By Rich Bockmann
Members of a special City Council oversight committee on the Queens Library grilled library President Tom Galante for more than two hours last Wednesday during a hearing on executive compensation and outsourced labor, with promises of more inquiries to come.
The hearing, co-chaired by Queens Council members Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), was convened in response to recent news articles about Galante’s $391,594 annual salary, his take-home car and renovations to the Central Library in Jamaica during a time when the nonprofit outsourced unionized custodial jobs lost through attrition.
“Do you believe that your compensation package is too high?” Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) asked the library’s president and CEO.
“I believe it is fair,” answered Galante, who said his salary was set by the library’s board of directors when he was hired in 2005 based on a comparison to the earnings of the heads at 30 other educational, arts and cultural institutions in the city.
“I believe it’s too high,” Crowley responded, adding she thought Galante’s salary should be more in line with that of a commissioner of a city agency.
But the Queens Library is not a city agency, and for about 2 1/2 hours Galante detailed how the independent nonprofit that receives the overwhelming majority of its funding through city government accounts for and spends that money.
Several of the committee members belong to the Council’s Progressive Caucus and were upset over comments Galante made — which he has since apologized for — about his janitorial staff.
One lawmaker asked if the library president felt he should make more than the mayor.
“I think the mayor has a bigger job than mine. I think whoever sets his salary might … no, I’m not going to go there,” Galante said. “I’ll tell you what I would say, because I don’t set my compensation. The board does. You need to make sure that for any business, any education institution, any government that you’ve got good leadership, strong management. Because you get what you pay for.”
For the most part, Galante stuck to facts and praised the good works of the library and its staff, but one slip-up put him in hot water in the politically charged atmosphere.
While discussing his compensation Galante said, “I’ve got kids to put through college, and what have you, just like everybody else,” a statement several members took umbrage with.
The most combative member was Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who badgered Galante as he responded to questions about his contract and the number of janitorial positions that were outsourced.
“For a guy who makes over $400,000 a year, I think you should know these numbers,” she told him.
The nonprofit’s CEO did get a bit of a breather from Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn), who before her election to public office founded and directed an African art museum.
She said she felt a kinship with Galante, and pointed out compensation policies of the Queen Library are not unique to the nonprofit world.
“It seems to me that these are more systemic issues,” she said. “It’s part of a much larger issue than what’s happening at this particular time. What you’re describing here today are practices that are kept throughout the entire New York City area throughout many non-for-profits.”
While city budget cuts over the past several years took their toll on the library’s operating budget — which pays for things like books, electricity bills and salaries — the library’s capital budget remained “robust,” Galante said, and the nonprofit took the opportunity to renovate a number of its facilities across the borough.
When discussing an outdoor meeting space at the Central Library in Jamaica a news article described as a private smoking space, Galante said “an idea was raised” during planning that the area could be a cost-effective use of “otherwise dead space” that was completed with non-government funds.
Before leaving office last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg baselined libraries into the city budget, a move Galante said will allow Queens to replace a portion of the contract workers with full-time staff — that is, as long as the library’s budget holds steady.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said Galante had a long way to go to restore the trust of both the public and the lawmakers whom he would be coming to for funding.
“I’m disappointed by some of your answers today, to be quite honest with you,” he said. “This will not be the last hearing and this will not be the last you hear from us on this matter.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.