Tag Archives: Tom Galante

BP library powers could lead to censorship: former trustee


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre  / File photo

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2:15 p.m.

The power of the Queens borough president to remove trustees from the Queens Library board could set the institution on the slippery slope to state censorship, one former trustee told The Courier.

George Stamatiades, a longtime Long Island City civic leader who spent two decades on the library board was removed — along with five other trustees — by Katz, who was granted the power to fire board members through recent legislation during a bitter battle over who controls the library.

Stamatiades said that much sway over the library board could be dangerous.

“Today, she gets rid of the board members,” Stamatiades said. “Tomorrow, through her influence, she says, ‘Hey, don’t buy any more of these books.’

“And then next week, she says, ‘Hey, get rid of all these books.’”

And, Stamatiades said, such power could lead to government monitoring each person’s reading habits.

“Next thing she’ll say is, ‘I want to know what books the community is reading,’” Stamatiades said. “Then it’ll be, ‘I want to know who’s reading them.”

Stamatiades, who was appointed to the board by former Borough President Claire Shulman, said that neither Shulman nor her successor Helen Marshall ever demanded specific action on any issue.

“Based on his comments, Mr. Stamatiades clearly hasn’t been paying attention. Neither I, the mayor, the Queens delegation of the City Council, the entire New York State Assembly, almost the entire New York State Senate nor the governor has commented on the content of materials at the Queens Public Library,” Katz said in a statement.

A firestorm erupted over the salary and spending practices of library boss Tom Galante and the board’s refusal to open the library’s books to city auditors. City funds — about 85 percent of the library’s budget — are routinely audited but the board steadfastly refused to make all of the financial data available to the city.

After much back and forth, state legislators passed a law giving Katz the ability to remove members for cause.

Last month, she ousted six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. All six of the trustees forced out by Katz appealed for reinstatement but were shot down by Katz in early August.

“The removed trustees, including Mr. Stamatiades, have fought against transparency into how library resources are spent and do not feel that they are accountable to the taxpayers of the city of New York,” Katz said. “My goal is to assure the people of Queens that their money is spent on furthering the educational purpose of the library. We need to end the static and get to work on advancing the purpose of the library.”

The six also filed a federal lawsuit against Katz, seeking to be returned to their positions, revocation of the state law that allowed for their ouster and money damages from Katz personally.

Court papers revealed the board hired former federal judge Barbara Jones to conduct to investigate information leaks from within the library.

The judge hearing the suit against Katz, U.S. District Court judge Roslynn Mauskopf, recused herself on Monday because of her long-standing friendship with Jones.

Stamatiades, who initiated the whistleblower probe, said 19 board members voted in favor of the investigation. But, he said, library staffers were uncomfortable investigating their bosses as were the library’s legal staff, so the job was outsourced to Jones.

“We needed an independent person,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Orenstein held a hearing on a motion from the ousted trustees asking for a temporary restraining order against Katz. He recommended to the trial judge that the motion be denied. The former trustees have until Aug. 29 to appeal the recommendation.

Doug Grover, the plaintiffs’ lawyer said the former trustees could not Let Katz’s actions go unchallenged.

“They brought this action to assert the independence of the Library and the right of every trustee to act without political interference,” Grover said.  “They are understandably disappointed by today’s outcome but remain true friends of the library and hope for its continued success.

“The trustees are evaluating their legal options in light of the decision today.”

Away from court, Mary Ann Mattone, a mayoral appointee to the library board, announced her resignation in a letter to de Blasio.

Mattone said she served on the board for 16 years “without blemish”  and is a member of the Queens Library Foundation.

But, she wrote,” I can no longer urge my friends to participate because of the acrimonious atmosphere that has been created.”

 

Stamatiades looked back fondly on his service to the library and said his commitment to the institution stemmed from love of his neighborhood.

“I guess it’s because I care about my neighborhood and the people around me,” he said. “There’s no other reason. If that’s bad … what can I tell you?”

He also said he being a library trustee was a blessing.

“If you could go to [a literacy class] graduation and hear a grandmother say, ‘I can now go home and read to my grandchild because of the Queens Library,’ well, you’d be going something,” he said.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Ousted Queens Library board members sue Katz; demand reinstatement, money


| editorial@queenscourier.com

File photo

Calling their ouster a “brazen and unconstitutional power grab,” six former trustees of the Queens Library filed a federal lawsuit to be restored to the board.

The suit, filed on Friday by Jacqueline Arrington, Joseph Ficalora, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri Mangino and George Stamatiades, also demands that the 2014 law that gave Borough President Melinda Katz the power to bounce them, be invalidated.

The six plaintiffs also demand unspecified monetary damages against Katz—including punitive damages—“on account of the egregious nature of the unconstitutional violations and Katz’s malicious and punitive conduct in publicly smearing plaintiffs in order to aggrandize herself,” according to court papers filed in Brooklyn federal court.

After a protracted battle focusing on the stewardship of Tom Galante, the library’s director, the state legislature gave Katz the power to remove trustees of the library before their terms expired.

Katz bounced the six plaintiffs on July 23 because they reportedly attempted to renegotiate Galante’s contract and award him an $800,000 consultancy.  He was already under fire for his near-$400,000 salary—coupled with a high-paying side gig at the Elmont School District—and a controversial renovation of his office that included a $27,000 outdoor deck.

The library receives more than 80 percent of its funding from the public coffers.

Katz did not immediately respond to a call for comment.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

BP Katz and Mayor de Blasio cut eight Queens Library board members


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

Eight trustees of the Queens Library were banished from the board in a sudden email blitz Wednesday.

Six members were dismissed by Borough President Melinda Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio cut loose two board members.

The eight members cut loose were Joseph R. Ficalora, Jacqueline E. Arrington, Patricia Flynn, William Jefferson, Grace Lawrence, Terri C. Mangino, George Stamatiades and Stephen Van Anden.

Van Anden and Flynn were the mayoral appointees.

One of the trustees fired by Katz, who wished to remain anonymous,  called the move “politics at its worst.”

“I got a letter emailed to me today,” the former trustee said. “I’m not surprised. I’m okay. I’m not shocked; I was waiting for it.”

The firings came after a protracted battle over the tenure of library director Tom Galante, who drew fire after a smoking deck was built outside his office in the Central Library in Jamaica as well as revelations that he augmented his $400,000 salary with more than $200,000 in part-time pay from the Elmont, L.I., school district.

Lawmakers reacted strongly and recently enacted legislation gave politicians the power to summarily remove board members.

Brinkmanship ensued after the bill passed as trustees attempted to organize a hurried meeting that would have seen Galante resign in exchange for an 18-month, $800,000 consultancy.

“These six trustees merited removal because they failed in their duty to properly oversee the finances of the Queens Library, which receives more than 85 percent of its funding from government sources,” Katz said in a statement. “They also failed to adequately protect and preserve the Library’s resources and physical property by voting to block the New York City Comptroller’s legitimate efforts to obtain Library financial information and to audit the Library’s funding streams.”

Katz and Public Advocate Letitia James protested the move loudly and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman intervened, warning the members against the move, according to published reports.

But even James, who was an outspoken critic of Galante, said in a statement after the purge that the library was one of the best in the country but that it was important to get past the “distractions.”

“As a trustee of the Queens Borough Public Library, I applaud Mayor de Blasio and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz for their swift action on removing trustees from the library board. These changes will ensure more accountability and improve the delivery of library services for 2.3 million Queens residents,” James said in a statement. “In light of recent distractions, it is important that the library return to its main mission of serving all residents, particularly our children, seniors and English-language learners.”

The anonymous ousted trustee felt the cull was more about Katz’s ambition than the library system.

“I think she just got her dander up and there she goes,” the former trustee said. “It’s part of her master plan to have control of the borough. There was no gratitude, no graciousness. We do this because we love our community, love our neighborhoods, love Queens.”

The library released a statement lauding the departing trustees.

“Throughout the history of the Queens Borough Public Library, the people of Queens have benefited enormously from a highly committed library board of trustees whose leadership has helped keep libraries open and free,” the statement read. “They have helped make Queens Library a recognized national model of excellence.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

Queens Library board votes against turning over documentation


| editorial@queenscourier.com

The Board of Trustees of the Queens Borough Public Library voted against turning over all the records requested by the city comptroller’s office, sparking condemnation from politicians.

The vote, which took place on April 8, rejected a resolution submitted by members of the Board, and instead passed a resolution to release all requested financial documentation in accordance with a 1997 court-ordered agreement between the Queens Library and comptroller’s office.

The library, in a statement, defended the vote, saying it “believes in accountability and transparency.”

“The library has released all requested financial documentation in accordance with the court-ordered agreement of 1997. The audit rules have been the standard for several previous administrations. It appropriately includes audit authority over every dime provided by the city, fines and fees collected and book sale funds. As an additional layer of transparency, the library voluntarily provided access to the Worker’s Compensation Fund as requested.”

Additionally, the institution wrote to the city’s Independent Budget Office on Friday, requesting a review and analysis of its capital program, according to a library spokeswoman Joanne King.

In April, Comptroller Scott Stringer filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the 1997 agreement, according to published reports. In late January, Stringer announced that he would perform a comprehensive audit of the city’s three library systems that would “examine a broad range of fiscal controls,” including the funding of capital improvements, the use of city tax levy funds and the oversight role of the library systems’ individual boards of trustees.

The announcement came after news reports revealed Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante’s salary and that he spent nearly $140,000 to renovate his office, while many workers have been let go in recent years.

Borough President Melinda Katz penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in March, asking him to suspend the ability of the library to spend any funds on renovations until the issues are resolved.

“No public entity is above the law. Parliamentary maneuvers may buy them some time, but rest assured that I am determined to make sure that taxpayers know how their money is being spent at this library system,” Stringer said.
Katz also criticized the Board of Trustees’ decision saying it “has put itself firmly on the wrong side of any resident of Queens who wishes to see their library run properly.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

 

Queens Library CEO claims long hours at $114K consulting job: report


| editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante logged a seemingly impossible amount of hours as a consultant while performing his day job, according to a published report.

A payroll review by the New York Daily News found Galante, who is currently the subject of an FBI inquiry over construction contracts, billed the Elmont School District $114,673 for work as a business consultant. During that recent seven-month period he allegedly averaged 26 hours of work per week.

At the same time, he claimed he put in an average of 70 to 80 hours a week at his public library gig, where he earns a $392,000 salary, according to the Daily News.

Galante has said that his consultant work is done during his off-hours, the publication reported, but a review of his work logs showed he billed numerous hours for the Elmont job while having a packed schedule for the library.

The CEO and the library have faced scrutiny after news reports revealed Galante’s salary and that he spent nearly $140,000 to renovate his office, while many workers have been let go in recent years.

Galante currently makes the most money of the city’s three library systems’ leaders, according to SeeThroughNY, which list how tax dollars are spent.

Borough President Melinda Katz penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this month, asking him to suspend the ability of the Library to spend any funds on renovations until the issues are resolved.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Queens Library earns national awards while facing public scrutiny


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Queens Library

Follow me @liamlaguerre

 

Federal inquiries into the Queens Library and its CEO may be buzzing in the news, but the organization is making a case for why residents can still have a good read. 

The Library has received national recognitions recently for architecture and modern digital services.

The new $17.1 million Glen Oaks branch was named the 2013 Building of the Year by American-Architects.com, beating out structures from 50 other states because of its design and eco-friendly features.

The Queens Library, which services more than 866,000 active members, also received the American Library Association/Information Today, Inc. “Library of the Future” award for creating a customized interface and a management system so that Google tablets, which can be borrowed on library cards, are useful with or without Wi-Fi access.

The tablet’s interface is pre-loaded with helpful information on a range of topics, including children’s resources, immigration information, job search, language services and library courses. The award will be presented during the Library Association’s annual conference in June.

“Year after year, Queens Library is recognized nationally and globally as a leader in innovative library programs, services and spaces,” a spokesperson for the Library said. “The goal is always to find better ways to serve the community with lifelong learning opportunities from state-of-the-art libraries.”

Besides the honors, the Queens Library is gearing up to launch a new mobile app that will allow users to download free digital materials from their devices. The app will be available on both iOS and Android platforms. Also, the Library has been chosen as one of six organizations statewide to pilot online high school equivalency exams for adults.

Lately, complaints against the Library from elected officials have increased after new reports revealed President and CEO Thomas Galante’s nearly $392,000 salary, while many workers have been let go in recent years. Galante also spent nearly $140,000 to renovate his office, reports said.

FBI and Department of Investigation agents recently appeared at the Library to issue subpoenas for information, according to reports.

Library Board members The Courier contacted didn’t respond for comment.

“We have been requested to provide documents,” Library spokesperson Joanne King said. “Because of the inquiry, it would be inappropriate for us to comment on matters that are the subject of inquiry.”

The Library has hired an outside consultant, Hay Group, to study Galante’s salary and perks included, such as a reported $37,000 sports car and $2 million severance package.

Galante currently makes the most money of the city’s three library systems’ leaders, according to SeeThroughNY, which list how tax dollars are spent.

Anthony Marx, the current CEO of the New York Public Library (NYPL), which has branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, made $250,000 last year.

The previous CEO of the NYPL, Paul Le Clerc, made $711,114 in 2011. Linda Johnson, the CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library, made $250,000 in 2013 as well.

Borough President Melinda Katz recently penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, asking him to suspend the ability of the Library to spend any funds on renovations until the issues are resolved.

“The Queens Library system is a first-rate institution that provides invaluable educational and cultural opportunities for the residents of this borough,” Katz said in the letter. “However, there is a troubling lack of oversight and understanding of the allocation of taxpayer funding.”

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES 

Queens Library board hires consultant to probe CEO’s salary, contract


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The Queens Library has hired an outside consultant to probe its embattled CEO’s whopping $392,000 salary and perks, the nonprofit’s top executives said Monday.

“We need to absorb the information we get from the study, as a board,” said Board of Trustees Chair Gabriel Taussig. “We’re committed to doing these things expeditiously and thoughtfully.”

The board is paying Hay Group $25,000 for a one-time review of Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante’s entire compensation package and contract terms, officials said. The library boss is embroiled in news reports that claim he spent nearly $140,000 on a private smoking deck and office renovations.

The controversy also includes Galante’s $392,000 salary, $2 million severance package and $140,000 annual income from his side job consulting for the Elmont Union Free School District on Long Island.

Hay Group, a global management consulting firm hired last week, will size up Galante’s job against other comparable organization heads, which could lead to new contract negotiations, said Jacqueline Arrington, chair of the board’s administrative committee.

The firm has less than 90 days to report back with its findings and another 30 days after that to hammer out a new contract, library spokesperson Joanne King said.

“Whatever the end result is will be fair, reasonable, equitable and competitive,” said Galante, who declined to comment on whether he would take a pay cut.

The chief executive — when he wasn’t touting the library’s achievements — defended claims against him.

He reiterated his right as a “workaholic” to engage in outside employment, saying he sometimes puts in 125 total hours a week from both gigs. And he only consults as an “independent contractor, not an employee” from either Elmont or his home, he said.

Galante added his $2 million severance package is not considered a “golden parachute” and is only given to him if he is fired without wrongdoing.

The high exit payout is because of an “evergreen” clause in his five-year contract, amended in 2012, that allows it to be renewed automatically every year, Galante said.

The board plans to ax the clause in future contracts, according to Taussig, who would not confirm if that included Galante’s.

The consultation study is the first in a series of new measures the board plans to take to restore public trust and ease discontent amongst Queens lawmakers, board members said during a Feb. 25 sit-down meeting with several Queens reporters.

Since reports surfaced, State Senator Tony Avella has asked Galante to resign. Other state legislators and Borough President Melinda Katz say they are committed to getting a bill passed that would require financial disclosure from top library executives.

An audit committee within the Board of Trustees is underway, Arrington said. The board will decide if there should be more oversight into the hiring of top level executives, she added.

“I don’t want people to lose sight of what Queens Public Library has done for this borough,” Arrington said.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES

Op-ed: Cataloging Queens Library’s accomplishments


| oped@queenscourier.com

JOSEPH FICALORA

When I agreed to join the Board of Trustees of Queens Library, I did so out of a sincere desire to serve the community. Trustees are volunteers. Trustees spend many hours of our own time attending meetings, doing research, and helping to steer the library for future generations. I wanted to maximize my volunteer hours by doing the most good for the most people in my community, and I cannot think of an organization that makes a bigger impact than Queens Library.

During the past 10 years, Queens Library has been a force for immeasurable good. More than 128 million people have visited their community libraries during that time. They have borrowed well over 200 million books and videos. Every library building in every community has been upgraded or is in the pipeline to be upgraded. Millions and millions have used the library’s customer-use computers. Throughout an unrelenting series of budget cuts, the hard-working staff stretched their resources and every library stayed open at least five days a week, including during the critical after school hours every Monday to Friday. Based on accepted national estimates, this means that Queens Library delivered $6 billion worth of goods and services. That’s “billion” with a “b.” Queens Library has won every major industry award for achievement and innovation, from the National Award for Library Service to Library of the Year.

Queens Library is not about statistics. It is about people. In Long Island City, toddlers gather for story time, while their parents chat. In Corona, every seat is filled every day; adults read newspapers in English and Spanish and talk with their neighbors and parents accompany children for homework help. In Far Rockaway, library users take advantage of job search assistance and computer training. In Jamaica, new Bengali immigrants attend workshops in their own language to teach them how to sew, so they can start small home businesses. In Elmhurst, a nursing student is looking for material to help pass the licensing exams. Queens Library supports the community with a broad range of programs and services.

Doing it all, every day, takes astute management. Queens Library is a very large, complex organization. I am proud to be a member of the library board, but the real credit goes to the 1,700 hard-working library staff who serve the public every day. A huge “thank you” to the President and CEO Tom Galante, who has devoted his career to enriching lives. Every not-for-profit would do well to take a page from his book.

Joseph R. Ficalora is President and Chief Executive Officer, New York Community Bancorp and a member of the Board of Trustees of Queens Library.

 

RECOMMENDED STORIES