BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
Queens Library officials defended president and CEO Thomas Galante’s six-figure salary while admitting a need for reform at a roundtable discussion with Borough reporters on Monday.
Galante has been under fire by media and elected officials alike for his $391,994 annual salary and $140,000 in office renovations– perks he referred to as “average” compensation in the nonprofit world earlier this month.
Allegations that taxpayer money was used to fund Galante’s six-figure salary and lavish office upgrades, which includes a private outdoor smoking area, prompted the City Council to hold an oversight hearing and City Comptroller Scott Stringer to launch an audit of all three library systems.
Tensions only rose when the press reported that Galante was pulling in an additional $200,000 annually as a financial advisor for the Elmont School District and when it was revealed that his contract with the Library included an “Evergreen Clause,” which guarantees him $2 million in severance pay if he were dismissed.
“We’re now at a point where issues have come up concerning various aspects of the work of the library and its government structure,” said Gabriel Taussing, who sits on the board of trustees. “As we do in so many areas, we are looking these issues and concerns.”
On Feb. 18, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz wrote an open letter to Queens Library’s board of trustees, demanding they deliver services “with a renewed focus on transparency, openness and trust.” The letter urged the board to consider seven recommendations for better oversight – most of which were dissected at the editorial meeting.
The Monday meeting was originally scheduled for 11 a.m. but was pushed back to 1 p.m., according to a spokesperson, to allow more library trustees to attend. Only two were at the meeting.
The first area of concern addressed was Galante’s six-figure salary. Together, he and fellow board trustee Jacqueline Arrington revealed the publicly-funded nonprofit has hired a consulting firm, The Hay Group, to conduct a compensation study, which will include the review of its CEO’s benefits as well.
Although the board of trustees has already selected the firm, it has not yet come to a determination regarding the fairness of Galante’s salary.
“We are well on our way to answering that question, but we are not going to address it until we get all the necessary facts [from the firm],” Taussing said.
The study will be conducted within a 90-day window and a contract with Galante will be negotiated following The Hay Group’s analysis.
Still, Library staffers defended Galante’s compensation, arguing that not one, but two consulting firms had suggested a salary in the area of $400,000 – and they had picked the lesser of the two.
“We were looking for the most competent, capable chief executive officer and we need to pay competitive salaries and compensation packages in order to get the talent that we need to effectively and efficiently operate this very large operation,” Taussuing said.
Arringston echoed Taussing’s sentiments, arguing that Galante’s job as CEO is demanding and that he has done a great deal for the Library in terms of securing funding and resources.
“We have been so successful as a public library and we will continue to be successful under the leadership of Tom,” she said. “He has been innovative and smart and has to be able to take the library from one level to another.”
Although Katz suggested that the Queens Library look into adopting a policy that would “eliminate or closely oversee outside employment,” Galante said he believes that he is entitled to do what he pleases in his spare time.
“All of our employees are allowed to do whatever they would like to do on their own time. [They can] go fishing or whatever they want to do. This is not unique – it’s like most companies,” Galante said.
“I’m a workaholic,” he added. “I like to work and I enjoy what I do.”
The embattled Galante went on to assert that he puts in close to 100 hours per week at the library and another 20 hours a week at Elmont and that the two jobs never interfere with one another. He also claimed that his job at the school was never a secret.
“I’m in front of hundreds of people in Elmont every month at board meetings,” Galante said. “So, the point is, it was fully disclosed to the [Library] board.”
In addition to hiring a consulting firm, Queens Library announced that it is in the process of creating a “separate and discreet audit committee within the board of trustees.” Similarly, Taussing claimed that the board will reexamine its process in the hiring of top-level executives – both suggestions made by the Queens BP in the open letter.
“There is an oversight in place [but] the question is whether it should be different or greater oversight,” he said.
In response to the backlash regarding the “Evergreen Clause” on Galante’s contract, the board of trustees has voted to eliminate it from future contracts. Galante’s contract, however, will be unaffected.
Though he has been pressured by at least one elected official – State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), Galante said he has absolutely no plans on stepping down as the CEO.
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.