Open Government Called into Question

Long Beach City Hall. (Credit: Joseph Kellard)
Long Beach City Hall. (Credit: Joseph Kellard)
Story by Jeff Lipton.

Residents expressed concern this week when they were barred from asking questions during the Good and Welfare portion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Karen McInnis, the treasurer of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, was inquiring about replacing the “Welcome” sign at the Nevada Avenue entrance to the city when she was prohibited by council President Scott Mandel from asking her question.

“This is for comments, not questions,” said Mandel, who was named the new city council president on the city’s six-month rotation basis. Before the Good and Welfare portion got started Tuesday, he said about it: “It’s really not set up for questions.”

McInnis said she was caught off guard by Mandel’s comments. “I was just asking about the sign, which looks terrible,” she said. 

“I was a little surprised,” she said of not being allowed to ask the council a question.

McInnis said she was assured afterward that her question would be answered. “I feel very confident calling the department heads,” she said. “I always had a good response from them.”

But Larry Benowitz, a longtime politically active resident, was not so kind about the move. “I don’t like the idea of it,” said Benowitz, who ran for City Council in 2007. “The citizens have three minutes to address their government.”

Benowitz said the current administration campaigned under the promise of openness in government.

“This is a group I walked with every day to get them elected,” he added. “They campaigned on transparency. This is not transparency. Just because they get elected doesn’t mean we have to give up our right to address them.”

Jim Hennessy, a former City Council president, said that in 2004 his administration first permitted residents to ask questions during the Good and Welfare portion.

“I was really stunned what they did the other night,” said Hennessy. “I don’t know of any other municipality that does not allow questions to be asked of its administration.

“When you ask questions in public, you are getting elected officials on the record and you hold government to a higher standard and make them more accountable. What they are doing is not transparency in government. As far as I’m concerned, they took 10 steps backward.”

Some residents speculated that the current council was barring them from asking questions in order to speed up the meeting and to avoid being asked the same questions.

Gordon Tepper, a city spokesman, said the intention of providing the Good and Welfare session was never to allow residents to ask questions of the council. He said residents could ask their questions after the meeting is over or any other time during the week.

“Good and Welfare is not a question-and answer session,” said Tepper. “We’re following the code.”

Tepper objected to the criticism that the current administration is not open enough.

“This administration has been clearly more open and transparent than probably any other administration in the history of Long Beach,” Tepper said.

He added that this administration has held more open meetings with residents than any previous administration.

Good and Welfare used to take place only during the council’s first meeting of each month, but under the current administration it was expanded to both monthly meetings.

“It seems that the City Council is the victim of its own success,” McInnis said.

Councilman Mike Fagen said he that in his experience, especially with the previous administration, Good and Welfare provided an opportunity for taxpayers to have access to government by having comments and questions addressed. “They came to the meeting, addressed us and we responded to their questions," he said.

Me January 11, 2013 at 02:57 PM
TRANSPARENCY? So who made the list for Tunnel to Towers? Where are our fearless leaders on to comment on this one? This is very interesting. Has this become a little slush fund for them to pay out favors on the back of a non-profit trying to help.
Jimmy Hennessy January 11, 2013 at 03:42 PM
I was misquoted in this article with respect to one point. I did not say, that it was my "administration that first permitted residents to ask questions during the Good and Welfare." What I said was that the administration we replaced in 2004 adopted a policy to prohibit questions during good and welfare, and when we took office and I was elected President in January 2004 we reinstated the policy of asking questions. Bottom line is this, it is vitally important for residents to be able to get on the record answers to questions they may have. Especially when it was the current administration that campaigned on "openness and transparency" and who criticized others for not being open. For once I agree with Benowitz. This is outrageous.
Longbeacher January 11, 2013 at 03:43 PM
Longbeacher January 11, 2013 at 03:44 PM
EPL January 11, 2013 at 06:22 PM
I want to be clear that I feel that the FDNY charity organization is a wonderful charity and any and all responsibility for the lies and misinformation is on the City of Long Beach. I am so tired of people saying, "Well that's Long beach business as usual" every time things like this happen. After everything we all went through I just wanted to stand up to that garbage. But tomorrow it will be business as usual......
Longbeacher January 11, 2013 at 08:43 PM
but it seems this is business as usual ,and it needs to stop .al the things we are told ,,are taxes are higher,the board walk WAS the worst its ever been and they hired all there friends ,WHAT DO WE NEED TO SAY ENOUGH ?THIS IS JUST TH ICEING ON THE CAKE
Beachguy January 11, 2013 at 08:53 PM
A third party consisting of independent people would be a good first step to introduce fresh air and people into city government.
Hamburger January 11, 2013 at 09:10 PM
Well, let's see that list for starters
Beachguy January 11, 2013 at 09:19 PM
What happened to the missing$20,000 beach receipts? Can someone ask that question at a meeting? Elect only surfers. Snoopy for city manager.
Longbeacher January 12, 2013 at 08:57 AM
i think you will see a big change in city government ,it took us 100 years but we are finding these people we elect are all in it for themselves , lets see how runs next time that has no connections .hopefully
delete me January 12, 2013 at 10:06 AM
Ellen Montagne and others re: HOME DEPOT GIFT CARDS... This is NOT a City of Long Beach or Chamber of Commerce giveaway. The gift certificates are directly from the Tunnel foundation NOT the city. This would be why the city and Chamber had no idea what you were talking about. Call this number for further information 718-987-1931
EPL January 12, 2013 at 11:47 AM
To awesome?, I never said that the giveaway was from the City of Long Beach. What I said was the City of Long Beach generated the list of names the Tunnel foundation used to determine who would receive the gift cards. I already have the number for the foundation as I spoke with Colleen Grace and Mr. Tierney their General Counsel about the list. I was told by both of them that the list was generated by the City of Long Beach. That is why I was surprised the CITY had no idea what I was talking about. As for the Chamber, there is a line of people waiting for their cards today...do you think this was the first day the Chamber knew of this? But thanks for your feedback!
Sillykids January 12, 2013 at 07:48 PM
It's actually unfortunate I guess shame on the foundation for trying to do something nice for our community! This organization obtained a public list of damaged homes (which is most of Long Beach I assume) by New York State and picked the recipients based on damage. Their money their choice! I say thank you tunnel to towers for thinking of us instead of blaming people that I wasn't included. My home was damaged i didn't get one but I have been lucky because people have been generous and helpful like we all should be in times like these!
EPL January 12, 2013 at 08:12 PM
No blame but I spoke directly to Terrence Tierney, the General Counsel for the foundation and the list was given to them by the City of Long Beach. The story has now changed after all the phone calls the City received inquiring how to get on the list. I applaud the foundation for helping but do not appreciate the lies from City Hall. That was my only complaint.
Beachguy January 12, 2013 at 08:31 PM
The Foundation should not be a part of any of the blame. They only are trying to help. The question is who developed the list of recipients , is there a coverup of something more nefarious or just the usual ineptitude at City Hall.
Longbeacher January 13, 2013 at 12:30 AM
the foundation has no blame and no one is blaming them ,what we want to know is ,did the cards go to the same people that got jobs ,when they said no jobs for friends and family and than did that ,those same people that just keep taking and really dont care about the city ,thats all we are asking ,WE WANT THE MONENY TO GO TO THOSE THAT NEED IT NOT THOSE THAT ARE FRIENDS PERIOD !
Longbeacher January 13, 2013 at 12:31 AM
Hamburger January 13, 2013 at 07:34 AM
I demand to be placed on this list - who is the correct city contact to speak with?
Victoria Flynn January 13, 2013 at 10:28 AM
Good & Welfare is a problem of a much bigger issue. Current admistration claimed transparency but has failed. big time Our taxes were rasied to the point that I can't here unless I refinace, all to hire the City Managers buddies. He was hired because he was supposed to have solutions, yet his only solution is to whip out his calculator and rape every single resident!!! I could not be more dissapointed in the City of Long. The current City Council and Manager are destroying our City before my very eyes!. And they have the nerve to say you can't ask a question?
lbpatriot January 13, 2013 at 11:29 AM
The prior administration only allowed you to speak if you signed in at the very beginning if the meeting. The sheet was removed as soon as agenda began. This administration at least allows comments from the floor. Meeting can get out of control and questions are pointless. I've asked questions and have been promised phone calls. I've yet ( in 12 years) received 1 return call. I have emailed Theophan who did not read my emails until he was leaving office. ( I know this because of "read receipts" received) . Our new City manager reads the emails and doesn't respond. Until our elected council people ae not part of either "political machine" and truly have a plan to benefit the City this will continue. People will continue to hire people they know. It's human nature. The problem is that people being hired for very high salaries and powerful positions do not have experience and background for the jobs. Transparency is BS. Not only are plans for the boardwalk vague, ive heard very little about other City owned buildins rebuilding plans. These plans all seem to be on a "need to kniw" basis abd clearly the City doesn't think residents need to know.
Eddie January 13, 2013 at 02:45 PM
The City Council immediately responded to the GIFT CARD criticism and published this explanation on the City's Web site: " Home Depot Gift Cards Explained The gift cards some residents have been receiving are from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, NOT the City of Long Beach or Chamber of Commerce. If you have any questions regarding these gift cards, please call 718-987-1931, which is the direct line for the Foundation. You must be on the list for the gift cards in order to obtain them To pick up your gift card, you must have copies of: your FEMA letter with FEMA number your utilities bill your driver’s license/photo id" Now doesn't that make the whole thing perfectly clear?
Longbeacher January 13, 2013 at 05:50 PM
NO ,i dont know if its me ,BUT ,the LIST , HOW DID YOU GET ON THIS LIST AND WHO IS ON IT .AND i called they said they were given to the city ,the city has a LIST ,THE LIST,THE LIST THE LIST WE WANT TO KNOW HOW AND WHO
Hamburger January 13, 2013 at 07:32 PM
Yes, the list please......
Beachguy January 13, 2013 at 10:19 PM
I want to get on the list too. How do I do that?
Longbeacher January 14, 2013 at 07:37 AM
thats our question Beachguy,we want to know who,where ,when .thats all .this way we know that these were not given to INSIDERS ,thats all we are asking ,and the answer Eddie gave is not the answer
Eddie January 14, 2013 at 07:55 AM
That's the answer from the City's Website. Sounds like they don't want you to know.
Beachguy January 14, 2013 at 10:28 AM
TILB. What are the chances of finding out? LOL! Hahahaha. Same as where the missing $20,000 beach receipts went. We need surfers, hockey players in power. Snoopy for president.
Julia Barnes January 14, 2013 at 12:07 PM
Thanks Ellen for bringing this up! Many people in the community have been discussing this. Not so much missing out in the gift card (although every household could use one) but the sneaky way it's been handled by City Hall. Most people feel that its an "inside list" that went to family and friends. If this isn't the case, somebody needs to step up and explain what REALLY happened. Many Long Beachers run that race with pride and do not want to be attached in anyway to any wrong doings by LB City Hall.
EPL January 14, 2013 at 05:14 PM
I only mentioned it in this forum because the article was about Open Government. I want to be clear that I do not begrudge those who received gift cards, I do not fault the Tunnel to Towers foundation nor am I upset I or my family did not receive a gift card. I called City Hall after being directed to them from the foundation to inquire how one could get on the list and it snowballed from there. I thought I had a simple question that required a simple answer but who knew...nothing is simple it seems.
Hamburger January 15, 2013 at 01:28 PM
i better get my gift card


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