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Queens Library: Delusions of Confidence

Sept. 13, 2015 By Columnist John O’Reilly

City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued two scathing reports on the operations of the Queens Borough Public Library in July that uncovered, what he characterized, a “sickening track record of waste, fraud and abuse” engaged by library executives. ( reports: Comptroller Audit QPL and Comptroller Investigation QPL)

One Stringer report noted that “[Former Library CEO] Tom Galante used the Queens Library as his personal piggybank, charging the public for outrageous expenses including endless rounds of drinks, extravagant dinners, and concert tickets.” He spent $260,000 on these expenses.

This and other illicit activity covered in the Comptroller’s reports engaged in by Mr. Galante and by current Interim Library President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey (who served as Chief Operating Officer when Galante was in charge) took place while “the Library was eliminating services to the reading public, cutting operating hours of Queens branches by an average of 4 hours per week,” according to Stringer.

We all recall the times between 2008 and 2013 when library branches in Astoria, Court Square, Long Island City, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside, and Woodside, among many others, reduced hours and programs which had a tremendous impact on almost everyone–especially school children and senior citizens.

There was a constant crisis over library funding during those years. The Comptroller reports that during this same 5-year time frame, Queens Library “executives made sure that their own incomes increased, with executive compensation growing by 6.9 percent even as they cut [Library] services staff and their salaries by 2.8 percent.”

The website seethroughny.org reports that Mr. Galante was paid $403,341 in 2014 and Ms. Quinn-Carey was paid $224,832 in 2014. These salary figures do not include benefits like health insurance and pensions.

How has the Queens Library responded since the July 2015 publication of the Comptroller reports?

The Library Board provides a detailed list of “reforms” (QPL Statement Reforms, which at the top of the document reads: “Borough President and Mayor have transformed Board of Trustees with the appointment of 14 new members of the Board since January 2014”.

According to the Library’s web site QPL Trustees, the members of the transformed Board were all in place by March 25, 2015. The Library also published a response dated July 1, 2015 to the Audit in which the Library accepts eight of nine recommendations made by the Comptroller and takes “under advisement” the ninth recommendation which concerns the development of a “reasonable methodology” for allocation of costs among the various funds that apply to Library operations. QPL Response to Comptroller.

Elected officials seem to feel that the Library is “moving in the right direction” and that public confidence in Library governance has been restored. For example, Borough President Melinda Katz announced on August 3, 2015 an allocation of $14 million for capital improvements to library branches, remarked that the Library “continues to move … in the right direction consistent with its educational purpose” under the leadership of a Board of Trustees “which the Mayor and I reformed in 2014 thanks to prompt state legislation.” 08-03-2015 QBP

Melinda Katz (Source: Melinda Katz for DA)

There are substantial reasons to doubt that the Queens Library has yet turned the corner on the use of taxpayer monies or that the public can have full confidence in the Library Board to make decisions in the best public interest without continued close monitoring by the appropriate authority outside the Library bureaucracy.

What has the Library done to recoup and recover monies the Comptroller characterized as embezzled by its two top executives?

Virtually nothing. Worse than that, the Library now refers to the Comptroller’s findings of a “sickening track record of waste, fraud and abuse” as “allegations,” particularly with respect to the approximately $50,000 the Comptroller says was spent by current Acting CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey on personal items, not authorized, in violation of policy, for which she may owe taxes. Here’s what the Library Board has to say regarding the Quinn-Carey expenses:

“On July 23, 2015, the Queens Library Board met in executive session to hear the preliminary findings of our general counsel regarding the Comptroller’s investigation as they relate to Interim President and CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey.  The credit card charges highlighted by the Comptroller relative to Ms. Quinn-Carey are predominantly purchases of goods and services for Library business.  Some of the charges continue to be reviewed. The Board will wait for the full review before taking further action. Since the date of these charges this Board has imposed even greater standards for incurring and documenting purchases for all employees.”

A Library spokesperson said that the General Counsel who reviewed Quinn-Carey’s expenditures was Lewis Finkelman, who was hired by Ms. Quinn-Carey.

The precise date of his hire was not made available and there was no public announcement of his hire. Finkelman’s identification as General Counsel does not appear on the Library website (unlike in the past when the General Counsel was identified).

There is an internal staff announcement of his hire dated July 20, 2015. The Library spokesperson said that Mr. Finkelman reports to Ms. Quinn-Carey as the Acting Chief Executive Officer.

More detailed information was not provided by the Queens Library after repeated question.

Therefore, it appears that Mr. Finkelman was hired by Ms. Quinn-Carey sometime in the nineteen day period after the July 1, 2015 Library Response to the Comptroller, and most likely close to the date of the staff announcement, July 20, 2015.

Thus, it appears that the Library Board’s current view of Ms. Quinn-Carey’s expenses is premised on an investigation which may have been conducted in as little as three days by the new General Counsel recently hired by Ms. Quinn-Carey and who reports to Ms. Quinn-Carey.

That’s right, notwithstanding the findings of Stringer’s team of lawyers and data analysts with extensive backgrounds in financial, criminal and public corruption investigations–employed by the City Comptroller to be part of the Comptroller Investigation Unit–who spent six months examining data provided by the Library, the Library Board seems to be ready to OK Ms. Quinn-Carey’s expenses based on an internal investigation done by a lawyer just hired by Ms. Quinn-Carey and who reports to Ms. Quinn-Carey.

Will the Library recoup the approximately $260,000 misused for personal expenses by Thomas Galante, former Chief Executive Officer until December 17, 2014, and possibly obtain other financial recovery due to his improper conduct, as found by the Comptroller’s investigators and auditors? Not any time soon. According to the Library Board of Trustees, “As pertains to the Comptroller’s investigation as it relates to former President and CEO Thomas Galante, the matter is being handled and investigated by outside counsel.”

When, how and who? The Library is unable/unwilling to disclose the “outside counsel” who is investigating Mr. Galante’s expenses or when or by whom the outside counsel was hired. Presumably, the outside counsel is getting paid, but it has been impossible to find out the relationship with the outside counsel because the Library still does not have on its website minutes of Board and committee meetings and because the Library resists through repeated delays providing information requested pursuant to FOIL. FOIL Requests QPL

The reference to another Galante investigation is puzzling because according to news reports when Mr. Galante was terminated on December 17, 2014, the Board acted after “getting a final report on his expenditures”. 12-18-2014 NYDN

It is a virtual truism that when executives of an organization are caught stealing, misappropriating company funds for personal use, swift action is taken to recoup the money through legal proceedings. Embezzlers can be and are sued in civil lawsuits where the burden of establishing a case for restitution is much lower than in a criminal proceeding.

It is important that action is taken quickly before a wrongdoer makes him or herself “judgment proof” by the transfer or hiding of assets, keeping in mind that the person you are seeking recovery from has already demonstrated moral turpitude when it comes to money.

When asked if there is a time table in place or a deadline for completion of the internal Quinn-Carey investigation and the external Galante investigation, the Library said No.

After all this time, all the reports, newspaper accounts, City Comptroller analysis, there’s no end in sight.

The need for another investigation of Galante presumably at additional taxpayer expense and why it is conducted externally and not internally as is the case with Ms. Quinn-Carey, and why the investigation is still pending almost nine months after he was terminated and the Library reportedly accepted a “final report” on his expenditures, are mysteries. Why is the Galante investigation still pending sixty-seven days after the Comptroller’s audit and investigation reports? Repeated efforts to get this information from the Library starting in July 2015, including FOIL requests, have not been substantively answered by the Library.

The explanation for all this, in my opinion, is that the Queens Library cares less about the handling of public money than it does about notions of self-governance; the sense that the Library is an independent self-ruled organization and nobody is going to tell it what to do.

The Library appears to have the corrupt mindset that it doesn’t have to worry about how taxpayer money is being spent because it will always be able to get more funds from elected officials. Even during the period when the top two executives were reportedly stealing library funds—one of whom was later promoted to the acting top executive—while services were getting cut, the Library was given increased taxpayer funding year after year.

If the public is to fully realize the fruits of the substantial efforts of the City Comptroller, greater outside oversight and possible legal intervention on behalf of the public is needed.

These are the opinions of columnist John O’Reilly, not this publication.

O’Reilly is a retired attorney and public official.

 

email the author: [email protected]

34 Comments

Click for Comments 
Marilyn S.

As our Councilman, Jimmy Van Bramer should apply pressure to get this matter cleared up and to get back funds stolen from our libraries.

Reply
Truth Hurts

The problem here is that the author assumes Mr. Stringer is right. To follow his logic you would have to believe that a large board, of appointed members by the BP and the NYC Mayor, has no idea of what is going on or is somehow compliant in these supposed illegalities. Yet, worst of all Mr. Stringer assumes by his own papal blessing that he has the right under his new sub- division to accuse people of wrongdoing, but not provide how those people can respond to his allegations, he simply makes these accusations then drifts away and somehow or someway the board or anyone has to then respond? Well how do you respond if the comptroller has created no rules or regs or other to respond? This is political theater at its best, and the author should know, or does not care, that Mr. Stringer is the master of the theater.

Reply
rakugirl

I must make one point which is under-reported and therefore ignored, that the staff of Queens Library and members of DC37 were also defrauded by this “out of control” spending. Unfortunately the front line staff, actually all of the employees that are not administration, have been baring the brunt of the public’s wrath. This was perpetrated by the administration and members of the Board of Trustees in cahoots with Mr, Galante. That’s a few dozen people who took this advantage out of some 800-900 Queens Library employees. My point is that in this column as well as all other reports I’ve seen, does NOT give the general public a true picture of Queens Library as a whole institution. During all of this bleep, staff went about their everyday duties, worrying about being laid off, BEING laid off, doing advocacy for the library as the staff was told what the administration wanted to tell, and being duped by the administration. Every time articles such as this are published it seems as though the writers/reporters/columnists lump Queens Library as an institution not acknowledging that the majority of the people who actually work there have done nothing wrong and should be seen as victims themselves. Go after the right people – yes. Don’t make the mistake of lumping employees in the same mix.

Reply
Queensian

I, for one, did not in any way think this reflected on the employees. They were not putting smoking decks on their private offices. They were shelving books.

Reply
Sunnysider

Looks like O’Reilly hit a nerve, once the anonymous attacks start without addressing the substance of the article you know someone hiding in the shadows wants to divert attention. Anyway, it looks to me that the names are different.

Reply
Anonymous visitor

I didn’t make any accusations at all. Just answered someone’s question about why JVB’s name came up. Working in the same organization as someone else doesn’t mean you know what they are up to. From what I can see JVB is a good guy, especially considering the slime bucket–politics in Queens–that he works in. His staff is wonderful. But, it’s obvious some folks are against investigating this issue any further and they want to stop Mr. O’Reilly from writing about it.

Reply
the reality is....

i dont care if she can revoke my card in a split second and probably have me killed and shoved into a book return shoot tonight. brunette librarians with glasses, oh man…. freakin sexy. Had to say it.

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Anonymous visitor

You should be sure it is him before suggesting that it is. If you are sure, just state it. Coy suggestions make you look nasty and cheap.

Reply
Westisbest

Skelos was one of the names of those against the O’Reilly who was disbarred, and we don’t know if it is the person who wrote this article. But, the Skelos name has been tarnished by alleged misdeeds in another county. So, if an alleged miscreant is prosecuting someone, it could be because the O’Reilly in question was getting to close to something. Criminals don’t like the light to shine on them.

Reply
A Big Fan

Thank you, Mr. O’Reilly for investigating this issue and publishing your findings. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Shedding light on dark doings helps put them to an end.

Reply
Queen of Angels 1978

Luvu2 Queens Library is governed by a 19-member Board of Trustees, which are appointed by the Mayor of New York City and the Borough President of Queens. The Mayor, Speaker of the City Council, Borough President, the New York City Comptroller and the New York Public Advocate sit on the board as ex officio members. The library is funded by the City, state and federal grants, and through private philanthropy. The Interim President and CEO of the Queens Library is Bridget Quinn-Carey. Do you ever research anything? I guess you’re too busy rallying behind fake videos to do anything constructive.

Reply
Queen of Angels 1978

Hmmm Why would Van Bramer even be mentioned? These are the players involved. We see you need your hand held just like Luvu2. Slow birds of a feather.

Reply
Hmm

Because he was once an employee of the Queens Public Library, in marketing, I believe, and was great personal friends with Tom Galante. Slow is as slow does.

Queen of Angels 1978

Hmm “You believe”. You should call yourself hahaha. Yes, what you “believe” and what you feel trumps truth, fact and history. You’re worse than slow you’ve reached the bar of imbecile.

Mac

@Luvu2 When you attempt to persecute you should be able to place your persecuted target in the “arena of activity”, in this case the topic of the discussion. A true and effective persecutor never asks a question they don’t know the answer to. You obviously lack the talent and (or) intellect for the job you’re trying to undertake, “persecutor”. Fox News has poorly trained its weak minded minions.

Reply
Anonymous visitor

From Wikipedia: Before joining the City Council, Van Bramer served as the Chief External Affairs Officer of the Queens Public Library. In this capacity, he was the library’s link between community members and government.

Not great investigative reporting, just regular old checking the digital encyclopedia, copying and pasting.

Queen of Angels 1978

@Anonymous visitor Some more cut and paste for you from the very 1st paragraph of the article “City Comptroller Scott Stringer issued two scathing reports on the operations of the Queens Borough Public Library in July that uncovered, what he characterized, a “sickening track record of waste, fraud and abuse” engaged by library executives.” Chief External Affairs Officer of the Queens Public Library is the library’s link between community members and government. This is not an executive position. Nice feeble attempt by you. No investigative reporting was necessary in this case just a posting of the executive body and “governance” which I accomplished. Like I said nice “feeble” attempt at whatever you were attempting.

Joe at the Berkley

Anonymous has a reading comprehension problem. Just look at his posts. That’s why he chooses to remain anonymous.

Queensian

QofA’78—You’ve got one vicious, evil, poisoned mind. Or you are scared as hell about what will be uncovered. Are you involved?

Mac

Queensian How twisted are you? Talk about a poisoned mind. QofA points out to luvu2 (“Is jimmy van Bramer involved in this?”) partisan post, that none of Van Bramers positions, office or name are even mentioned in either of Comptroller Scott Stringer’s reports. We see you’re another idiot who rallies behind fake videos and believes that what you feel and believe trumps truth fact and history. Conjecture is fact. You have been efficiently brain washed you weak minded Fox puppet. I guess luvu2’s attempt at creating presumption around a person who isn’t even mentioned in an article or either reports mentioned in that very article.I guess “persecuting” somebody doesn’t rise to your definition of vicious. Let me guess, ACORN, Shirley Sherrod and the fake reports of voter fraud are all your best loved Fox talking points. You’re a total idiot.

Block50

What the hell are all these people, QofA, Mac, etc., talking about? They sound positively paranoid. Our city council person worked in in a professional capacity in the Queens Library system and was known to socialize with the accused past president. That is why people asked if he was involved. It may be a stretch, or not, but it is not ridiculous and it is not an attempt to persecute. It is a legitimate inquiry. Calm down. You are strongly over-reacting.

Reply
Queen of Angels 1978

@block 50 what you are talking about is called “conjecture”. The discussion is about the content of the article and two audits. Try to stay focused. Let me guess you’re a Fox News viewer. Conjecture equals fact at Fox.

Reply
Mac

@Block50 You ought to see Fox about turning you intro an imbecile. You’re the one who actually believes conjecture is fact and can’t even stay focused on the facts and details of a simple article. I bet you honestly believe you have not been brainwashed. Don’t you have a doctored video to go rally behind? ACORN, Shirley Sherrod or Panned Parenthood or something.

Queen of Angels 1978

Mac Your more concerned with block50 allowing himself to be turned into a Fox zombie than he is. Fox viewers are so easy to spot like block50. Facts, truth and history take a back seat to what the Fox viewer feels and believes. They’re constantly tricked into voting against their own best interest. To quote George Orwell “Ignorance is bliss”.

Reply
Block50

Sorry guys, I have always been a registered independent voter. I know people who watch Fox, but I can’t bear them–the people watching and the people broadcasting–myself. I get my news from a variety of mostly centrist and left leaning publications in print, online and on the radio. And I am not a male person.

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