“There was a council hearing on February 5,” Taussig said at a press conference at the Central Libraryat 89-11 Merrick Blvd. on Monday.
He added that, “there was a special meeting discussing and acting on these things. The first action began the very next day when we authorized the chairman of the committee, Jacqueline Arrington to begin the process of retaining a consultant of some of the concerns and issues raised, vis-a-vis the package of the president.”
Following the completion of the 90-day audit of the library’s operating budget, the board said they would then reassess Galante’s contract to configure what is best for the library.
“We’re going to make changes, but we just don’t know what those changes are,” Taussig said. “These changes will enable us to better oversee this organization to give the people of Queens what they so desperately need.”
Contracts at the library operate under what is known as the “evergreen clause,” a renewable five year agreement that ensures a full-contract payout if Galante’s contract is terminated without any cause, meaning if Galante were let go he would still be owed about $2 million
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz released her own recommendations to improve operations, including a fixed term for the chief executive and a full audit of expenses, as well as ensure full transparency regarding internal controls.
“It is only through these reforms that I believe the Queens Library can gain back the trust and respect of the public and all the stakeholders who wish to return it once again to its place as the premier institution of our borough,” Katz wrote.
According to Taussig and members of the board, all portions of the borough president’s letter were addressed at a previous meeting held on Feb. 20, one day following its release on the 19th.
In response to claims of egregious operating fund expenses in the midst of his seemingly high salary, Galante explained that in fact it is a thriving capital budget that has been at the root of extravagant expenses, like new libraries.
“There is no living it up factor,” Galante said. “While operating funding has been going down because of the economy, capital funding for building renovations has been robust. That’s why we have a new library being designed in Far Rockaway and a new library being constructed in Elmhurst opening up later this year.”
Thanks to a booming capital budget, he added that 37 libraries have been “completely modernized,” including the new Kew Gardens and Bellerose branches.
The NYC library system is chartered by the state and under contract with the city, however operates as a non-profit as a, “protective measure for the people so the people would have free access of information,” according to Galante.
He explained that funding for the operational budget is comprised of 80 percent from the city, 6 percent from the state, roughly 2 percent federal and the rest is grants and private organizations and earned income. Capital funds, building construction and technology are 95 percent city funded.
In light of the accusations, Galante, defended his salary stating his key role in the modern, tech-driven library system. The library has expanded from 20,000 to nearly 40,000 programs over the last several years, he added.
“The service model has changed over the years from just books,” he said. “My job is to lead the organization forward, to secure funding for the organization and to make decisions on the day-to-day decisions of the administration.”
Jaqueline Arrington, chair of the board’s Administration Committee, said the board hired Philadelphia-based Hay Group to carry out the audit.
“They are going to look at government not-for-profit, or some hybrid companies, to do a scale against the library,” Arrington said. “They will also look at range of salaries and we’re going to ask their lawyers to help us look at our contract terms. Not only will we be looking at the size or scope of other organizations, but we will also be looking at the type of contracts.”
John Hyslop, president of the Queens Library Guild, Local 1321, released a statement on last week stating his concerns for “unnecessary capital projects” and Galante’s “excessive compensation.”
“The Queens Library staff continues to provide outstanding, award-winning services while not receiving a raise since 2009,” Hyslop said in the release. “Meanwhile, we have suffered layoffs and attrition that have totaled a loss of 140 librarians, clerks, custodians and adult learner teachers.”
Galante refuted claims that the board has been operating behind closed doors and said all information has been made public in documented board meetings.
“Every action that has been taken by the board, which virtually has been every matter that has been discussed, the mayor, borough president, comptroller and speaker of the City Council has sat right here in every single one of those meetings,” Galante said. “It has been going on that way for decades.”