Queens Borough President Melinda Katz called on the mayor to seize control over the Queens Library’s construction contracting power until an investigation of the system is completed.
Library CEO Thomas Galante has been under the microscope for weeks since reports exposed his annual salary of roughly $390,000, which was earned at a time when the system was expanding its Jamaica headquarters and outsourcing union custodian jobs.
Katz was just one of the many borough leaders in support of a system wide audit, but she took it one step further this week when she asked Mayor Bill de Blasio to cut off what she called “pass through” contracts that give the Queens Library control over 5 percent of capital spending on construction deals.
“In past budget years, the Queens Library has been permitted by the city to use ‘pass through’ contracts that enabled the library to engage in its own bidding process, retain its own vendors and seek reimbursement from the city,” Katz wrote in the March 4 letter. “I believe that this practice, at best, enables the current problems the library is facing.”
The letter noted the more than $144 million the library has received through various city discretionary budgets, including the offices of the mayor, City Council and borough president. But a lack of oversight and understanding of the allocation of taxpayer funding left too much room for confusion, Katz said.
In the library’s defense, both Galante and board of trustees Chairman Gabriel Taussig have argued the CEO’s compensation package was set at the mid-range when compared to those at similar nonprofits. The board also recently signed off on hiring an outside consultant to find an appropriate salary for Galante.
That deal, according to Taussig, was the result of a recent board vote to hire consultant The Hay Group for roughly $28,000 to review Galante’s contract and help formulate a new one.
Galante’s rebuttals and the board’s audit were not enough to win Katz over, however, and the borough president penned a second letter to Taussig last week calling for change.
“I continue to be deeply concerned about the operation of the institution and the lack of transparency in the wake of the recent issues regarding the capital construction process at the Queens Library,” Katz wrote.
In her letter, Katz called for reforms to bring more transparency to the library and asked for the board to “immediately retain an independent third party forensic auditor or investigative firm to audit and examine the entire capital construction process at Queens Library.” That entity, Katz added, should be directly reported to the board and not library staff.
She also expressed disappointment after noting the board’s coming meeting scheduled for this week said it would be considering requests that she personally expected to see fulfilled.
“Just to clarify, I view these as more than requests,” Katz wrote. “These are necessary, fundamental actions the board must take in order to establish adequate internal controls and exercise proper oversight.”
Katz’s letter comes at the same time that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is reportedly launching a probe into the Queens Library, according to a report by the Daily News. The News reported Wednesday that FBI agents, as well as officials from the city Department of Investigation, issued subpoenas for Galante and a construction management consultant for the Queens Library, Frank Marino, when they came to the Central Library in Jamaica last week.
By Phil Corso