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SLO City Manager, Fire Chief Fined

The San Luis Obispo City Council went into a closed-door meeting the morning of April 10, to discuss, among other things, a Public Employee Performance Evaluation of City Manager Katie Lichtig and “Public Employee Discipline/Dismissal/Release Pursuant to Government Code § 54957(b)(1).”

Also on the proverbial chopping block was SLO City Fire Chief Garret Olson, although a hearing regarding his future with the City were carried out separately with Public Works Director Daryl Grigsby, as the Acting Appointing Authority for similar disciplinary proceedings.

At issue were formal complaints filed against the pair by members of the SLO City Fire Department alleging violations of the City’s policies against sexual harassment policy and conduct unbecoming officials of their station.

As part of his duties emceeing an SLO Chamber of Commerce event Chief Olson – widely known in the City for self-deprecating humor and participation in charity events – produced a video which members of the San Luis Obispo City Firefighters IAFF Local 3523 said demeaned them by featuring women, including Lichtig, posing in novelty T-shirts that simulate exaggerated male torsos while wearing fire helmets.

While City Attorney Christine Dietrick said the City has not received the final invoice from the Southern Californian law firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen that the City contracted to investigate the allegations, the total was expected to be, “pretty close,” to the $70,000 figure authorized by the City Council.  The Council had originally ok’d a sum of $50,000.

Dietrick said that attorney Katy Suttorp, was flown into SLO twice from Los Angeles for multi-day stays to interview separate sets of witnesses.

Those witnesses included other City department heads working under Lichtig and holding the same authority as Chief Olson in their respective departments, which was how it fell to Grigsby to discipline Olson, as someone uninvolved either as a participant or witness.

While the outside investigator was not hired to determine guilt in the allegations, their report was given to the Council and Grigsby with which to draw conclusions.

In the written reprimands it was not determined that either official violated actual anti-discrimination laws, or that City resources were misappropriated for the video’s production, merely City policy surrounding conduct that demeans their station with the City.

Together Litchtig and Olson were fined $8,101, representing a just 11.5 percent of what the investigation cost the City.

While Lichtig’s share of was $2,659 or the equivalent of a three-day suspension out of her $230,464 annual salary, in real world terms, the sum is less than half of her $5,400 car and clothing allowance, received as part of a $321,201 pay and benefit package.

Chief Olson’s share, as the originator of the objectionable content, was $5,442 or an eight-day pay reduction from his $176,852 salary. The Chief’s total compensation rings in at $276,951 due to significantly larger public safety employee health insurance and retirement contributions.

In addition to taking the brunt of the disciplinary action, Chief Olson was tasked to, “work with Human Resources to develop and implement a plan to move the Fire Department forward productively.”

Lichtig followed an announcement from the City Council with her own written statement, noting, in part:

“I am held to a higher standard than other employees due to my role in our organization and accept this discipline. I apologized to the Council and assured them I have learned many important lessons from the experience.  I make this same apology and acknowledgment to my fellow city employees and the community.

Those who know me understand that I hold myself to a very high standard and my participation in the Chamber Dinner video did not meet that mark. Unintentionally I made a number of mistakes in this incident – I didn’t recognize the impact that the video would have on others, I didn’t connect the dots to our City policies, I didn’t advise the Fire Chief well and, simply put, I didn’t put a stop to it. I should have done all four and I regret the fact that I did not.”

– By Camas Frank

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