In an unexpected move at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, council President Karen McInnis announced that she was stepping down, and would be replaced by council member John Bendo. McInnis, who will remain on the council, served as its president for one year. She replaced Bendo, who had led the group for two years.
McInnis is the second person to resign from a top city post this month. On Jan. 3, City Manager Donna Gayden stepped down.
McInnis declined to discuss the reasons for her resignation. Her tenure included the settlement of a decades-old, $130 million lawsuit again the city by developer Sinclair Haberman, who agreed to be paid $75 million. McInnis also helped oversee a turnaround in the city’s finances, which led to higher credit ratings from Wall Street firms.
In a statement Wednesday morning, she said, “It has been my honor and privilege to serve as City Council president over the course of the past year. We have made some tough but prudent decisions, accomplished some great things and the City is on a positive trajectory.
“The demands of my day job have increased of late,” the statement continued, “and while I’ve the utmost confidence in my ability to fulfill my duties as a Councilperson, I want to be sure the role of President is given the time it deserves. This will allow me to focus my energy on helping to launch and execute a principled City Manager search while continuing to be a fierce advocate for responsible budgeting and ethical and inclusive governance.”
McInnis, 51, is chief financial officer at the Association of American Publishers, a nonprofit that represents book, journal and education publishers on law and policy.
Gayden’s resignation, after almost three tumultuous years as city manager, was equally unexpected. She did not attend the Jan. 3 meeting at which it was announced.
Gayden’s contract runs through Dec. 31, 2023, but city spokesman John McNally said that Gayden and the city had agreed that “It was time.” Police Commissioner Ron Walsh has replaced her temporarily, and until a permanent replacement is found, he will hold both positions.
McInnis received a host of congratulations from other council members.
“Karen has been an amazing person,” council member Roy Lester said. “I never saw anyone work harder.”
“Quoting Yogi Berra, ‘It’s déjà vu all over again,’” Bendo said. “People think this is a part-time job, but the council puts in a lot of hours. It’s like a council on steroids.”
In other action Tuesday night, the council appointed Vice President Liz Treston to fill a vacant seat on the city’s dormant Board of Ethics, which has not held a meeting in years. The council decided to revitalize the board after hearing complaints at previous meetings that it was inactive. The body is supposed to have eight members. With Treston’s appointment, there are now two other vacancies to fill.
The board’s purpose is to deal with conflict-of-interest issues separate from the conduct of city employees and issues with salaries or hirings and firings. Bendo said there had been “a misconception” about the purpose of the board.
“It’s a conflict-of-interest board,” he said. “It’s not about whether someone saw someone else doing something wrong.”
The board is empowered only to render advisory opinions.
In a statement, Treston said, “Reinvigorating the Ethics Board is something the Council has been focused on for quite some time. While the charge of the Ethics Board is legally limited to only reviewing potential conflicts of interest, this administration will continue to enact policies and programs that ensure more transparent and virtuous government here in Long Beach.”
Lester said he had been pushing for a more active board for years. “It’s a compliance board,” he said, adding that a city consultant had recommended that the board be more active.
In September 2020, when then Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas wrote a scathing opinion on the Long Beach payout scandal two years earlier, she said the city needed an “active” Board of Ethics.
Singas wrote, “I call upon the City of Long Beach to ensure that its board of ethics is constituted, active, and prepared to educate employees and officials regarding the Code of Ethics, conflict rules and disclosure requirements to guard against future abuses and conflicts of interest.”
But in 2012, when the City Council created the eight-member board, then council member Mike Fagen complained that half of the appointees had made political donations to the Long Beach Democrats.
One of those appointees was Helen Dorado Alessi, who is now the executive director of the Long Beach Latino Civic Association. “The board hasn’t met in all of the years I’ve been a member,” Dorado Alessi said before Tuesday night’s meeting. “I was voted in and it was a big thing. But I never heard from them again. I made phone calls. I asked, ‘Shouldn’t we be meeting?’” But, she said, she heard nothing.