Following his appointment and his address to city employees and constituents Tuesday morning, Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman and the new City Council, consisting of President Fran Adelson, Vice President Len Torres, Michael Fagen, Scott Mandel and John McLaughlin, sat with the press to answer questions in the city manager's office at City Hall. McLaughlin was not present at the meeting, and he told Patch on Wednesday that he had a prior travel commitment. The following is part one of this Q&A with the new administration.
What will you be doing today?
Schnirman: We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re going to spend the day today getting to know the workers, colleagues and teammates, and make some management changes over the course of the week as well. And as we get started, we’re also going to take some actions to take control of the financial situation and declare a fiscal emergency.
And we’re going to take some new aggressive overtime and spending controls, and we’re going to be asking departments for a full status report as to where departmental operations are. What are the looming decisions, threats, challenges, opportunities and goals? And we’re going to be requiring everybody, every department and every new hire, to have a performance plan so that we can set goals, set time lines and really create a culture of accountability.
In light of declaring a fiscal emergency, what will be some of the first initiatives you'll take to address the city’s financial problems?
Schnirman: Moody’s downgraded the city from a A1 to an Baa3, which I believe is multiple levels, I think five levels, and just as importantly put the city on a negative watch, which means that they’re considering another downgrade. So what’s important for us to do is to take action right away to get a clear picture of the budget deficit that we face, to be open and honest with the City Council, with the public and the rating agencies as to what that deficit is, and take immediate and corrective action.
While we do that, the first things that we’re going to be doing are immediately declaring a fiscal emergency in order to implement new aggressive spending controls and overtime controls, and we’re going to ask for a full status report of departmental operations. This is what the City Council has asked of me, and this is what we’re going to do.
You mentioned that there would be management changes. Will there by layoffs?
Schnirman: To technically answer the question, a layoff is defined as terminating positions in the civil service, so we have, at this time, no plans for that. As with every new administration, there will be management changes, some immediate, some over the course of time, to bring in a new team that’s dedicated to the agenda that this City Council was elected to enact.
The new administration said that they would have a plan for the first 90-days in office. What are some of the highlights of that plan?
Adelson: We can tell you that one of the highlights obviously began with the podcast [at the City Council induction ceremony on Jan. 1]. That’s an easy one. Another thing on the agenda was to start having monthly community meetings. So we’re going to be setting up meetings within the West End, North Park and all over town. [We’ll be having them] in the community centers and firehouses, and not going to other people’s meetings, but setting up our own meetings for the public to come to us.
Also, we’re revamping the city’s website, which I found out could be a lot more user-friendly than it has been. There were just certain portions of it that were not being used that we’re going to be looking at and using better. You know, the transparency issue is definitely something that will be done and is a very easy thing to continue to move forward.
Fagen: A large part of what we’re going to start working on immediately is the emergency financial plan. Clearly, Jack and Fran are working diligently at looking at the city’s finances, where we stand and what measures have to be taken immediately, and the first stage of restoring our credibility with the rating services and actually the taxpayers, and that we can prove that we are capable of maintaining a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. That’s critical. We have to do that immediately. We’ll be meeting with Moody’s sometime in the middle or late January.
Schnirman: The way it’s going to work is this: we want to establish immediate working contact with the rating agencies and show them that we’re working on a corrective action plan. We’re going to spend the months of January and February diagnosing the problem and coming up with a series of options. We have to propose a new budget by April 10. Let’s just say early April. So we’re staring with a great sense of urgency.
This Q&A is in three parts: Part 2, Part 3.
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