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(image via Flickr user jingme)

Queens Library Director Thomas Galante out-earns nearly all senior public officials in New York City, including the mayor and the head of the public transit system, the New York Daily News has reported. The revelation regarding Galante’s salary of $391,594 was accompanied by allegations of improper spending in an ongoing renovation of the Central Library facility on Merrick Boulevard, and has prompted City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to call for an inquiry into financial impropriety at the institution in a statement issued today.

As part of an ongoing refurbishing of its physical plant, the library spent $140,000 in the last year on renovations to Galante’s office suite, including a tree-ringed roof deck critically characterized as a “private smoking area” (the library describes it as an “outdoor conference space” — decide for yourself). The Daily News also reports that the Queens Library has downsized by 130 jobs over the past five years, a figure combining layoffs and unreplaced departures. Van Bramer, a co-sponsor of an ongoing legislative initiative to give voters greater control over cultural spending in the city, was galled by the allegations: “[S]tories of private outdoor patios and questionable spending deserve great scrutiny and they will get it.”

Queens Central Library (via Wikipedia)

Queens Central Library (via Wikipedia)

In a defense posted on its website yesterday — prior to Van Bramer’s request for an inquiry — the Library defended their executive suite renovation budget, noting that costs per square foot were “significantly below” the rest of the building’s renovation project, its first in 25 years. The New York Daily News also observed that Galante’s salary comes in above comparable municipal pay levels because the library, like all other public libraries in the city, is structured as an independent nonprofit, even though it receives nearly all of its funding from city, state, and federal coffers (the New York Public Library paid its previous director over $700,000 in 2011, the last year data is available).

Clerks and custodians at the Queens Library earn $39,000, while senior librarians make $55,000, and a pay freeze has been in effect for four years, according to the Daily News. A 2011 report in the Wall Street Journal noted Thomas Galante’s receipt of a Nissan 370Z coupe, which likely cost near the $37,000 limit on the value of the automotive perk stipulated by his contract. The article also detailed the similar vehicular benefits enjoyed by the heads of the Brooklyn and New York Public Libraries.

Mostafa Heddaya is the former managing editor of Hyperallergic.