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State grants waiver for Long Beach’s top cop

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Ending weeks of uncertainty for Long Beach, the New York State Civil Service Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a two-year waiver allowing Ron Walsh, a high-ranking veteran Nassau County police officer, to serve as commissioner of the city’s Police Department.

In a brief virtual hearing in Albany, the three-member commission ap-proved the waiver, which will allow Walsh to retain his pension from Nassau County and collect a $189,000 salary from Long Beach. The maximum waiver allowed by civil service law is two years.

“We are ecstatic,” City Manager Donna Gayden said in a statement after the hearing, “and will announce a date of his swearing-in shortly.”

Walsh, 55, chief of the Nassau County Police Department’s Support Division, was named Long Beach’s new commissioner late last year, replacing Interim Commissioner Phil Ragona, who had the backing of the department’s union, the Police Benevolent Association, according to a poll of PBA members, a person close to the organization said.

But Walsh received only a temporary waiver from the Civil Service Commission, allowing him to serve until Feb. 28.

Without the two-year waiver, Walsh would have been able to keep his Nassau pension, but could not have earned more than $35,000 per year from Long Beach. As a high-ranking NCPD officer, his salary was in the six figures.

On Wednesday, Frank Belleville, a state human resources specialist who led the commission’s hearing, said that Long Beach officials had testified under oath that Walsh was the only qualified candidate and that he should be given the waiver.

“We are basing our decision that he is the lone applicant and recommend approval,” Belleville said.

He added, however, that the commission had received “an anonymous email from a member of the PBA that there are other qualified candidates.”

PBA President Brian Wells said, “The board of the PBA did not send any such letter to the Civil Service Commission against this candidate. If any such letter was sent by any PBA member, it was done without the knowledge or consent of the board.”

Wells also offered his congratulations to Walsh, and said, “We are looking forward to a productive working relationship with him.”

Belleville said that the person who sent the email did not want to be identified publicly. The commission’s decision, he said, was based on the sworn statements of Long Beach officials.

Long Beach PBA members expressed their support for Ragona in a poll, according to sources in the city, saying they preferred the police chief they knew to one they did not. They also said they believed Ragona had done a good job as the city’s top cop.

Since Walsh did not initially receive the waiver, it was uncertain how the city would proceed had he not gotten the commission’s approval. It was unclear what steps the city would have taken after Feb. 28 — whether it would have reopened the search for a commissioner or pressed for Walsh to get the top job.

At an earlier hearing, City Council President John Bendo had questioned the state’s rules. “It sounds odd,” he said.

At a recent City Council meeting, Gayden suggested that the city would have to re-evaluate its job qualifications for police commissioner, noting the job description may have been “too minimal.”

“I want people to understand the waiver is the question, not the person” who was selected for the job, she said.

Walsh was chosen over Ragona, a 34-year Long Beach police officer who had come out of retirement last spring to take over the top spot. He retired again when it became apparent that Walsh would get the job.

Walsh and Ragona appeared before the public last October, with each making the case that he was the best man for the job. Ragona stressed his more than three decades of experience in Long Beach. Walsh said he had helped run a larger department, but was also familiar with the city. In a brief statement, Walsh said, “I want to extend my thanks to the board, and I look forward to working with you.”

Walsh, who is a graduate of the Senior Management Institute for Police in Washington, D.C., and the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., describes himself as “an accomplished lecturer, trainer and educator.”

According to the city, Walsh is a Massapequa resident, but has many family connections in Long Beach, where he spent most of his formative years and where he continues to spend his summers. Long Beach is also where Walsh began his law enforcement career, serving as an auxiliary police officer and “summer special,” augmenting the policing effort on the boardwalk and beach.