The City Council’s regular meeting on Tuesday turned out to be anything but regular. The city’s contract with Police Commissioner Ron Walsh, who is also the acting city manager, became a prominent agenda highlight.
Long Beach’s proposed three-year employment agreement with Walsh would pay him an annual salary of $220,000. Other contract terms were not disclosed to the public.
One of the primary concerns about the agreement is the timing of its release, just ahead of the November election, in which three council seats will be contested. Council Vice President Elizabeth Treston and Councilwoman Tina Posterli, who occupy two of those seats, opposed finalizing the contract.
“I want to make it clear that my intention is not to obstruct progress, or to stifle collaboration,” Treston said. “Nor do I want to dismiss those who work with the police commissioner. I truly believe that this is the right thing to do.”
Councilman Roy Lester supported the contract, highlighting what he described as Walsh’s dedication to the city and the fulfillment of a promise the council made to him.
“We had told him, we had promised him, that we have to wait until the PBA contract is finished,” he said, referring to the city’s contract with the Police Benevolent Association — the first new agreement between the city and the organization in two decades — which was finalized at the meeting. “I don’t know if people thought that (Walsh) would actually achieve this, after 20 years since the last contract, but he actually achieved it. And to me, when you make a promise to an employee, you have to fulfill it, an election or not.”
After the remarks from council members, the floor was opened to public comments. While some attendees voiced support for the contract, citing Walsh’s positive reputation among city residents, a significant majority opposed it.
Council candidates Brendan Finn and James Hodge were among those residents who expressed reservations.
“You agreed to do these contracts back in January or February,” Finn told the council. “So you’ve had a long time to do it. But you choose to do it a month before an election, when there may be a change” in the makeup of the council. “I think that those people should have the ability to implement the government. I think this is sort of a repudiation of what the voters would want. Now, maybe the voters will vote a different way.”
Hodge noted that while he held Walsh in high regard based on his personal experience, he felt the timing wasn’t right to decide on a new contract.
“It’s not personal to him, but it is too close to the election,” Hodge said. “I think the City Council members that this city (will) be blessed with in November should be able to make that decision.”
Resident Alan Langer said he supported Walsh’s contract, adding that he feels safer with Walsh as police commissioner, particularly considering the rise in antisemitic incidents across Nassau County over the past year.
“Commissioner Walsh has done an outstanding job as a police commissioner keeping the city safe,” Langer said. “With major cities crumbling today — Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco — it seems to be pretty simple. If the crime is down here, why are we talking politics in regard to this contract? As a taxpayer, it’s very simple. I’m happy to pay the taxes.”
The council voted 2-2 on the resolution to finalize Walsh’s contract, with Lester and council President John Bendo voting “yes” and Posterli and Treston voting “no.” As a result, discussions on Walsh’s compensation would have to be tabled until after the November election.
Councilwoman Karen McInnis, who would have been the tie-breaking vote — and whose seat is the third that will be contested in November — is on vacation in Italy.