The City of Long Beach earlier this week posted an ad on its website seeking to hire a deputy city manager, a new position in the current government.
The posting led many in the city to ask whether City Manager Donna Gayden, who recently completed a year in office, planned to leave.
In a phone interview on Tuesday, Gayden said she had no intention of leaving in the immediate future. She noted that she has a contract that runs until August, with a three-month extension. Last August she received a 6 percent salary raise, to $190,000 a year.
“That person could take over for me,” said Gayden, referring to a potential deputy city manager. The City Council, she added, “contracted me to do certain things.” In particular, Gayden was hired to help extricate the city from its dire financial situation.
The issue of Gayden’s tenure arose at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. She said that money would be set aside in the next city budget to hire a deputy city manager. She did not say how much the position would pay. She also said that the city would hire a human resources director and a corporation counsel.
The city will soon post a variety of documents, including city contracts, bids for construction projects and her own employment contract, Gayden said.
City Council President John Bendo said that Long Beach must start planning for when Gayden leaves. “Donna is not planning on making this a long-term career,” Bendo said. “The idea is to bring in a deputy city manager and groom that person.”
Gayden is Long Beach’s first female city manager and the first Black person to hold the position.
Last year, she noted, she balanced the budget and brought in a financial blueprint that held taxes to a 1.81 percent increase — the smallest in years. The increase meant an additional $142.94 annually in property taxes for the average homeowner in the city. There was no increase in water or sewer rates. Gayden’s budget also meant layoffs, but many who lost their jobs were rehired as funds became available.
She also developed a five-year plan to move the city toward financial stability. Additionally, under Gayden, the city approved an agreement with another developer, Engel Burman of Garden City, to develop the Superblock, the tract of land adjacent to the beach that has sat vacant for decades, into luxury condos and retail stores.
Last year, Gayden said that “the city will continue with its efforts to enhance our resiliency, improve our infrastructure and increase our general quality of life, but the overarching priority over the next several years will be doing so while also streamlining and reimagining how the city provides these services.”
She also noted that “we still see financial challenges.” A new budget is due later this year, and the city must settle a $131 million suit filed against it by developer Haberman & Haberman. Penalties are piling up each day that the suit remains unsettled.
The city is also locked in contract talks with the Police Benevolent Association, but it recently signed a memorandum of agreement with the city’s professional firefighters.
Gayden said that when her contract expired, she would speak with the members of the City Council about her future in the job.
She has an executive assistant, John McNally, who was associate director of the Suffolk County Industrial Agency for five years before taking the position in Long Beach last March. But, Gayden said, McNally’s responsibilities are different from those of a deputy city manager. McNally, she said, is responsible for the city’s public relations “and other projects.”
According to the job description, the deputy city manager will be “responsible for managing a wide array of responsibilities that includes, but is not limited to, assistance in implementation of City Council policy initiatives as well as being responsible for oversight of several municipal departments.” The description calls for three professional references to be filed by April 26.
Roy Lester, a former member of the Long Beach Board of Education and now a candidate for a City Council seat in the June 22 primary, said he hoped Gayden would remain in her job.
“I think Donna works very hard,” Lester said. “I also think she came into a bigger mess than she thought when she took the job. For us to change management at this point would be bad for the city, and would hurt us with Moody’s.”
Last summer, the credit-rating agency downgraded the city’s bonds to Baa2, one notch above junk. Among the reasons for the downgrade, Moody’s said, was that “management is a key credit driver of the rating. Since 2018 there has been consistent turnover at the highest levels of city management. Stabilization of management will be a key rating driver moving forward.”