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Long Beach council amending city charter to limit manager's power

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The Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday night to set a public hearing for Feb. 18 to make the first major changes to the city charter since it was adopted in 1939. However, the council quickly amended a stronger initial draft, which would have stripped the city manager of many of his current duties.

The council, under the modified charter, will still have the right to appoint a police commissioner and a director of consumer affairs and a director of senior affairs. But the city manager, currently John Mirando, will retain the right to decide whether Long Beach employees will be indemnified against lawsuits. Mirando said he considered this essential to his office.

The initial charter changes were made public Tuesday morning. But by the time the council met in the evening, the amendments had been made. Council members did not publicly explain the changes.

Mirando, who was appointed acting city manager last September, confirmed that the initial draft would have taken take away most, if not all, of his powers. Two other knowledgeable sources confirmed his view. Mirando, a civil engineer, is also the city’s commissioner of public works. He is the third city manager to be named in the last three years.

“My comment is that these are still significant changes and that we need to review them in depth and discuss them,” Mirando said early Tuesday.

Mirando said he called the New York Conference of Mayors in Albany about the possible charter changes, and that he was told such changes would require a referendum by voters. NYCOM officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

City Council President John Bendo said at the meeting, “Tonight, a public hearing was noticed. We will follow this up with a public hearing and potentially vote on it.”

Bendo said also that when he charter was first adopted, Long Beach was governed by a “mayoral system,” but now has a city council. “The charter is not reflective of the changes,” Bendo said. “It’s a severely outdated document. We want to bring the charter up to date.”

Mirando said he appreciated the change involving indemnification of city employees. “You [could] have a political body making decisions on … the pay for a lawyer for a city employee who might be being sued,” Mirando said.

Several people who attended the meeting voiced support for Mirando. Joshua Siegel said, “I see here a man who has an amazing heart,” a comment brought tears to Mirando’s eyes, which he dabbed with a handkerchief.

The City Council is acting after a scandal last year in which it came to light that in late 2016 that then city manager Jack Schnirman approved a confidential agreement with corporation counsel Rob Agostisi that compensated Agostisi for all his accrued time when he left the city’s employ. Details of the deal were not immediately disclosed to the City Council. The agreement allowed Agostisi, who had worked for Long Beach for 13 years, to collect all his sick, vacation and personal time, even though the city’s Code of Ordinances states that non-union employees like Schnirman and Agostisi are entitled to 30 percent of total accrued sick days when they leave the city’s employ and can claim up to 50 vacation days.

In other action, Bendo said seven street lights along the Boardwalk had fallen to the ground due to corrosion from sea water. He said all 113 lights were inspected and that 45 had to be removed. Bendo said the city is in discussion with the vendor to determine who pays for repairs. A city official said Long Beach hopes to have all the lights working by Memorial Day.