QUEENS — Former Queens Public Library CEO Thomas Galante, who was fired amid an investigation into his and the library system's spending last year, is suing the library for his more than $2 million severance package, claiming that his firing was politically motivated.
“After giving 27 years of my life to the Queens Library and raising millions of dollars to make it better, the political winds changed overnight and my name was dragged through the mud,” Galante said in a statement Monday morning.
”I’m filing this lawsuit to set the record straight," he added. "I don’t believe the whole truth will come out through the media, but it will through the legal system.”
Galante, who served as the library's president and CEO for more than a decade, came under fire last year after the New York Daily News published a number of articles about his hefty salary and expenses, such as $140,000 for renovating his office at the library's main branch in Jamaica — including spending $27,000 for a smoking deck.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer conducted an audit, which showed that Galante — who was making $392,000 a year — mismanaged the library financially. He charged $310,000 in expenses to library credit cards over three years for purchases like airplane seat upgrades, office furniture, Maroon 5 concert tickets, lavish dinners and Mets memorabilia.
The report also found that over a five-year period the library's executives got raises, with their salaries growing nearly 7 percent. At the same time, Queens Library said it had to cut back hours at its branches and slash staffers' salaries by nearly 3 percent due to budget woes.
Several elected officials, including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, had called for Galante’s resignation.
After Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill last year to reform the Queens Library, making it easier to remove library trustees, Katz and Mayor Bill de Blasio were able to replace eight board members who supported Galante.
In September 2014, Galante was put on paid leave, and then fired three months later.
But in a lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court on Monday, Galante claims that while "the Library had the right to terminate his employment," it was “contractually required to pay him severance of over $2 million if it terminated him for any reason other than 'for cause.'”
“It’s not entirely clear what specifically the library was citing as the cause for his termination,” Galante’s lawyer Tom Rohback, of Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider, said Monday.
Rohback also said that other people holding similar positions earn comparable or higher salaries and that Stringer failed to mention that the dinners listed in his report included meals following board meetings, fundraising activities and award dinners.
“So it’s a very different story,” Rohback said.
The complaint claims that under Galante’s leadership, the library’s revenues increased from $94.4 million to $128.1 million and the number of programs offered by the library more than doubled.
"After reviewing the complaint brought by Mr. Galante, we believe his claims are without merit and our actions to remove him were completely justified," the Queens Library Board of Trustees said in a statement.
Sharon Lee, a spokeswoman for the Queens Borough President, said in an email that “the Queens Library exists to serve its educational purpose as a community hub of learning, literacy and culture for millions of patrons" and that "it is a shame that further resources will have to be expended to deal with this lawsuit.”
“In the past year since his termination, the reformed Board of Trustees has worked very hard to repair the reputational harm caused by the former CEO's actions and to restore faith in the management of the world-class Queens Library system," Lee noted.
The Comptroller's office said in a statement that: "Our audit and investigation revealed stomach-turning layers of waste and abuse that have no place in a publicly funded institution," adding that "while Tom Galante was in charge, the Queens Borough Public library lacked financial controls that allowed him to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars without oversight, including for concert tickets, a trip to Disneyland, expensive office furniture and alcoholic beverages."