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Long Beach Picks Veteran Official as City Manager

May 14, 2003|Nancy Wride | Times Staff Writer

The Long Beach City Council announced Tuesday that it has hired a new city manager: the candidate who did not apply and has insisted he did not want the job.

That all changed Tuesday when Acting City Manager Gerald R. Miller accepted what is the top nonelected position in this city of nearly a half-million people.

Saying that he wanted to "have a life," Miller previously disavowed interest in a position that usually demands political deftness and diplomacy but offers little job security.

But Miller said the last several months reshaped his thinking when, as acting city manager, he has worked on a $90-million budget shortfall that pitched the state's fifth-largest city into financial crisis.

"I learned a lot about what it takes to be a public official," Miller said. He also realized, he said, that "Long Beach is my life." And winning this top job "a dream come true."

Miller's appointment wrapped up a nationwide search that began in January and drew 31 candidates from 11 states, Mayor Beverly O'Neill told an audience of mostly city employees in the City Council chambers.

The nine City Council members unanimously chose to hire Miller, a city employee of 25 years and a resident since 1961, citing his deep knowledge of the complexities of a 50-square-mile city with its own airport and shipping port and, now, financial challenges.

Immediate reaction to the announcement varied. The audience stood in an ovation as the mayor announced Miller's name, although unionized employees who oppose a Miller-led budget-cutting plan that includes large staff cutbacks said they were less pleased.

And community activists who have criticized the City Council for excessive spending on city cars, office furniture and support staff asserted that Miller's hire was essentially a continuation of the status quo.

"I actually bet several people a bottle of vodka, good vodka, that this would happen," said Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, who witnessed the announcement. "Same old, same old."

Long Beach's hunt for a city manager was launched last fall, after the City Council voted unanimously to fire City Manager Henry Taboada.

Taboada's dismissal came after a $50-million budget shortfall -- it later grew to $90 million -- generated considerable ire in the local newspapers.

City Council members said it was Miller's steadfast and unflappable leadership when he wasn't even an official candidate for the city manager job that ultimately impressed them the most.

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