or her. A trustee’s term length would be reduced from five years to three years and would require that a trustee either lives in or owns a business in Queens.
Additionally, an independent labor committee and audit committee would be formed to oversee the Library’s accounting, financial reporting and contracting process. There would also be limits on outside employment. The library would have to hold annual budget hearings and maintain a 30-day public comment period before it can adopt its annual budget as well.
The legislation was created in response to the recent controversies that have affected the Queens Library. Galante has come under fire for his excessive salary, second job and use of library funding to build his office a private smoking deck. While the Board of Trustees removed Galante’s $2 million severance package, they voted against suspending him or agreeing with the audit by Comptroller Scott Stringer.
“Once enacted, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud,” Gianaris said.
Taussig said the legislation would harm the library’s ability to operate successfully.
“The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation,’” he said. “The New York Council of Nonprofits wrote, ‘The reduction of trustee terms from five years to three does a disservice to the community in that it does not allot the proper amount of time and experience needed for the library board to engage in effective governance, budget analysis and long-range planning.’ I share those concerns.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, email@example.com, or @JoeMarvilli.