As Long Beach’s longtime tourism czar, Steve Goodling has never been one to shy away from extravagance. Or from cozying up to a mayor.

So, naturally, when he and then-Mayor Robert Garcia teamed up last year to produce an invitation-only 125th birthday party for the city, Goodling let it rip.

In a decked-out event space near the city’s Downtown Terrace Theater, there were aerial performers, giant stuffed animals, gyrating dancers, piles of hors d’oeuvres, bowls of party trinkets, an all-you-can-eat ice cream bar and free beer and wine.

And then there was Goodling’s pride and joy, the centerpiece of the celebration—a custom-designed 14-foot-tall steel-framed “cake” wrapped in shiny blue fabric.

As some 500 partygoers gathered around, the mayor threw a switch and three tiers of giant electric candles flickered to life as a waterfall of fireworks cascaded in the background. City Council members danced on stage.

But like all of Goodling’s galas, such opulence comes at a price.

While members of the public were excluded from the event, their dollars were not turned away. Invoices for the evening’s festivities show that $40,000 in public money was used to pay for Goodling’s prized cake.

“What are we going to do with that?” one of Goodling’s exasperated subordinates at the Long Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau remembers thinking that night. “Every event has to be over the top.”

During his 22-year tenure as CEO of the city-financed bureau, Goodling has always swung for the fences and, along the way, amassed enormous political clout in a town dependent on the tourism dollars he helps deliver. With a largely free hand, he has been trusted to determine how millions of dollars in public funds are spent to achieve his objectives.

Through his control of the nonprofit bureau and its rich contracts with the city, Goodling has positioned himself as arguably the most influential under-the-radar powerbroker in Long Beach.

But now, for the first time in his long career, Goodling finds himself facing a reckoning, one that is testing his well-cultivated alliances in City Hall and beyond, according to a months-long examination by the Long Beach Post of Goodling’s management of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

In a nasty clash, he has been sued by a former financial executive of the city-owned Convention Center’s private operator for wrongful termination. He has accused Goodling of engineering his ouster after he complained that the tourism chief was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money on unauthorized and unnecessary furnishings for the center.

In court papers, Goodling has called the accusations “confusing and unintelligible” and has “vehemently” denied misusing public funds or engaging in unethical conduct.

Many current and former employees and business associates, meanwhile, say Goodling’s behavior behind closed doors stands in sharp contrast to his gracious public persona. They allege that he has monitored employee emails to hunt for critics, has a volatile temper and is verbally abusive toward employees who cross him or fail to meet his exacting expectations.

Just recently, in July, an anonymous letter was sent to Long Beach officials by a self-described inside “whistleblower” urging them and the bureau’s board of directors to investigate Goodling’s allegedly “harassing and retaliatory” conduct and for “recklessly” spending money, including on gifts for city officials.

A screenshot from a video produced by the Convention and Visitors Bureau shows the 125th birthday party culminating with fireworks behind a $40,000 decorative cake financed with public money.

The letter writer went on to say that Goodling’s management of the bureau contributed to the recent resignations of two respected vice presidents. When contacted by the Post, both declined to say why they left.

The bureau’s board chairman, Imran Ahmed, says the letter’s allegations are under review but would provide no further details, calling it a confidential personnel matter.

In preparing this report, the Post reviewed hundreds of pages of public records, interviewed more than a dozen people who’ve worked with Goodling, obtained internal bureau communications and examined a sampling of financial records. A number of Goodling’s current and former associates agreed to speak only if their names were kept confidential, citing a fear of retaliation.

Goodling and his lawyers repeatedly rejected many of the Post’s requests for documents, despite being informed in writing by Long Beach’s city manager that the Convention and Visitors Bureau—because it was created by the city—must comply with the California Public Records Act.

Goodling has argued that the release of some internal records could put the organization at a competitive disadvantage with other tourism agencies. Under Goodling’s direction, his board of directors is now pursuing a new structure that would shield the organization from having to disclose how it spends most of its multimillion-dollar budget from the city. In the meantime, during a recent bureau meeting, Goodling instructed staff to send him nothing in writing because it could end up in a news article or lawsuit.

Goodling’s ongoing refusal to provide records began with a single request—his employment contract. According to a copy of the agreement independently obtained by the Post, it shows he earns a salary of more than $505,000, with perks including a $12,000 annual vehicle allowance. It also guarantees a six-month severance should he ever be removed from his job.

Goodling declined interview requests from the Post and did not respond to a detailed list of questions.

A ‘buccaneer mindset’

Now in his mid-60s, the boyish-looking Goodling arrived at the bureau more than two decades ago as a steadying hand during a time of turmoil. His predecessor had resigned amid accusations that sales staff had inflated their hotel bookings to pad their commissions.

Using his marketing experience with the Marriott Corp. and the international chain of Shangri-La Hotels, he quickly modernized Long Beach’s tourism operation. Among other things, he launched an aggressive nationwide advertising blitz to lure high-profile conventions and spectator events and created a cutting-edge website.

An admiring news article from those early years said Goodling was successfully “plundering” visitors from other potential venues with a “buccaneer mindset.”

Goodling’s first big splash came in 2004, when he brought the U.S. Olympic swim trials to Long Beach. But the high-profile event nearly drowned the organization, which spent $1.7 million over budget to produce it.

To cover his spending, the city threw Goodling a lifeline. The council agreed to extend the bureau’s contract for 10 years into the future so Goodling could secure long-term loans and slowly pay down the bureau’s debt.

Despite the financial fallout, Goodling touted the swim trials as a success, raising Long Beach’s profile as an ideal seaside destination for big events.

Within the tourism industry, Goodling has long been considered an innovator. For six years running, his Convention and Visitors Bureau has been named one of the best destination marketing organizations in the West by the trade publisher Northstar Meetings Group. He has been inducted into the halls of fame of two industry organizations.

Goodling is credited with being an early pioneer of offering convention clients unique, ready-to-use spaces throughout the Convention Center with an eclectic selection of high-end furnishings and lighting from which to choose, purchased mostly with public money.

Through the glass doors of the front of the Long Beach Convention Center Tuesday, April 6, 2021. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

This “turn-key” approach has saved budget-conscious organizations the considerable cost of supplying such items themselves. But it also laid the groundwork for the allegations of excessive, unauthorized spending now dogging Goodling in court. Many of those publicly purchased furnishings have been gathering dust in Convention Center storage areas.

City officials, for their part, have loyally supported Goodling, saying his tourism efforts have helped generate nearly $2 billion for the local economy. Former Mayor Garcia once called him “the best ambassador the city could ever hope for.”

His influence in City Hall was on display in November when the City Council voted to renew the bureau’s contract, providing a budget of $10 million.

Before casting his vote, then-Councilmember Rex Richardson, who within days would be elected Long Beach’s new mayor, recalled the time Goodling asked him to help woo a prospective Convention Center client.

“When Steve Goodling calls,” Richardson said at the meeting, “you never know what Steve Goodling is going to ask for. But you answer that call, and you play your part.”

Behind the public image

When publicly lauded by city leaders, Goodling often adopts an air of modesty and is quick to credit his staff for the organization’s successes.

But away from the limelight, it’s a different story, say many current and former employees. They allege that, for years, Goodling has been verbally abusive to employees and obsessed with critics—real or suspected—inside and outside his organization.

“I’ve seen Steve get so mad he vibrates,” says Gary Watters, who worked at the bureau for 13 years, until he was laid off during the pandemic.

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During one 2021 confrontation in the Long Beach Westin hotel, Goodling allegedly berated a Convention and Visitors Bureau vice president so loudly in the lobby restaurant that one concerned Westin employee tried to interrupt the conversation, two witnesses told the Post. They say another hotel worker visited the table afterward to make sure the shaken VP was all right.

Dan Higgins, the bureau’s vice president of sales from 2005 to 2007, says he’ll never forget an incident involving one of the organization’s saleswomen, who’d landed a major coup by convincing televangelist Kenneth Copeland to bring his convention to Long Beach.

At a rooftop luncheon welcoming the group to town, Goodling wanted to be seated somewhere prominent—next to the mayor, as Higgins recalls. But Copeland’s team rearranged the seating, relegating Goodling to an outer table.

Goodling blamed the saleswoman for failing to have her client “under control,” Higgins says.

“He lost his mind over it.”

From that moment on, Higgins says, Goodling showed no interest in retaining the contract with Copeland’s ministry or with helping the saleswoman succeed in her job. “He did just the opposite at every single turn,” Higgins says.

Higgins says he quit after Goodling wanted him to put his job above his health.

Higgins says he had long battled recurring skin cancer on his lip and had scheduled surgery to take care of it once and for all. But just days before the appointment, he says, Goodling pressed him to cancel the procedure because the bureau “might get busy” during the week he’d be recuperating.

“I’ll never forget that, it ‘might’ get busy,” Higgins says. “It’s not a MASH unit. It’s not like people are coming in on helicopters with wounds that you’ve got to fix. But he ran it like that.”

Some employees credit Goodling’s hard-charging approach with making them quicker on their feet and even sharper on the job. They say he initially gives people a shot to excel on their own but, should they falter or fall from grace, things can quickly turn bad–especially if disloyalty is suspected.

For years, bureau staffers have warned each other to be careful about what they say in their office communications on company equipment because Goodling has been widely suspected of monitoring them, according to numerous current and former employees.

One current staffer, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, alleges that “everybody in the office knows” Goodling has accessed emails. “He’s looking for somebody that’s going to cross him.”

In 2010, a saleswoman was fired after Goodling allegedly discovered a friendly email exchange between her and a meeting planner he disliked, according to two people with direct knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity. They say she was summoned to Goodling’s office, accused of disloyalty and terminated.

The saleswoman, when contacted by the Post, declined to comment.

Steve Preston, who worked on the Convention Center’s sales team, says he also was fired in 2010 after running afoul of Goodling on social media.

Although Goodling has no official oversight of the city’s Convention Center, which operates separately from the bureau, Preston says “it was common knowledge that he basically ran the place,” often overruling the center’s general manager on business decisions.

Preston says his downfall came after he posted what he claims was a joke on Facebook in response to something a bureau staffer had said about Goodling. Knowing that many employees disliked the tourism boss, Preston says he thought he was writing to a friendly audience when he posted that people would be elated if Goodling lost his job.

Within hours, Preston alleges, the Convention Center’s general manager summoned him to a meeting with human resources, where he was told he was being dismissed for disparaging Goodling and using Facebook during work hours.

Preston acknowledges his post was not smart and that he should not have been using Facebook during office hours. He says he offered to apologize but was told it wouldn’t matter. “I was shocked,” Preston says.

Although that incident occurred more than a decade ago, the anonymous “whistleblower” letter to city officials in July alleged that Goodling has continued to mistreat his employees and those at the Convention Center.

“Mr. Goodling,” the letter says, “is a bully who intimidates and dehumanizes people within these two organizations.”

Even those outside Goodling’s immediate sphere of influence say they have seen—and felt—his temper when he believes he is being challenged or undermined.

Long Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeremy Harris, for one, says he was stunned when Goodling berated him during a phone call in 2019.

At the time, Goodling was the behind-the-scenes architect of a Long Beach ballot measure that would finance millions of dollars in critical Convention Center repairs through an increased occupancy tax on city hotel rooms. Called Measure B, it would also generate an equal amount for local arts programs.

Goodling was so committed to his measure’s passage that he and a top executive of the Convention Center’s operator arranged an $85,000 campaign donation from a marketing fund the two controlled and over which the city had no oversight.

The chamber CEO says that when his organization began surveying its hotel members about the proposed Measure B tax hike, he got a furious phone call from Goodling, who chastised him for not first obtaining the bureau’s permission.

Goodling, Harris says, accused him of trying to torpedo the ballot measure and then went on to “berate and belittle me on the phone without me ever getting a word in.”

Soon after, Harris says, he was swamped with calls and emails from arts groups supporting the measure. He says they threatened to cancel their chamber memberships if he didn’t support the measure or, at least, stay on the sidelines. As a result of the pressure campaign, Harris says, the chamber abandoned the survey and took no stance on the tax.

“I didn’t even get a chance to see the results,” he says.

In the end, voters approved Measure B but the first major expenditure of funds—nearly $600,000—did not go to the promised Convention Center repairs. Instead, in a city-approved effort to bring visitors and conventions back Downtown after the pandemic last year, Goodling put on one of his trademark productions.

This time, instead of a birthday “cake,” there was a Christmas “tree.”

Convention and Visitors Bureau president and CEO Steve Goodling at Long Beach’s eighth annual Christmas tree lighting on Dec. 5, 2022. Photo by Steve Carr.

Invoices obtained by the Post reveal that nearly $175,000 of Measure B money was approved to decorate and extend by 10 feet the artificial tree the Convention Center uses each year for its month-long holiday celebration. Another $364,667 went to new decorations that covered the center’s outdoor plaza, where an estimated crowd of 6,000 gathered for the tree lighting.

From its own publicly funded budget, the bureau kicked in $200,000 to pay for, among other things, a laser light show, musical performances and a private reception for the mayor and his VIP guests.

In a press release, Goodling was effusive about the event, saying a New York City resident told him it was “even better than the Rockefeller tree lighting.”

Generosity at public expense 

It’s no secret in select offices around town that Steve Goodling is a gift-giver—courtesy of the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Financial disclosure statements filed by city officials, along with internal convention bureau documents, reveal that Goodling’s publicly funded organization has spent thousands of dollars on gifts for many of Long Beach’s most influential figures. Those gifts have included everything from mail-order steaks to fine wines to pricey candles and chocolates.

Over the last three years, numerous elected officials—including the mayor, city manager and city auditor—have reported accepting gifts from the bureau.

During his final term, Mayor Garcia reported receiving nearly $700 worth of alcohol, gift baskets and other presents. The new mayor, Richardson, recently received a $125 bottle of cabernet sauvignon at public expense.

Internal bureau records show that gifts have also continued to flow to local politicians who are no longer in office but still hold sway in the city, such as County Supervisor Don Knabe, Councilmember Dee Andrews and Mayor Bob Foster.

High-end gifts have also been bestowed upon the city’s prominent business leaders. In 2021, for example, Goodling’s bureau sent $287 in Omaha Steaks to the Post’s owner, John Molina.

The bureau also sent several batches of high-end donuts and cakes to the Post newsroom. The publication put a stop to the deliveries because they violated the Post’s policies on the acceptance of gifts—especially from subjects of ongoing news coverage.

Former and current bureau staffers, who have been tasked with delivering many of the gifts, say Goodling has insisted they are simply intended to cultivate important relationships for the bureau’s tourism mission, particularly in City Hall, where budget decisions are made. But those who’ve worked alongside Goodling, say he seems most interested in currying favor for himself.

Bob Maguglin, who oversaw the bureau’s public relations for more than 20 years before being laid off during the pandemic, says Goodling’s relationship-building is “all to get credit for one person.”

“He’s kind of a power-worshipper,” says the former Goodling spokesman.

One of Goodling’s most cherished and nurtured relationships was with the city’s powerful two-term mayor, who breezed into Congress in 2022.

Goodling produced a number of profile-boosting events for Garcia, largely with public money, including the mayor’s invitation-only Pride celebration last year on the Convention Center’s outdoor plaza.

According to invoices obtained through the Public Records Act, the private party for about 300 guests cost at least $35,847.05, including a $5,000 Pride flag and a 40-foot tall bubblegum pink flamingo that Goodling had seen at a music festival. The bill was split between the bureau and the city-owned Convention Center.

A welder installs plates that held the 40-foot-tall flamingo installed at the Terrace Theater plaza for Mayor Robert Garcia’s Pride reception in 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Goodling has argued that these kinds of events, although closed to the public, can generate interest in Long Beach because marketing videos of them are produced and distributed online to potential clients.

But Maguglin, the former public relations director, says he, for one, isn’t buying it.

“How does doing something for the locals bring outsiders into town?” he says. “It doesn’t.”

A brewing showdown

Paul Falzon is not easily schmoozed or bullied.

A lifelong CPA who gets excited about complex bookkeeping procedures, Falzon had spent two decades working his way up to become vice president of finance and accounting at the huge Fox Entertainment Group.

In 2019, after he was laid off following Disney’s purchase of his division, Falzon accepted an executive position with ASM Global, which had a contract with Long Beach to operate its Convention Center. Falzon says he thought being finance director of a big convention center in the city where he went to college would be fun for a few years before retirement.

Soon, Falzon says, he started hearing from his new coworkers about a man named Steve Goodling, whom they said ran “roughshod” over the Convention Center’s managers. Falzon says he was confused how someone outside ASM Global and who was not a city official could have so much sway over day-to-day operations. But he says he quickly saw it in action as Goodling micromanaged Convention Center staff down to the smallest detail.

What’s more, money seemed to be of no object to Goodling, Falzon says—a red flag for a finance director.

Falzon says he got his first view of Goodling’s spending when his ASM boss instructed him to reimburse the bureau for $300,000 it had spent on furniture and fixtures for the Convention Center.

Back then, Falzon says, he “didn’t have a reason not to approve them” so he signed off on the payment, which came from a public fund replenished by Convention Center parking revenues. But almost immediately, Falzon says, Convention Center employees told him the facility had not received many of the items for which he’d just paid.

Falzon started quietly digging. He found that, during a span of a few years, Goodling’s organization had received reimbursements from the parking fund for more than a million dollars in antiques, chandeliers and other boutique items.

Goodling bought many of his furnishings at a small Newport Beach consignment shop, Lido Gallery, not far from his home. Court records show that the shop and its two most recent owners have been sued by at least a half-dozen former clients who won judgments or reached settlements after alleging that their consignment items were sold or disposed of without their knowledge.

According to Convention Center invoices and receipts, Goodling’s Lido purchases in one 10-day stretch during the Convention Center’s 2020 pandemic shutdown, included: four black leather Italian chairs for $3,800, a petrified wood table with four chairs for $2,000, black oval accent tables for $1,280, two table lamps for $700, a marble-base floor lamp for $500 and cast aluminum leaf tables for $1,200.

Shocked by the publicly financed spending sprees, Falzon says he went to his ASM boss, Charlie Beirne, the Convention Center’s general manager. But Beirne, he says, didn’t share his concerns.

Instead, Falzon would later allege in court papers and interviews, Beirne instructed him to stop complaining because Goodling could use his political influence in City Hall to undermine a renewal of ASM’s multi-million-dollar contract to operate the Convention Center.

Beirne, who now works at the Broward County Convention Center in Florida, did not respond to calls from the Post.

Falzon says he decided to take his concerns higher—to the city’s economic development team—when he learned that city approvals for bureau reimbursements were routinely being sought after the money had already been spent by Goodling or at his direction.

As a result of his complaints about the retroactive approvals, then-Economic Development Director John Keisler, who oversaw Convention Center operations, issued a memo reminding ASM that “Parking fund requests should be submitted prior to expenditures being made.”

Falzon wasn’t done challenging Goodling. Over the following months, Falzon says, he refused to pay two invoices totaling $110,000 for a truckload of furnishings purchased by the bureau and delivered unannounced to the Convention Center’s Seaside Ballroom.

There were chaise lounges, huge stuffed animals, artwork and more. But, like in the past, Falzon says there also were hundreds of items listed in the bureau’s invoices that couldn’t be found in the ballroom or in other Convention Center storage areas jam-packed with Goodling’s earlier purchases.

The problem, Falzon says, was that no detailed inventories were being kept on the merchandise flowing into the Convention Center to match against the specific items for which the bureau wanted payment. Falzon says this was a major accounting lapse that put public funds at risk.

“If the taxpayers of Long Beach knew that the Convention Center was basically wasting their money, they’d be pissed about it,” Falzon says. “I wasn’t going to play that game.”

As tensions escalated, Falzon says he knew he was headed for a face-to-face confrontation with Goodling. It came in the Convention Center’s coffee shop, where Beirne had asked him to attend a marketing pitch by Goodling and hang back afterward. The tourism chief wanted a few words, Falzon says he was informed.

Sitting across from each other, Falzon says Goodling quickly demanded that he apologize for his accusations of wasteful spending. Falzon says he refused, emphasizing it was his responsibility to question expenses. That’s when he “tore into me,” Falzon says, accusing him of failing to be “on board with his vision for the Convention Center.”

“I don’t care about your vision,” Falzon says he responded. “You’re spending money we don’t have. You need to go through the proper channels.”

Finally, Falzon says, a frustrated and angry Goodling snapped at him: “We’re done. You can leave.”

“He dismissed me like I was his servant,” Falzon says.

The following month, Falzon says, he was informed by ASM that his position was being eliminated in a reorganization. But in a wrongful termination lawsuit that Falzon would later file, he accused Goodling in charged language of conspiring with ASM Global to get him fired.

“Goodling managed, operated and ran the Convention Center and its Funds like it was his own personal checking account,” Falzon said in his lawsuit. “In that capacity, Goodling acted unlawfully and displayed the power and authority of a mafia-like Godfather.”

Standing by their man

Throughout Falzon’s months-long clashes with Goodling, nothing emerged publicly. That would soon change after the Post anonymously received an envelope containing the lawsuit and its reporters began investigating.

Among other things, the Post learned that months earlier, the city had frozen the parking fund to initiate an outside review based on Falzon’s complaints of excessive, unauthorized spending.

Goodling, incensed that the Post was pursuing the story, pressed a top executive of the Post’s parent company, Pacific6, for both the envelope and the lawsuit that had arrived at the publication’s offices.

“He asked if I could get him both so that he could ‘test them’ to determine the sender,” recalls David Sommers, Pacific6’s then-chief operating officer. “He really wanted the envelope, which I assumed meant he wanted to try and determine if someone had licked it so he could get DNA off of it, although he never specifically said that.”

Sommers, who moved to Oregon earlier this year, says that after he refused Goodling’s request and reporters continued to ask questions, the bureau stopped placing new advertising with the publication. Sommers says Goodling told him he would also encourage others to stop financially supporting the publication.

The resulting story on Falzon’s lawsuit and conflicts provided, for the first time publicly, a far less favorable portrait of a man who had positioned himself for years as a champion of the city and a darling of the tourism industry.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, right, congratulates Charlie Beirne and Steve Goodling in 2018 for winning an industry award. Photo by Matt Fukushima.

Soon after, the city released the results of the outside review it had commissioned. It concluded, as Falzon had alleged, that the parking fund “lacked key controls” to safeguard millions of dollars in public money. Auditors for the firm, Macias, Gini & O’Connell, further found that Goodling’s Convention and Visitors Bureau had circumvented city rules, making “unauthorized” purchases for which there had been no defined budget or strategic plan.

The firm said ASM’s bookkeeping on the fund fell so short of industry-standard accounting practices that it was “difficult to evaluate” whether money actually was being spent and tracked properly. More definitive answers, the firm said, would require a more extensive “forensic inventory” of all purchases and their whereabouts.

But city officials rejected that idea, saying that such an undertaking would be too expensive. They expressed confidence that tougher accounting and approval procedures would resolve any future issues.

They also came to Goodling’s defense.

In a publicly distributed memo to City Manager Tom Modica on the review’s findings and recommendations, Long Beach’s new economic development director, Bo Martinez, said purchases from the parking fund “were consistent with the City’s broader long-term vision for the Center to reposition itself as a unique venue in the Southern California marketplace.”

He went on to credit the Convention and Visitors Bureau with providing a $1.8 billion economic boon to Long Beach through its tourism efforts and had positioned the city’s Convention Center as “an industry leader.”

But even as that glowing endorsement was being prepared at City Hall, Falzon’s replacement was experiencing problems of her own.

A longtime accountant, Mary Ellen Mitchell was recommended by Goodling in 2022 to oversee the Convention Center’s finances for ASM. She was a widely respected figure in Long Beach’s nonprofit scene. Before arriving at the Convention Center, she’d spent six years as executive director of WomenShelter of Long Beach, an organization that has helped thousands of victims of domestic violence since the 1970s.

But Mitchell left her promising new job with the Convention Center after less than a year.

She says that neither ASM nor city officials would act on her complaints about Goodling’s expenditures and the Convention Center’s record-keeping.

When contacted, Mitchell declined to talk in detail about the events that prompted her quick departure. She would say only: “It was very frustrating.”

Long Beach confidential

Today, Steve Goodling is once again calling on his fans in City Hall for help.

This time, he needs their buy-in for a fundamental restructuring of the bureau’s business relationship with Long Beach, even though city officials have praised the current system for generating huge sums in tourism dollars.

In other words, Goodling wants the city to fix something that the city didn’t think was broken.

The reason for the structural overhaul? Goodling is determined to make sure a large portion of the bureau’s internal documents will no longer be subject to the California Public Records Act.

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In an August letter, City Manager Tom Modica informed Goodling that the city attorney had concluded that the bureau was required to comply with the state’s public records act and hold its meetings in public because Long Beach had created the agency. He said the bureau’s compliance, in fact, would be a condition for it to spend city funds in future contracts.

Modica also warned Goodling that the bureau could use no city money to legally challenge the city attorney’s opinion.

Goodling has argued privately that compliance with the act puts the bureau at a competitive disadvantage among other regional tourism agencies whose structures allow them to keep their operational and client records secret. So he quietly came up with an idea to get around the law while averting a legal showdown with Long Beach.

He would propose a new organization called Meet Long Beach to contract with the city and replace the bureau in performing marketing and sales functions for the Convention Center. Because this new organization would be privately incorporated—and not created by the city—his attorneys concluded it would be free of state laws governing public records and open meetings.

On Sept. 5, the bureau’s board of directors, meeting behind closed doors, overwhelmingly endorsed Goodling’s plan “in order to permit the most effective promotion of convention and tourism in the City of Long Beach…”  The vote was 21 ayes and three abstentions.

Long Beach officials were caught off guard by the maneuver.

“We are also just reviewing this and will be taking time to understand the proposal and next steps,” said Modica, when asked a number of questions by the Post about the approval process for a new structure—including whether the contract would now be open to other bidders.

In a meeting with staffers after the vote, Goodling cautioned them that there was indeed a risk the city could balk. But he assured them he had the matter in hand and that, of course, he wasn’t going anywhere.

Goodling also reminded them that, since the beginning of the year, some bureau employees had already begun educating the City Council’s newly elected members on the bureau’s record of success. They were impressed, he said, “because they had no idea what we did to begin with.”

With these new ties to Long Beach’s next generation of leaders, Goodling said, “the timing couldn’t be better” to win the city’s blessing for what would be one of his grandest productions.

“This organization lasted for close to 40 years the way it was,” he said. “It was a great run. Now we have to take it to the next level.”

Jeremiah Dobruck is managing editor of the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter.