April 23, 2018

Queens Public Library CEO’s Compensation in The Spotlight

GalanteThe 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.

Ian Chant About Ian Chant

Ian Chant is a former editor at LJ and a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Scientific American and Popular Mechanics and on NPR.

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  1. Of course the board of trustees strongly supports Galante– they are the ones who approved his outrageous salary and perks in the first place. The system is continually laying people off, and has not hired a single librarian in years, cuts hours and services every year, yet somehow the board thinks he is worth 400k a year. Mind boggling.

  2. “The system is continually laying people off, and has not hired a single librarian in years, cuts hours and services every year”


    While paying Mr. Galante an “average” salary for a non-profit CEO, librarians and library staff barely make enough to live and haven’t had a COL adjustment in many years. In addition, Mr. Galante himself has made attrition a stated goal – he and the Board want people to quit and have facilitated that in a variety of ways. Ask an employee about morale…

    It’s time for journalists to dig a little deeper into the QPL Board of Trustees themselves and look at their financial ties to Mr. Galante and QPL.

  3. The Queens Library has not hired any full-time unionized staff members since 2008, at the same time that the library’s (non-union) administration has grown and while Mr. Galante has earned an extremely generous compensation package. There is a petition addressed to Mayor deBlasio and Borough President Katz asking them to instruct the Trustees that are answerable to them to hire more staff.

  4. The issue is not the egregious salary (which he can thank to the Queens board not understanding the lack of complexity of a job that requires minimal fundraising) nor is the issue whatever personnel actions he has deemed necessary for the institution (libraries across the country have had planned attrition programs in place for years). The issue is the fact that he has been working 22-25 hours per week for years on a side job. The Board has the audacity to say that the library doesn’t prevent its employees from outside employment. That may be fine for just about anyone else in the library but not your CEO. You pay your CEO top dollar to focus his or her attention on running your institution seven days per week. The fact that the Board says it’s okay that he is devoting this much time to something other than the library is where the real issue rests. If he never told them about the amount of time he was working on the side gig, then I think it’s fair that he be fired for cause. If he did tell them, then this is an example of what happens when elected officials indiscriminately appoint board members who have no idea what their responsibilities are. Ian Chant misses the point when he focuses on the compensation. That’s not what we should be most angry about. And you should never compare the compensation of any public library director in the country with whatever the head of the New York Public Library makes. The head of the New York Public Library runs one of the five most important research libraries in the world. In terms of complexity it is impossible to compare to a neighborhood library-based system of any size.

  5. Thanks for clearing all that up Liz. Now we understand that him making almost $400k a year to run a library is fine, and layoffs are fine, because you say so.

    • No need to be rude CT. The salary is egregious (in other words, not fine). That was the first thing I said. My point is that being overpaid is not illegal. Laying people off is not illegal either. I don’t know the circumstances under which those layoffs occurred. If he laid people off so the library could afford his salary, that would be a really despicable thing. My guess is that there were many more layoffs than that. My simple point is that there is one truth in this scandal that is indefensible: working a second job. CEOs are supposed to put everything they have into serving the organizations they run. Working 20-25 hours per week at something else is simply unjustifiable.

    • Well, I am sorry for coming off as rude. His salary should be illegal, it makes no sense in the context of what he does (as you rightly point out.) The layoffs have demoralized staff and the library branches are an utter mess. The people of Queens deserve better. I hope you are right and that his ridiculous side gig ends with him being removed.

    • The Queens Library Board has the mistaken impression that the library’s high quality public service, advances in cataloging (especially in foreign languages), and numerous awards are because of Tom Galante. Here’s a news flash: the library was winning awards and blazing trails under Gary Strong, under Constance Cooke, under Milton Byam, under Harold Tucker…. It’s the commitment of the staff that is responsible for the library’s reputation, which has now been tarnished by Mr. Galante’s (too) high salary, side consulting job, and “renovation” of the president’s suite which created a private outdoor smoking deck. (Yes, I’m sure anyone can use it, as long as they can access the president’s office…) I look forward to the audit to be conducted by NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, and I hope that he makes numerous recommendations. I also hope that newly elected ex-officio Board member Public Advocate Letitia James will not only show up for library Board meetings, but put Mr. Galante under a microscope and hold the other Board members accountable. And the Mayor and Borough President should appoint qualified people to the Board, instead of real estate developers.