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Long Beach City Council votes in favor of hiring interim city manager

The Long Beach City Council, by a 4-0

The Long Beach City Council, by a 4-0 vote Thursday night, approved the hiring of an interim city manager. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

The Long Beach City Council Thursday night approved the appointment of a municipal finance director in Illinois as the next interim city manager.

At a special meeting, the council gave the go-ahead to the appointment of Donna Gayden, 59, in a 4-0 vote. Gayden has worked for the past year as interim finance director for Country Club Hills, Illinois, a Chicago suburb with a population of about 16,500.

Council vice president Karen McInnis was not present at the meeting, which lasted less than 20 minutes. Council president John Bendo said at the meeting Gayden's salary will be $178,000 without medical benefits.

"Overall, we will be saving money," he said.

Bendo touted Gayden's credentials as a change agent pulling financially strapped municipalities, like Long Beach, out of trouble.

"Donna brings specific skills Long Beach needs right now," he said.

Long Beach has been without a permanent manager for more than two years after Jack Schnirman left in 2018 to serve as Nassau comptroller. The city has gone through three acting city managers since Schnirman's departure.

Gayden could not be reached Thursday night for comment, but said in an interview Wednesday that her goal is "to come in and work with the staff and find ways to balance the budget and not borrow money."

A state finance report found the city has borrowed $15 million since 2012 to cover separation payments to city employees, police and firefighters. 

"When you have a community borrow money every year to balance budget on the back of the taxpayers, you need to get control of that," Gayden said.

She will be tasked with formulating Long Beach’s 2020-21 budget, which is due to the council by April 10. The city has faced two straight years of tax increases of about 8%.

A permanent position would require the city manager to establish residency within 90 days.

Gayden replaces acting City Manager John Mirando, who gave notice to the council Monday that he would leave the position after five months to return to his job as commissioner of public works.

She worked from 2015-2017 as a village manager for the Village of Hazel Crest. While overseeing the village, the mayor, Vernard Alsberry Jr., said Gayden was “instrumental” in hiring a consultant with multiple fraud convictions. Alsberry said he assumed Gayden had vetted the hire of then-economic development director Irma Holloway, according to The Chicago Tribune. Holloway did not face any charges for her work with the village.

Gayden said the firm that employed Holloway had already done business for Hazel Crest before she became its village manager. Gayden said she was not aware of Holloway's criminal record.

"I can't vet someone who was already there," Gayden said. "My concern was that she do her job correctly. What happened to her before that had nothing to do with me."

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