Puts CEO On Leave & Opens The Books
Reversing decisions made earlier this year that led to a membership purge, the Queens Borough Public Library’s board of trustees agreed last Thursday night, Sept. 11, to send its embattled president on a paid leave of absence and fully disclose its finances to City Comptroller Scott Stringer.
Thomas W. Galante, Queens Library’s long-time leader, was placed on paid administrative leave pending the results of an investigation into his leadership of the library system.
Galante had been under fire for months amid reports that he collected a nearly $400,000 annual salary and authorized a six-figure office renovation, even as the library cut staff and services due to funding reductions. Questions also arose over how the library selected independent contractors to provide certain services.
Moreover, the trustees also allowed Stringer unfettered access to its financial records, which he had sought as part of his audit. Previously, the trustees agreed to only provide the comptroller with records according to a 1997 disclosure agreement it had with then-City Comptroller Alan Hevesi.
To many observers, the trustees’ turnabout was not surprising consideringMayor Bill de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz removed eight trustees last July who were against putting Galante on leave and providing Stringer full financial disclosure.
De Blasio and Katz acted with authority granted to them in Queens Library reform legislation the state enacted in June; previously, while both officials could appoint library trustees, only the board had the authority to remove them.
Since July, the mayor and borough president filled four vacant seats, giving the board of trustees a quorum to change its collective mind at last Thursday night’s meeting.
Bridget Quinn-Carey, Queens Library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, was named the library’s interim president and CEO as a result of the vote. She struck a conciliatory tone in a statement, indicating the library was willing to work with local elected officials to mend fences and resolve differences.
“Queens Library has a critical mission to provide information and education. It has long been a model of excellence,” Quinn- Carey said. “I look forward to working with the Board of Trustees, our elected officials and colleagues at all levels of the organization, including our union, to build on the library’s outstanding work. There are 2.3 million people depending on it.”
Katz, Stringer and other elected officials across Queens welcomed last Thursday’s developments in statements sent to the Times Newsweekly.
“I applaud the Queens Library Board for its decisive action tonight,” Katz said. “This action will allow for the newly appointed board to take immediate steps to improve the Queens Library’s governance and increase the transparency of its operations without any unjustified interference from Mr. Galante. I also applaud the board for voting to provide City Comptroller Scott Stringer with the information he needs to conduct the audit of the library’s finances. There was no excuse for the library’s earlier decision not to cooperate with the audit.”
“The newly reconstituted Queens Library Board of Trustees has ended months of frustration and misdirection by voting tonight to open its books for my office’s review,” Stringer added. “While my auditors now have the access they need to complete their audit, it is my hope that the board will move to eliminate once and for all the unlawful stipulation that the library irresponsibly waved as a shield to hide critical information from my office. My audit will seek to tell the full story behind what has been a sordid series of reports of alleged poor governance and irresponsible spending at the Queens Library.”
“The allegations and investigations against Mr. Galante have been a distraction for many months and have harmed the operations and reputation of the library,” stated Public Advocate Letitia James. “As a trustee of the library, this is a prudent step and will allow the library to refocus on its core mission of serving the children, families and seniors of Queens.”
“The Queens Library Board has taken swift action to begin rebuilding the public’s trust and properly serve the hard working taxpayers who fund its operations,” said City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley. “I am pleased by the new Board’s commitment to transparency, as they open their financial records to the Comptroller’s office for the first time in recent memory. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in government to maintain the highest standards at the Queens public library.”
Timeline of transformation
After Comptroller Stringer, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York and the city Department of Investigation launched separate inquiries into Queens Library’s practices, public officials called upon the Board of Trustees to place Galante on leave pending the outcome of the investigations.
But the board of trustees balked at those suggestions in April, deadlocking 9-9 on a resolution that would have put Galante on administrative leave. According to published reports, the board stalled in voting as it waited for a member to fly back to Queens from Florida to cast a vote against the resolution.
This drew the ire of Katz and other elected officials in Queens, who claimed Galante’s continued stewardship of the system threatened its financial viability. Soon thereafter, Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry and State Sen. Michael Gianaris, with Katz’s assistance, drafted legislation introduced in the state legislature instituting new reforms at Queens Library, including granting the mayor and borough president authority to remove trustees.
In May, the board of trustees again irked lawmakers when it voted to grant Stringer with financial documents in accordance with the 17-year-old pact it forged with former Comptroller Hevesi. Stringer subsequently went to court for a injunction aimed at invalidating the agreement.
As the political drama continued to unfold, the Department of Design and Construction froze $20 million in capital funds for various Queens Library improvements, which reportedly included renovations to the Richmond Hill branch.
Both the Assembly and State Senate overwhelmingly approved the library reform legislation before ending its session in June; Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law shortly thereafter. The board of trustees delayed its June vote on dismissing Galante while offering him a severance package rumored to be worth nearly $800,000.
On July 23, acting on powers in the reform legislation, de Blasio removed trustees Patricia Flynn and Stephen Van Anden, while Katz dismissed trustees Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph R. Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri C. Mangino and George L. Stamatiades.
Seven of the eight trustees voted against putting Galante on leave and for providing Stringer with restricted financial disclosure. Arrington left the room for the Galante vote, but voted in favor of the restricted disclosure resolution.
The trustees Katz removed then filed a lawsuit in U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, claiming they were unduly punished for their votes and, subsequently, their First Amendment right to free speech had been violated. The court dismissed their lawsuit and also denied them an injunction that would have restored them to the board.
In August, de Blasio and Katz named their first new library trustees since the purge: Jukay Hsu and Robert Santos, respectively. Days before last Thursday’s vote, they also added Martha Baker and Earl G. Simons, respectively, to the panel.