Boro prez asks mayor to handle library bids

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

Borough President Melinda Katz asked City Hall earlier this week to remove all control over selecting contractors for construction projects at the Queens Library that was in the hands of embattled CEO Thomas Galante, who is reportedly under investigation to see if there have been any improprieties.

In a letter sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday, Katz asked that the city temporarily cut off the “pass through” funding that gives Queens Library control of 5 percent of its capital spending on construction projects.

“I believe that this practice, at best, enables the current problems the library is facing,” Katz wrote. “The city’s public bidding process, with its oversight, should assume responsibility for all Queens Library capital construction projects through the city Department of Design and Construction. Following the city’s well-established procurement rules and policies will help to insure [sic] better accountability and transparency.”

For more than a month now Galante has faced criticism over his executive compensation — which includes a $390,000 salary and a company sports car — while contracting out union custodial jobs and green-lighting the construction of an outdoor space at the central library in Jamaica that has been described as a private smoking deck for the executive to use.

Galante has maintained that his salary is in line with the compensation packages set for the heads of similar nonprofits and that the library has followed all the proper protocols when it comes to spending.

But according to a published report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, federal prosecutors and the city Department of Investigation are looking into whether or not a contractor who has won 15 library projects over the past six years — and who has done work for the same Long Island school district where Galante moonlights as a financial consultant — received improper information from the library executive helping him win those contracts.

The library said all of the construction projects were above the board.

“Every aspect of our capital budget has been appropriately expended. The library will comply with lawful requests for information by oversight or enforcement entities. We are confident that concerns will be addressed satisfactorily and any questions will be put to rest,” the library said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the library’s board has been tasked with providing more transparency. It has agreed to hire an outside consultant to examine Galante’s salary at the request of the borough president, who also asked that the board create a permanent audit and require key employees to submit financial disclosure statements.

In a letter to board of trustees Chairman Gabriel Taussig, Katz said she was somewhat disappointed to see that at a meeting scheduled for this week the board will consider her requests, saying she “fully expected” to see them implemented.

“Just to clarify, I view these as more than requests. These are necessary, fundamental actions the board must take in order to establish adequate internal controls and exercise proper oversight,” she wrote Tuesday.

Katz also asked that the board “immediately retain an independent third party forensic auditor or investigative firm to audit and examine the entire capital construction process at Queens Library. The entity retained by the board must be directly reportable to the board and not library staff.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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