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Long Beach City Council argues for final say in hiring, firing

A second public hearing is planned on changing

A second public hearing is planned on changing the power structure of Long Beach City Council. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Long Beach City Council members said they would no longer be "held captive" by the city manager's hiring and firing powers if the council instead had that authority.

The City Council held its first public hearing Tuesday to amend the city’s charter and code of ordinances to allow the council to not only hire the city manager, but also the city treasurer, corporation counsel, tax assessor, comptroller and commissioners of public works and the building, police and fire departments.

Under the proposed revisions, the council will also hold executive staff accountable for their performance.

“Instead of being held captive by the city manager, who makes decisions without the City Council, [they] will have to report to us now,” said council vice president Karen McInnis.

City Council members envisioned the city government as a collaboration between the city manager and the council, akin to the structure of a board of directors and a chief executive. Officials said the city manager will still work as the city's senior executive to run day-to-day operations and report back to the council.

The council did not vote on the measure Tuesday and is expected to schedule another public hearing.

The city is working with its third acting city manager in two years since City Manager Jack Schnirman was elected Nassau County comptroller.

Acting City Manager John Mirando, who also works as public works commissioner, said he will work with the council members to carry out their objectives.

The city charter was amended in 1939 to give hiring authority to the city manager after Mayor Louis F. Edwards was fatally shot by patrolman Alvin Dooley. Dooley killed the mayor and his bodyguard after he was demoted and defeated for PBA presidency.

City Council president John Bendo said the charter still has references to the mayor and hasn’t been updated in decades. He said the charter should clarify that elected officials report to residents.

“The charter does not reflect the fact we have a city council,” Bendo said. “These changes are reflecting how the city is actually structured right now. We’re not fixing everything. This is step one right now.”

The city manager has previously functioned as the city’s appointed full-time executive to fill all appointments to the administration. The city manager will still have input on appointments, but it will no longer be required.

“In essence these changes will embody the city council authority not only to appoint the city manager but to make eight or nine leading administrative positions,” said John Gross, the city’s outside counsel hired to draft the amendments.

Gross said appointed at-will public employees will be entitled to due process at termination, to be given an explanation for termination and a chance to respond.

Some residents asked whether City Council would micromanage and suggested all personnel actions be decided by a public council vote. Other residents were concerned the change in law may give council members too much power.

“What it’s doing now is putting a direct line in affect, to the voters who hold accountable the people who sit at the leadership of the city,” Bendo said.

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