Long Beach to name new acting city manager

Council expected to appoint city attorney Rob Agostisi at special meeting

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The City Council is scheduled to hold a special meeting on Wednesday, where four council members are expected to appoint Corporation Counsel Rob Agostisi the new acting city manager.

Agostisi, who began his career in Long Beach in 2006 as assistant corporation counsel and was named corporation counsel in 2015, will replace Mike Tangney, the city’s police commissioner who has also served as acting city manager at no additional salary since January 2018. Tangney, officials said, will return to the Police Department full-time. The meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall.

In a news release on Monday, the four council members, all Democrats, expressed their support for Agostisi.

“Rob is sharp, articulate, and he knows Long Beach inside and out,” City Council President Anthony Eramo said in a news release. “Rob has shepherded the city through many major challenges during his tenure. Whether in litigation, or by cutting through the red-tape that oftentimes derails major infrastructure projects, Rob is an indispensable asset who is particularly adept at prioritizing, and then meeting, the city's objectives. We are supremely confident in his abilities to lead the city as we protect the progress and keep Long Beach moving forward.”

“Commissioner Tangney has done a tremendous job holding down the fort during a tumultuous time," Councilman Scott Mandel added. "As he now returns to the police department full time, we are thrilled that Rob is able to step up and rise to the significant challenges which lie ahead."

The news comes shortly after Eramo and Councilman John Bendo said earlier this month that a contract to hire an executive search firm was in the works to help find a permanent city manager, more than a year after former City Manager Jack Schnirman began his term as county comptroller. Tangney had said that he would only serve in the position until the council found a successor for Schnirman, but political insiders said that he had indicated for months that he wanted to focus on serving as police commissioner.

In a news release, the council members -- Eramo, Mandel, council Vice President Chumi Diamond and Councilwoman Anissa Moore -- issued statements lauding Agostisi, with Moore saying, “Given the many challenges the city faces, we need someone with significant institutional knowledge to ensure stability and continuity."

"Rob has successfully saved as well recovered millions of dollars for our City as Corporation Counsel,” Moore said. “His post-Sandy work, which continues to this day in the form of resiliency projects, has been exemplary and is integral to the City's future. He will surely continue fighting for Long Beach residents in his new role as acting city manager.”

Bendo, an independent, said he was unaware of the special meeting.

“I only found out about this when the Herald contacted me to see if I had a statement,” he said. “I had no prior knowledge and I was not made aware by the City Council president. It’s just another example of how one political faction is acting with impunity.”

Bendo added that he hoped the search process would continue.

“I still think we need to engage the executive search firm,” he said. “The city has a number of problems, one of the most prominent being our poor fiscal situation, and we need an experienced city manager that can help us put the city back on sound financial footing.”

According to the city, Agostisi, 43, spent several years as an associate in national and regional law firms prior to his career in Long Beach. He served as a past president of the New York City chapter the Labor & Employment Relations Association and former vice chair on the labor and employment committee of the Nassau County Bar Association. Agostisi holds a bachelor’s degree in business from SUNY Albany and a law degree from Hofstra University.

“Rob’s time as our City’s Corporation Counsel as well as in the private sector unequivocally demonstrates that he has the ability to be our city manager,” Diamond said. “His experience working for multiple Long Beach administrations makes him uniquely qualified for this position and for dealing with the challenges this City faces. I look forward to serving our residents with him and the members of the City Council as we continue to make Long Beach a great place to live, work, and invest.”

The search for both a city manager and a new comptroller was launched in December 2017, and job ads were posted on Indeed and other websites. Council members said last July that the field of city manager hopefuls had been whittled down from about 50 to three in April, including Agostisi.

A number of residents have called for an independent city manager with no local party affiliations. Political insiders said that some council members were at odds over the finalists. Eramo said over the summer that budget talks in May had delayed the search process, which came to a “standstill” before it picked up again in the fall.

The council was expected to name Agostisi acting city manager at a special meeting in July, after Tangney indicated that he intended to step down that month. But word of that special meeting had sparked criticism among a number of residents, including State Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Bendo, who had called for an investigation into separation payouts to current and former employees last year. At the time, Bendo said that the majority on the council had reconsidered “making such an important decision on such short notice, and at a time when so few residents would be able to voice their opinion on the matter.”

People at City Hall, however, said that Agostisi had “removed himself from consideration” and was no longer interested in the position.

“There were two council members who clearly wanted Rob,” Bendo said on Monday. “And I think that contributed to the slow pace of trying to find someone else for the city manager position.”

Earlier this month, Eramo told the Herald that the council was unhappy with the results of the most recent candidate pool, after having narrowed it down to a few applicants before the holidays. Officials familiar with the search told the Herald that one finalist had failed a background check.

Officials acknowledged a number of challenges to hiring a permanent city manager, among them a residency requirement that a city manager live in Long Beach within 90 days, as well as job security in an election year and inheriting the city's fiscal crisis.

“What I’m interested in doing is serving the city,” Agostisi told the Herald. “And if I’m better situated to do that from the city manager’s chair, then that’s where I want to be. What’s essential is that we get all the pieces in place before the budget process begins toward the end of February. What you’re going to see in the coming weeks is the City Council and I will be rolling out a wide-ranging plan that will not only address what we see as the priorities for the city this year but also an action plan to meet the challenges that we’ve identified. First and foremost, obviously, we’re going to be working on finding a comptroller and developing and implementing a plan to turn the city’s finances around.”

Last year, Moody’s Investors Service maintained the city’s Baa1 rating, but dropped the city’s outlook from stable to negative and said that its credit quality was deteriorating. The agency said that the lack of a permanent city manager and comptroller management team added to the city’s financial woes, and some officials have said that it could further negatively impact the city’s credit rating.

“We’ve been advised by our financial advisors that this will likely be viewed as a credit positive by Moody’s,” he said.

Agostisi, who lives in Dix Hills, said that as acting city manager, he would receive an increase in pay to Schnirman's former budgeted salary of $174,000. He would not have to reside in Long Beach and would not enter into a contract as the city had with Schnirman.

“As I’ve discussed with the City Council, if they’re pleased with my job performance over the course of a year and the council wants to retain me [in a permenent role], then I’ve indicated that all options are on the table,” he said.