Update: On February 9, 2016, The New York Daily News reported that Queens Library (QL) had filed a countersuit in Brooklyn Federal Court demanding that Thomas Galante repay personal expenses in excess of $200,000 paid for by QL between 2009 and 2014. In addition, the countersuit seeks the return of $260,715 in expenses that QL spent while paying for Galante’s legal defense prior to his dismissal.
Within 24 hours of being dismissed by the recently reconstituted Queens Library (QL) Board of Trustees on the evening of December 17, former QL President and CEO Thomas Galante announced via his lawyer Hillary Prudlo that he would sue for wrongful termination. The reorganized board had placed Galante on indefinite, paid administrative leave on September 11, citing an ongoing audit of QL’s finances by New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, and investigations by the city Department of Investigation (DOI) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding construction contracts awarded by the library.
The board has not yet chosen a permanent replacement for Galante, according to QL spokesperson Joanne King. Bridget Quinn-Carey will remain interim president and CEO.
“I am sure there will be discussion of next steps in the near future,” King told LJ. Considering that Galante’s salary, company car allowance, and expense account have been the subject of ongoing attacks in the press—the overwhelming percentage of which originated in the New York Daily News—King said it was uncertain how compensation would be decided for Galante’s eventual replacement.
The resolution issued by the QL Board of Trustees determined that Galante “engaged in conduct constituting cause for termination of his employment.” At stake for Galante and QL is a $2 million severance package that Galante potentially would be owed if the court determines that he was in fact fired without cause. While the Daily News has published dozens of articles this year hammering Galante for what the paper has described as an “outlandish” salary of $392,000, his company car allowance, renovations to the executive office and conference rooms at QL’s central branch, and his six-figure consulting job at Long Island’s Elmont Union Free School District, the audit, as well as the months-long DOI and FBI investigations, thus far have not resulted in any charges of wrongdoing by Galante or others.
A report detailing $40,000 in charges that Galante made to his QL credit card from 2011 through 2014 appears to have played a key role in his dismissal by the new board. Daily News coverage described the bills as “wild spending of tax-payer money on lavish meals, expensive concert tickets, and high-priced furniture.”
Although the Daily News report states that “some of these charges were no doubt legitimate,” little context is provided. The “all expense paid trips” described by the Daily News appear to coincide with national and international library conferences. The largest restaurant bill listed by the paper—$5,620 at Vetro Restaurant and Lounge in Howard Beach, Queens on April 22, 2013—coincides with an annual awards dinner hosted by QL at that venue on that date. Another—$2,740 at Morton’s Wacker Place Steakhouse on June 30, 2013—overlaps with the annual American Library Association conference in Chicago last year. All of the restaurant charges published by the Daily News appear to be for group events. Charges of about $23,000 to furniture stores have been described by QL officials as expenditures for furnishing the renovated central branch and its new executive office and conference rooms. Galante’s charges were approved by the former QL board.
Galante is currently refusing interviews, but a prepared statement issued by the law firm Schlam, Stone & Dolan and his attorney Prudlo said, “as Gabriel Taussig, Esq., the current Chairman of the Board of [QL] Trustees, and Jacqueline E. Arrington, then Chair of the Administrative Committee, stated back in February, ‘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.’ Indeed, under Tom’s tenure, contributions to the Library increased by millions of dollars, and the Library has been recognized nationally as a role model and innovator, receiving the 2009 Library Journal ‘Library of the Year’ Award and the 2014 ALA/Information Today ‘Library of the Future’ Award, to name just two significant achievements under Tom’s leadership.”
IN DEFENSE OF GALANTE
On-the-record defenses of Galante were a rarity in the press during 2014, but in an August interview with the Queens Ledger, George L. Stamatiades, one of the six trustees dismissed in July by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz due to his support of Galante, offered rebuttals to many of the accusations leveled by the Daily News.
“At the time that Galante was hired, Stamatiades said, an independent company [Guidestar] told the trustees how much he should be paid. But a number of the trustees rejected the first recommended salary, saying he was getting paid too much as a new guy in the role,” according to the Queens Ledger.
The board started Galante at a lower rate than recommended, and made the stipulation that he would obtain an MLIS within his first year on the job before being considered for raises.
In addition, Stamatiades said that Galante had been working as a consultant with the Elmont School District for years prior to his appointment as CEO, and that both the board and prior QL directors had long been aware of the second job.
“‘It wasn’t like he was hiding it,’ Stamatiades said. ‘If you’re doing a part-time job that you like, go ahead, be my guest. The man’s had this job since 1987. Everybody knew about it. And since they knew about it and his reviews are so exemplary, it didn’t affect his job. Your library is renowned throughout the nation and around the world, so what’s your beef?’”
Despite repeated calls for Galante’s ouster by the opinion pages of the Daily News and some local officials, he and the other dismissed trustees had objected to removing or suspending Galante, Stamatiades said, because they presumed his innocence, and said that they thought it was a bad move to “change captains in the middle of a typhoon of rumor and innuendo.”
In September, shortly after the new board opted to place Galante on paid administrative leave, one anonymous board member told the Daily News that “many members” had wanted to suspend Galante without pay, but could not find cause.
AN IMBALANCE OF COVERAGE?
Since January 27, 2014, Daily News staff has dedicated significant resources to coverage of Galante and related fallout from the case, originating at least 58 stories and op-eds about the controversy. Separately, Galante was mentioned negatively in 10 of the paper’s “Wake Up Call” news roundups this year, and a February, 2014 story about a threatened shooting at the library’s South Hollis branch implied that the threat may have been partially due to “staff reductions [by] Queens Library President Thomas Galante, who has been under fire since the [Daily] News disclosed his $392,000-a-year contract, paid sports car and outside income.”
Ongoing coverage of the Queens Library case has been almost exclusively the purview of the Daily News, with its editorial page most recently describing Galante on December 11 as “a snorting, hungry hog who gorged at the public trough.” The New York Times has published seven articles regarding the case this year, rival tabloids the New York Post and Long Island’s Newsday each published one article. The New York Observer published one item on Galante in a news roundup in March, and New York Magazine published a one-paragraph online blog post in January, both of which cited Daily News coverage. The Wall Street Journal did not publish any articles regarding Galante during 2014.
QL’s construction contracts remain under investigation, and the city comptroller’s audit of QL finances is also ongoing. As of press time, according to a statement issued by Prudlo, “because of his integrity and respect for the Library as an institution, [Galante] has chosen not to respond in the press.”