City Comptroller Scott Stringer called on a state Supreme Court judge to order Queens Library CEO Thomas Galante to disclose all the institution’s finances as his office continues a full audit of the system.
The comptroller filed the motion last Thursday, arguing the library has refused to submit documents detailing all of its bank accounts despite the fact that 85 percent of its funding comes from the city budget. It was the latest chapter in Stringer’s ongoing audit of the Queens Library, which was launched back in January when news reports shed light on Galante’s nearly $400,000 salary earned over a time that included the outsourcing of union custodial jobs and six-figure renovations.
The audit already raised some questions regarding an insurance fund used to rebuild branches damaged during Hurricane Sandy as well as a $1 million purchase of books using money from the library’s Self-Insured Workmen’s Compensation account, the court records showed.
The library, however, contested the comptroller’s request and said all of his demands were being met in regards to the audit.
“For the last 10 weeks, Queens Library staff have been actively working with the NYC Comptroller’s audit staff, following the same city audit guidelines used for decades,” a spokeswoman for the Queens Library said in a statement. “The library is providing access to the comptroller to all city funds as required. The library is providing access to the comptroller to the workers compensation fund and the book sales fund.”
A spokesman for the comptroller, however, said otherwise.
“The Queens Library has not provided the comptroller’s office with complete access to financial records that would shine a light on how the Library spends its money, most of which comes from the city,” Comptroller spokesman Eric Sumberg said. “To justify its refusal to provide its records, the library has relied on a stipulation from the 1990s, forcing the comptroller to seek a court order to gain the disclosures needed to do a complete audit. Misinformation campaigns are not a replacement for opening the books.”
Court records showed the library referring to an incident in the late 1990s, in which former City Comptroller Alan Hevesi investigated a fund the library was using to fund vacations for its board members. The library and city reached a settlement in 1997 ruling that Hevesi would not audit any accounts holding federal, state or private funds, the records said.
Stringer’s name was only one among a loaded list of city officials calling on Galante to cooperate, or even step down until the audit is complete. Queens Borough President Melinda Katz called on the latter in several letters penned to both Galante and Queens Library Board of Trustees President Gabriel Taussig.
“Recent events have undermined the faith in the library and its leadership,” Katz wrote in the March 31 letter. “In order for the library to operate effectively and, more importantly, to continue to receive taxpayer money, I believe it is best for the institution that you take a leave of absence effective immediately, and continuing until the various investigations and audits into the library’s operations are resolved.”
Katz also called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to seize all control over the library’s construction and contracting power until the audits were finished.
Galante’s own board of trustees also hired an outside firm to examine his $391,549 salary and determine whether or not it should change. Board Chairman Gabriel Taussig has been defending the CEO’s contract, arguing it was near the same mid-range level when compared to similar nonprofits. That board ultimately voted against having Galante temporarily stepping down at a meeting earlier this month.
Galante testified in front of the City Council in February and receiving an intense grilling from several borough officials, including City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Maspeyj) and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside).
“I urge Mr. Galante and the Queens Library to fully cooperate with Comptroller Stringer’s investigation,” Crowley said in a statement. “Any reluctance to do so only gives more credibility to questions of impropriety.”
By Phil Corso