By Alex Robinson
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law to reform the Queens Library board of trustees last week, thwarting a last-minute attempt by several members of the nonprofit’s board to squeeze in a special meeting to amend embattled President Thomas Galante’s contract.
If approved, the draft resolution would have given Galante almost $800,000 to remain at the library for the next 18 months, according to Borough President Melinda Katz, who blasted the board for considering “to pass yet another bad resolution.”
The board, however, canceled the meeting after details of the amendment were made public and a group of seven board members penned a letter saying they would not renegotiate Galante’s contract while he was under investigation.
“Given the serious and extensive matters involving Mr. Galante that are still pending, the undersigned trustees believe it in the best interests of Queens Public Library and the people of Queens that any and all contract negotiations with him be suspended until all issues are settled,” the letter said.
The group of seven cited an investigation by the U.S. attorney into Galante concerning allegations of fiscal mismanagement as one of the reasons they could not consider the resolution. The city Department of Investigation and the FBI have also been conducting probes into the library.
A spokeswoman for the library confirmed the meeting was about a personnel matter concerning Galante’s contract.
Gabriel Taussig, chairman of the board of trustees, released a statement saying the meeting was simply to consider a proposal.
“A confidential draft of a proposed agreement was provided to the members of the board as the first step in an effort to begin a conversation on the conditions of a possible transition of leadership at the library,” Taussig said. “It is disturbing that there appear 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.”
The board has met increasing criticism after it failed to oust or suspend Galante following allegations of fiscal mismanagement of the nonprofit, which receives a large chunk of public funds, and revelations he made a $392,000 salary in addition to outside income.
Board members then voted to refuse full access of its books to city Comptroller Scott Stringer for an audit.
“I am getting tired of calling the behavior of this board ‘an outrage,’” Katz said in a statement after she learned about the special meeting.
Katz requested the board cancel the special meeting and threatened to remove any “trustees who are not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.”
City Public Advocate Letitia James, who has served as an ex-officio board member since January, also jumped into action, sending a letter to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman requesting he grant a temporary restraining order to prevent the board from proceeding with the meeting.
Katz helped author the reform bill with state Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), which passed the state Legislature before the end of the legislative session.
The bill will give the mayor and borough president powers to remove the members they appoint and will reduce term limits. It will also make the library subject to Freedom of Information laws and require it to hold annual public budget hearings.
The bill was signed into law by Cuomo last Thursday.
“The citizens of Queens deserve better than this,” Katz said. “New York City taxpayers deserve better than this. The institution that has been the educational and cultural backbone of every neighborhood in Queens for decades deserves better.”
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.