The water surrounding Queens Public Library (QPL) President and CEO Thomas W. Galante just keeps getting hotter. In the weeks since the New York Daily News published a story detailing his $392,000 annual salary and the pricey renovations done to his office while QPL branches were suffering staff cuts, Galante has consistently denied any wrongdoing, even while other city officials call on him to step down from the post he has held since 2005.
On January 27, The Daily News reported that Galante earned a salary of $391,954 in 2013 as the head of QPL. While Galante’s salary is a matter of public record, the News also reported that QPL coffers had also been tapped to the tune of $140,000 to pay for renovations to Galante’s office. Those renovations included a 250 square foot deck adjacent to Galante’s office, carrying a $27,000 price tag, according to the Daily News.
Galante’s salary and perks have raised eyebrows in Queens, but have also caused ripples outside of the borough, prompting New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer to call for an audit of all three of New York City’s taxpayer–funded library systems.
“My auditors will assess whether the spending practices of our library systems follow applicable rules and prudent business practices,” Stringer said in a statement. “We want our libraries to maximize the value of the public funds they receive while finding ways that they can be more efficient and effective from top to bottom.” The interest of New York’s City Council has also been piqued, with Queens councilman and newly-minted Majority Leader Jimmy van Bramer—a former employee of QPL—calling on Galante to defend his salary, and renovation expenses, before the council earlier this month. You can read Galante’s full statement before the council on infoDOCKET.
Galante has defended his salary, calling it average among similar sized nonprofit organizations. In a statement to New York’s City Council on February 5, Galante said that his compensation was “at the same level as other New York City non-profits of similar size and scope.” According to financial filings, that’s not far off, at least when one compares Galante’s salary to that of his peers in New York’s other library systems. In 2012, Anthony Marx, CEO of New York Public Library (NYPL), which operates branches in the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx, made a base salary of $246,208, but brought home another $181,016 in deferred and “other” compensation and nontaxable benefits, while Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) CEO Linda Johnson took home just south of $280,021 in pay and $48,646 in other compensation during the same span. At NYPL, Marx wasn’t even the highest paid employee on staff—Chief Investment Officer Todd Corbin, previously a vice president at Citigroup, took home over half a million dollars in total compensation in 2012. And that’s still small potatoes compared to the $1.4 million former NYPL CEO Paul LeClerc collected in his last year on the job in 2011. According to records, Galante was paid a base salary of $373,210 that year, and also earned $73,634 in deferred compensation and nontaxable benefits. Ken Brecher, President of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles, earned $290,000 in 2011, the last year for which financials are available for the NPO, which supports public libraries in L.A., while Chicago Library Commissioner Brian Bannon made $167,000 in his first year on the job.
As for the deck space, Galante told the Daily News that while he has used the space for a quick smoke here and there, it was designed as a space for outdoor meetings, which has been its primary purpose. In fact, Galante told Library Journal that the renovations to the executive offices, including his, were part and parcel of the larger renovation of QPL’s Central Library in Jamaica, Queens, and represent a rethinking of executive offices in general, rather than a renovation of his office in particular.
“The library was built in the 1960s and was badly in need of renovation to incorporate information technology and to make the library more interactive and responsive to customer needs,” he said. “In order to make room for additional work area in the building, I turned part of the previous Library Directors’ office into common conference and meeting space.”
While Galante continues to claim that his salary and office renovations are on the up and up, the weeks since the first story in the Daily News have seen criticism of the CEO continue in the media. On February 9, the Daily News published a follow-up story, revealing that in addition to his salary from QPL, Galante also made $287,000 over the course of 22 months between 2008 and 2010 as an independent business consultant to Long Island’s Elmont Union School District, a job he reportedly worked an average of 22 hours every week, in addition to running QPL.
That second job, which is not proscribed in Galante’s contract with QPL, was nonetheless cited by Queens State Senator Tony Avella as unacceptable. Avella wrote to the QPL CEO last week advising him to step down from his position at the library. Asked to respond to Avella’s suggestion that he resign, Galante told Library Journal, “I’m sorry he feels that way.”
While Galante may be drawing ire from some circles, he remains strongly supported by the QPL Board of Trustees. “The Queens Library’s record of accomplishment and its tremendous success as a leader in the field and as a critical resource for the people of Queens is largely attributable to Mr. Galante’s leadership,” reads a statement released by the Board of Trustees on February 10. “Under the circumstances, there is no legal or common-sense basis for him to step aside, and we look forward to the organization moving forward under his leadership to ensure the library meets the critical informational needs of the people of Queens.”
Galante himself stands by that record as well. “Despite the fact that Queens Library was severely impacted by years of budget cuts…every one of our community libraries was kept open at least five days a week, including priority after school hours,” Galante said. QPL was also recognized as Library Journal’s 2009 Library of the Year during Galante’s tenure.