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LGBT Network officials to call for city resignations over pride flag dispute

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Officials of the LGBT Network said they will call Sunday for the resignation of Long Beach Police Commissioner Ron Walsh and City Council President John Bendo, charging them both with a homophobic act for ordering the removal of a Rainbow flag, a symbol of the gay pride movement, that flew outside Riptides restaurant on the Boardwalk.

The LGBT Network announced its plans Friday. The city fired back Saturday, issuing a news release, demanding the gay rights organization apologize for "false and offensive assertions about the city, its council president and police commissioner.”

City officials amped up the complaint, saying the LGBT news release offered "two clues as to who may have encouraged the group into participating in this charade." 

The city named Brian Wells, president of the Long Beach Police Department's Police Benevolent Association, and Robert Agostisi, the city's former corporation counsel. The city noted that Agostisi is being sued by the City of Long Beach for payback of hundreds of thousands of dollars in separation payments. Wells is to speak at Sunday's news conference. 

The PBA, under Wells, recently held a vote of "no confidence" in Walsh, who took over the department in February. The PBA has listed a series of complaints against Walsh, who has denied all of them. Some deal with his character and others with his policies.

Neither side would comment until the news conference, scheduled for 11 a.m outside Riptides, at Edwards Avenue and the Boardwalk.

In its announcement, LGBT Network President & CEO David Kilmnick called on Walsh and Bendo "to step down and resign, effective immediately, following a homophobic and discriminatory decree issued by the city's leadership."

The Network said Riptides was recently ordered by Walsh to remove a Rainbow flag that had been "prominently displayed" on the boardwalk for years. 

The organization said also that "Walsh targeted and ordered the removal of the Pride flag but permitted all others to remain. When questioned by Riptides' owner, Walsh responded that he had the power to remove any flag he wished. That statement was made alongside and condoned" by Bendo.

In its own statement, the city said Walsh and Bendo are owed an apology.

The city said in its release that Kilmnick "revealed that he and his organization are willingly demeaning their own important advocacy efforts by exploiting political nonsense in the City of Long Beach. In the process, they have defamed City Council President John Bendo and Police Commissioner Ronald Walsh by calling them 'homophobic and discriminatory.'"

Long Beach officials have said the city's code does not allow for flags or signs, other than flags of nations, to be flown on public property by private individuals.

They also said Walsh, "as a courtesy," contacted Riptides's lawyer, "not the owner, as stated in the LGBT Network's press release," and asked him to relocate two flags, not only the LGBT flag but also a POW/MIA flag, which were “mounted on the city's boardwalk to the adjacent restaurant  property – literally a few feet away." 

The city said no summons was issued.

Officials also said Bendo "knew nothing" of Walsh's "appropriate and courteous actions until the issuance of the LGBT Network release, which, officials said, falsely stated that Bendo “condoned” removal of the flags.

"The attack on him by Kilmnick is outrageous," the city said.

 "In conclusion, there is no legitimate basis for the LGBT Network to hurl personal smears and call for the resignations of Police Commissioner Walsh and City Council President Bendo," the city said, adding that it will "explore legal recourse as a result.”