Fired Queens Library trustee tells his side of the story
by Jess Berry
Aug 27, 2014 | 1176 views | 1 1 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With a judge ruling last week not to reinstate the Queens Public Library (QPL) trustees removed earlier this summer by Borough President Melinda Katz, the future for the six fired board members looks nearly sealed.

But one of the removed trustees, George Stamatiades, wanted to set the record straight for the public over what he said really happened over the last few months at the library and the truth about QPL President and CEO Thomas Galante.

Stamatiades and seven other board members were removed by Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio on July 23, after they continued to support Galante despite accusations that he was spending library funding on renovations to his own office and making too much money with a $400,000 salary considering he had a second, six-figure job on the side.

Stamatiades ticked through each accusation made against the board members and Galante, giving reasoning and justification for each action and decision.

“You give...raises commensurate with his position.”

Galante is paid a salary of $392,000, an amount that Katz said was too high when she was making the case that the trustees should fire Galante.

At the time that Galante was hired, Stamatiades said, an independent company told the trustees how much he should be paid. But a number of the trustees rejected the first recommended salary, saying he was getting paid too much as a new guy in the role.

Galante also had a masters in business but did not have any kind of library degree. He was hired with the stipulation that he would get this degree within the first year. Stamatiades said he told Galante to “grow into the job first, do something,” and then he would see a raise in pay. And, he said, Galante did just that, running an excellent library with a great staff and clean record since his hiring.

“After the phenomenal job that he’s been doing, of course you give him the raises commensurate with his position, there’s no question,” Stamatiades said.

When Katz argued that he was getting paid too much, at which point Galante agreed to renegotiate his contract. Katz told the trustees to get an independent company to evaluate his salary based on similar institutions.

What that company found, Stamatiades said, was that Galante is paid ten percent less than his peers.

Also, the independent company said they did not see a problem with the Evergreen clause in Galante’s contract that would pay him five years of his salary if he were fired without cause.

While most of those clauses for similar positions are usually for three years, the company explained that reviews for Galante had been excellent, and so it seemed unlikely that the board would have an issue of firing him without any cause.

A part-time job? “Be my guest.”

In addition to being the president and CEO of the QPL, Galante also serves as a consultant with the Elmont School District in Long Island.

The salary for this job is also six figures, and accusations arose from Katz and others that Galante’s ability to serve the library must be affected if he is spending enough time advising a school district to make another significant salary.

According to Stamatiades, however, Galante has held that job since before he was CEO and president of the library. Before he held this position, he was the CFO of the QPL, and he held the same job in Elmont during that entire period with the previous director’s knowledge.

“It wasn’t like he was hiding it,” Stamatiades said. “If you’re doing a part-time job that you like, go ahead, be my guest.

“The man’s had this job since 1987. Everybody knew about it. And since they knew about it and his reviews are so exemplary, it didn’t affect his job. Your library is renowned throughout the nation and around the world, so what’s your beef?”

It was the “middle of a typhoon”

One of Katz’s biggest reasons for firing the trustees was because they were part of the board who voted not to ask Galante to step down while he was investigated for accusations of misusing the library’s funds to renovate his own office.

Stamatiades said that, as of the last board meeting he attended in July, the board members were not told what the FBI, U.S. Attorney and Department of Investigation are looking for in the investigation of Galante.

“Very frankly, for one, the guy is innocent until they prove him guilty of something,” he said. “Two, the library, with all of this stuff going on, is in turmoil. It’s in a typhoon. So if a boat is in a typhoon, do you change captains in the middle of a typhoon on rumor and innuendo?”

He said that Galante has proven himself to be a good leader and to have asked him to step down in the middle of a number of legal issues and investigations would have made keeping the library running smoothly even more difficult.

Stamatiades also pointed out that the borough president would probably not hold that same standard for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is currently being investigated by the state Attorney General.

“Is the borough president going to stand up and say that Governor Cuomo should go on paid leave? What’s the difference between Governor Cuomo and Tom Galante?” he asked.

“We want nothing to do with it”

When city Comptroller Scott Stringer decided to audit the QPL after suspicions arose over how funding was being spent on renovations to Galante’s office, the trustees gave Stringer access to books on city and federal funding, but they refused to give him information about private funds.

To justify their decision, the trustees cited an agreement they made with Alan Hevesi when he was city comptroller in 1987, in which he told the trustees they did not have to share records on private funds during audits.

At the time, Hevesi cited the library for placing city funding into a bank account, accruing interest on it and then putting the interest into the private fund. He made the QPL return that money, which Stamatiades said amounted to about $5 million, and then made the agreement not to audit their private funds.

“Hevesi said, ‘So long as you do these practices, I won’t audit your private accounts because after all, it is private money. As long as you’re not putting in city, state or federal money, it’s private money. It’s yours and we want nothing to do with it,’” Stamatiades said.

Every year, the federal government and the State of New York audit every library they give money to. Every five years, the city comptroller also conducts an audit of the QPL.

Over the course of the 22 years that Stamatiades served on the board, he said that none of those agencies “has never reported anything out of kilter with the finances of the Queens Library.”

People deserve up-to-date working conditions

During renovations at the central branch of the QPL, news broke that renovations were also being done to Galante’s private office and that those renovations included a private smoking deck.

According to Stamatiades, the deck is created by the roof of an adjoining library that sits outside of Galante’s office, which he also claims was made smaller to make space for more conference rooms.

Galante saw the roof, Stamatiades said, and thought it would be a good place to have meetings. He is also a smoker and would “traditionally walk outside to the front of the building and smoke with all of the other smokers.”

With the new roof deck, Galante suggested they “throw down some wooden tiles and some couches, and then we can have meetings out there,” Stamatiades explained, “and then suddenly it becomes a private smoking deck for the outrageous price of $27,000? Come on.”

“It’s lost its credibility.”

Stamatiades said that the meeting Katz claims to have called with board members, which would have allowed for a discussion before the dismissals and which she said no one showed up to, was never organized with a date and time.

“I was called and asked to come to see her and I said, ‘Tell me the time and the day and I will be there.’ The call never came.”

In the end, he said that the issue comes down to not “trusting the trustees,” and taking away the independence of the library by allowing the borough president and mayor to fire board members.

If they can get rid of board members, he said, they can push a political agenda, and if a trustee does not comply, “you’re done in three years. There’s no independence in that anymore.

“It’s lost its stature, it’s lost its credibility,” he said. “I don’t even know why they need a board of trustees anymore in the Queens Library.”

Now that you know Stamatiades' side of the story, do you think the board members should have been removed?


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nyclibrarian
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August 28, 2014
George Stamatiades has served as a tireless volunteer for Queens Library for years. His service should command respect not be thrown on the dust heap amid cheap allegations due to some political power grab. There has yet to be any actual proof of wrongdoing or even charges filed. It's time for Katz to stop using this as a power grab and distraction.