Photo by Christina Santucci
By Rich Bockmann

Borough lawmakers are calling for an investigation — and even a reorganization — of the Queens Library after a news report detailed the library’s spending under President Thomas Galante.

Galante earned a salary of $391,549 last year, according to the website seethroughny.com, and under his watch the library has undergone a $38 million expansion at the central library in Jamaica that included what one news report described as a private smoking area for Galante.

Galante was also reported to have said he was “paying $35 an hour to janitors to mop floors” before cutting costs through an outside vendor, a remark that rankled City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).

“Over the last two days, I have read reports and statements about the Queens Library that cause me great concern,” said Van Bramer, the Council’s majority leader and chairman of the Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries. “And I am deeply offended by comments made by President and CEO Tom Galante about the library’s hardworking and dedicated janitorial staff.”

The library is a nonprofit that operates independently of the city, but receives the majority of its funding through taxpayer dollars. In 2007 Queens had the largest circulation of any library in the country, but it has since dropped to No. 6 on the list, according to the Public Library Association.

Van Bramer, who worked at the library for 11 years before being elected to public office, said his stepfather was a public school janitor who “mopped floors so that me and my siblings might have a better life.”

“Janitors at the Queens Library serve an important and vital role in keeping libraries clean and safe, and they deserve respect from their boss and need to make a living wage so they, too, can raise their families,” Van Bramer added as he called for an oversight hearing on the library and its operations.

The library said it would provide the Council with testimony explaining its operations, and Galante issued an apology for what he called his “insensitive” remarks.

“I am deeply appreciative and proud of the work done by the hardworking employees of Queens Library at all levels of the organization and especially our custodial team who keep our libraries safe, clean and running smoothly day after day,” he said. “They do a great job serving thousands of people every day.”

Gabriel Taussig, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said Galante’s compensation is “not more and not less” than the average for non-profit CEOs in the city.

The head of the Brooklyn Public Library made $250,000 last year and the former CEO of the New York Public Library made $711,114 in 2011, the most recent year for which seethroughny.com has a record.

This is not the first hit of bad publicity for the Queens Library, which has been in a battle with its union, Local 1321, over outsourcing.

The library has for the last several years been contracting out janitorial services instead of filling more than 100 staff jobs lost to attrition.

Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) called on the city comptroller to audit the library, and said he would like to look into the possibility of combining the Big Apple’s three independent, nonprofit library systems.

“The city can hardly afford the annual operating costs of running three separate library systems, let alone foot the bill for expensive salaries, extravagant renovations and other wasteful spending,” he said. “I believe that one central citywide library system would save millions of dollars annually by reducing the bureaucracy and streamlining library services throughout the five boroughs.”

Ulrich added, “I have asked the Independent Budget Office to explore this proposal and to recommend whether or not it is the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he would audit all three of the city’s libraries — including a look at executive compensation — starting with Queens.

Former Borough President Helen Marshall has allocated more money to libraries than the city’s four other borough presidents combined and her successor, Borough President Melinda Katz, said she would conduct her own probe with her office’s appointees to the library’s board.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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