City Council says goodbye to Chief Phil Gonshak

The city of Seal Beach had one last gift for departing Police Chief Phil Gonshak—a street sign. (No, the council did not pass a resolution naming a local street after him.) Seen from left to right are City Clerk Gloria Harper, Chief Gonshak, and City Manager Jill Ingram. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

By Charles M. Kelly

There was lots of hugging at the Monday, Nov. 14, council meeting. City Manager Jill Ingram and departing Seal Beach Police Chief Phil Gonshak hugged before the meeting began.

At the end of the city’s farewell, the audience gave Chief Gonshak a standing ovation.

Gonshak is scheduled to start a new job as interim county manager for  Summit County, Colorado, starting on Nov. 21. As previously reported, City Manager Jill Ingram is looking for the new chief from within the ranks of the SBPD. (See story, page 22)

The meeting started a little past 7 p.m.

The accolades and farewells for Gonshak ended at about 7:43 p.m.

The hugging was part of the theme for the evening, as state, county, Los Alamitos Unified School District, Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce, and Seal Beach officials bestowed certificates of recognition on Gonshak. The city, of course, gave him a plaque as well—and a street sign that said “Chief Gonshak Way.” He beamed when he saw it.

Applause followed each presentation.

There were also laughs, such as when Chief Gonshak described District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt as a grandmother and she said she was not his grandmother.

Gonshak’s goodbye

Gonshak said he was glad everyone had so much free time on their hands.

He thanked everyone in the room, and the officers under his command.

He said going out on top was important to him. He thanked his wife and daughters for helping him be the best person he could be.

He thanked City Manager Ingram and described her as a phenomenal city manager who was respected throughout the county.

Gonshak said he would try to emulate her in his new job.

He told everyone they should always feel free to reach out to him.

Officials comment

District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick read Gonshak’s career biography before asking for positive comments from the council.

During the meeting, Massa-Lavitt said she was going to miss him.

She also said this was an opportunity for him to fulfill a dream—apparently a reference to his new job.

Massa-Lavitt said he would be sorely missed.

“I will truly miss Chief Gonshak’s leadership and commitment to our city. Our community benefitted greatly from the chief’s hard work and dedication,” wrote District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa in a Nov. 13 email.

“The chief brought the community closer and made it a safer place for all of us. I wish him the best in his next endeavor and future,” Varipapa wrote.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore also praised Gonshak.

“Chief Gonshak has done a wonderful job here in Seal Beach. I especially appreciate how he handled several difficult situations where there were protests on Main Street,” Moore wrote in a Nov. 11 email.

“He made sure to protect people’s 1st amendment right to protest, but was well prepared with help from several agencies to enforce the law if a person started to get out of control and behave violently. Being in an IT company, I also really appreciate the technological improvements he has pushed forward with body cameras and license plate readers,” Moore wrote.

“Both of these help protect residents by alerting the City if a stolen vehicle has entered the City and protecting the police by providing full transparency when dealing with difficult situations.

One of the items that Chief Gonshak and I worked closely on was starting to enforce traffic violations in Leisure World when I was Mayor,” Moore wrote.

“He did a lot of research and worked closely with Leisure World to get this implemented and I have heard nothing but good things from Leisure World residents about the police enforcing traffic violations. We have also had an outstanding relationship with Long Beach in working together on the homelessness issues,” Moore wrote.

“I wish Chief Gonshak the best of luck at his new position and he will be missed,” Moore wrote.

District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick will miss his friend.

“Chief Gonshak will be sorely missed as our Chief of Police, a member of our community, and as a personal friend,” Kalmick wrote in a Nov. 14 email.

“His leadership continued and amplified the qualities that have made our police department the envy of many surrounding cities. Though I wish he was staying, I know that he made this decision for the benefit of his family and their future, and wish Phil, Stephanie and the girls nothing but the best,” Kalmick wrote. District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic joined the chorus bidding Gonshak farewell.

“I have enjoyed working with Phil Gonshak over the last six years – the last three with him as Chief of Police,” Sustarsic wrote in a Nov. 14 email.

“He has always been responsive to me and helpful in any inquiries I have had.  Chief Gonshak’s stewardship of the police department and genuine concern for our citizens and visitors is truly impressive.  I wish him and his family all the best in Colorado,” Sustarsic wrote.

City Manager Jill Ingram said she and “Phil” spent a lot of time together over the past 14 years. She said he led police through COVID and through nationwide calls for police reform. She said he credited his accomplishments to his team. Among the accomplishments she highlighted were creating a new K9 program, a police facility dog program,  and creating what Ingram described as the most engaging social media program in the nation.