SLO to spend big on employee supervision

April 9, 2014
Katie Lichtig

Katie Lichtig

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The city of San Luis Obispo is planning a $250,000 rearrangement of city hall that would allow the city manager to more closely oversee the city clerk’s office.

On Feb. 18, the city council approved a staff request to allocate $250,000 to reorganize and remodel city hall offices and to install an elevator in the building. The proposed reconfiguration would place City Manager Katie Lichtig in an office adjacent to the city clerk’s office, which critics suggest is intended to restrict the flow of information.

“They’re remodeling the building at the cost of a quarter of a million dollars so she can be right next to the city clerk and monitor him,” said former mayoral candidate Steve Barasch.

Assistant City Manager Michael Codron said the reasoning behind the rearrangement is to consolidate two public counters into one and to place supervisors and employees together.

“Katie would be over with the city clerk who she supervises,” Codron said.

The rearrangement would place the administration and council offices beside the clerk’s office and consolidate their respective public counters into one, Codron said. Employees, including the tourism and natural resources managers and the city biologist would swap offices with the council and administration.

Lichtig said the changes would improve customer service to the community and enhance city operations by locating supervisors next to the programs they are leading.

She did not explain, when asked, why employees, particularly the city clerk, need more supervision.

In the past three years, San Luis Obispo has had three different full-time city clerks. Neither of the two exiting clerks publicly explained their departures, but both made lateral career moves after short stints with the city.

Former city clerk Elaina Cano left her position in February 2012 for the same role in Pismo Beach. Her move came with a slight raise in base salary.

Cano’s successor Maeve Grimes lasted less than a year, leaving in July 2013 for the same position in Oregon that she left to come to San Luis Obispo. Grimes took a pay cut to return her former possession as the clerk of Clatsop County in Oregon.

Some critics of Lichtig speculate that she instructs the city clerk to withhold certain public information.

Late last month, former planning commissioner John Fowler wrote a letter to the city council explaining his opposition to the renewal of Measure Y, the city’s half cent sales tax. The city clerk’s office received the letter on March 28 but did not post it on the city website until April 1, the day of the council meeting on Measure Y renewal.

Only after Councilman Dan Carpenter requested that City Clerk Anthony Mejia post the letter, did it appear with the meeting correspondence on the city website.

“We inadvertently missed posting it on the website,” Mejia wrote to Carpenter.

However, on March 28, the clerk’s office also received a letter from former city manager Ken Hampian endorsing the sales tax renewal. The clerk’s office posted Hampian’s letter the day it arrived.

Last year, Barasch applied for a seat on the now-public investment oversight committee. Barasch was the only member of the public to apply for the position, but city staff omitted his name in its report on the committee appointment.

Carpenter brought the omission to the attention of then interim city clerk Sheryll Schroeder, who amended the council agenda. But, Codron then ordered her to leave Barasch’s name off the staff report, Schroeder said.

In 2012, Barasch attempted to deliver letters marked “personal” to each of the council members. Barasch left them with the city administrative assistant and asked for them to be placed in the council member’s mailboxes.

City staff, however, intercepted the mail, copied the letters and then shredded the originals. Two days later, staff forwarded copies to the council members.

Lichtig said that staff’s handling of the mail was common practice intended to save storage space and trees.

Barasch said the manner in which city staff handles communications with council members is very suspicious.

“There is clearly a pattern that has developed within the city,” Barasch said. “If there is a negative letter, it is either screened, scanned or misplaced.”

During its Feb. 18 meeting earlier this year, the council voted 3-2, with Carpenter and Councilwoman Kathy Smith dissenting, to spend more than $1 million on the city hall remodel and other new projects. The other funding measures include spending $100,000 on the Mission Plaza Master Plan and contributing $250,000 toward the purchase of property for a new homeless services center.

The resolution came during a hearing in which staff informed the council that it had received approximately $6 million in unanticipated revenue.

Carpenter said all of the excess revenue should go toward paying down debt. The council chose to set aside $3 million to address unfunded pension and insurance liabilities and $1.7 million to save in case voters do not renew Measure Y.

Critics of the city hall reconfiguration consider it lavish spending, especially as the city asks voters to renew a tax.

Codron said it is a capital improvement project.

In recent months, staffers have scrambled to show capital improvement projects the city has completed using Measure Y funds. City staff has been championing street maintenance and storm drain replacement as major components of the city’s capital improvements.

Fowler, who sat on the city’s Measure Y renewal committee, conducted an analysis of how the city spent its Measure Y funds. He concluded that the city spent the majority of the funds on staff salaries while neglecting many desired projects.

Critics also question whether the elevator component of the city hall remodel is a necessary expense. City hall is two stories, and handicap access exists for both floors.

Two-story commercial elevators tend to cost in the tens of thousands of dollars range.

 


39 Comments

  1. SLOChildrenAtPlay says:

    This isn’t such a big deal. Litchtig only puts in barely 20-30 hours a week anyway. If you want to slip something to the City Clerk when she isn’t looking, simply do it on Thursday afternoon or Friday when Lichtig is busy commuting back to her Topanga Canyon mansion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. wineguyjc says:

    $250k on a facelift to City Hall, hmm is this money well spent. I think the money would have been well spent for a face lift for City Management – either cosmetic or replacement – the choice is up to you. Maybe a doodle poll on this is in order
    $250 spent at city
    Option 1- City Hall facelift
    Option 2 – Cosmetic facelift for management
    Option 3 – $250 k for management to leave

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  3. SLOBIRD says:

    Let’s talk about Christine (City Attorney) and her brother who filled a position that was vacant so he could gain some experience and then apply for the position. Joke on him, he couldn’t pass the test and didn’t qualify for the position. Joke on us, Katie and Christine created another temporary position for him to fill. That is your tax dollars are at work. Maybe he will qualify for the next position. Moral at the City is way below normal. And just think, Katie is there only half the time, what if she was there all the time.

    VOTE NO on MEASURE Y…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 2

    • Human Reason says:

      Slobird was doesn’t this story about the City attorney and his brother in law come out and the relationship with Katie and HR director and Mayor Irons And Councilmember Johnson’s husband being hired without any qualifications. Can you say NEPOTIISM !

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

      • givemeabreak says:

        Dear CCN…..Would LOVE to see the story about The relationship between Lichtig, Mayor Jamie Irons, his wife Monica Irons who is the director of HR for the city of SLO, the brother in law, the husband of Council member Christine who Monica Irons hired when there were many more qualified applicants. Don’t forget everyone where Lichtig stays sometimes! Yes At Irons home in Morro Bay. What a SLEAZY bunch!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

        • Human Reason says:

          Simply amazing how these two city employees have not been fired. Morro Bay City Council fired their City Manager and. City Attorney after 20 years of service each. They were well liked and respected in the community and by employees. I have heard nothing but great things about them from all over SLO County and in Morro Bay. They made no costly mistakes as documented above but got fired. How can these two in SLO continue to make mistakes and not lose their job. Here’s an idea fire these two and hire the two from Morro Bay.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

        • Niles Q says:

          Hey Gimmeabreak, you forgot to mention that Lee Johnson, Christine Johnson’s husband, also donated $500 to Irons’ re-election campaign.

          Can you say pay off? How about cronyism?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  4. Pelican1 says:

    There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
    And she’s buying a elevator to heaven.
    When she gets there she knows, if the clerks offices are all closed
    With a word she can’t get what she came for.
    Ooh, ooh, and she’s buying a elevator to heaven.

    There’s a sign on the wall but she wants to be sure
    ‘Cause you know sometimes City Managers have no meaning.
    In a tree by the brook, there’s a songbird who sings,
    Sometimes Katie’s thoughts are misgiven.

    Ooh, it makes me wonder,
    Ooh, it makes me wonder.

    And it’s whispered that soon, if Katie calls the tune,
    Then the city will lead us to reason.
    And a new day will dawn for those who stand long,
    And the council will echo with laughter.

    And as we wind on down the road
    Her shadow taller than her soul.
    There walks a lady we all know
    Who the city clerk she wants to show
    How she plans for heads to roll……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 4

  5. shelworth says:

    Pfffft, it’s not like it’s real dollars, it’s tax dollars! They can get more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 2

  6. bobfromsanluis says:

    After reading and commenting on this article, then discussing it with a neighbor, perhaps there is something else going on here that doesn’t quite measure up to the assertion of the article. Is it possible that the whole of the remodel has more to do with making City Hall ADA compliant, especially since there is no current elevator in the building? The building is two stories; accessing the down stairs is done by going in the door on the right side of the building putting you on the bottom floor at the cashier’s station for bill paying and other functions. To go up to the council chambers from the bottom floor, one has to either take the stairs, or go out front and walk up the steps in front, or go around to the side or back of the building to get onto the second floor. If a person in a wheelchair wants to visit both floors currently, they have to exit the building in order to do so; installing an elevator makes our City Hall fully accessible to all residents and those who may have business to conduct there, or to participate in our city government functions.

    Cal Coast News, I read this site every single day and fully support your mission to report on the goings on that no other reporting agency will do, and I appreciate the dedication to getting the story out there and trying to be a truth teller, but I think there is an issue this article may help uncover in allowing either personal biases or an agreed upon strategy by CCN to slant your reporting, sometimes.

    While I remain a critic of the way this city has been run under the direction by Ms. Lichtig, this entire article seems slanted to paint this remodel as an attempt by the City Manager to clamp down on access by the public or to restrict the flow of information, when it just might be a remodel that absolutely needs to be done to become fully ADA compliant, and moving the City Manager’s office just might have to done to make room for the required elevator.

    I do give credence to the possibility that Ms. Lichtig is making this remodel so she can tighten her grip on the day-to-day operation of City Hall, but I am starting to suspect that this remodel might just be something that has been in the works for quite awhile to make the whole of City Hall fully accessible. Please, in the future stick to reporting facts and try to avoid undue speculation unless the evidence you have fully supports your assertions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 17

    • OnTheOtherHand says:

      ” Is it possible that the whole of the remodel has more to do with making City Hall ADA compliant, especially since there is no current elevator in the building?” No way! That is too rational and reasonable to be an acceptable idea.

      Actually, while I agree with much of your post, I am more inclined to be suspicious of the relocation of the clerk’s office than the addition of the elevator. But that is merely a suspicion based upon the past history of the way Lichtig (and by extension, the council majority and the mayor) has engaged in political shenanigans.

      The problem is that when government officials try to hide what they do from the public, some people will be inclined to be skeptical of their actions all the time — not just when they deserve the skepticism. More honesty and openness won’t stop all criticism but it will reduce the rancor and open up those not in adamant political opposition to constructive compromise.

      While my own city has a mayor whom I don’t trust, I am still glad that it isn’t as bad overall as SLO for greedy, manipulative and arrogant politicians.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 3

    • hijinks says:

      Bob, making the building ADA compliant has nothing to do with the rearrangement of offices. You’ve fallen for their red herring! Hope it tasted good.

      As for ADA compliance, you are technically correct that it might be cool for internal vertical movement to be easier. That would mainly affect staff, not the public. The public reasons for going to either floor are so different that it seems really unlikely there’s an issue — both floors are nicely compliant with the wheelchair parking spaces provided in front and back of the building. If the city has a spare $250K to toss around on this sort of stuff, well, I guess you get your elevator. But really, is it that important? Aren’t there better uses for these tax dollars that benefit more people?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 2

      • bobfromsanluis says:

        So putting in the elevator to bring the building up to code is a “red herring”? Moving the offices to make room for the elevator is really all about “control”?

        I am not saying I have “the” answer; Mr. Friedman’s article here though does not leave any room for any debate; he has come to his conclusion apparently through his filter of every thing done at City Hall has an ulterior motive and barely mentions ADA compliance as a possible motivation for the remodel.

        I am willing to be wrong in my assertion; Ms. Lichtig is apparently a real control freak, I think most would agree to that assertion; but the article just comes off as so slanted so that even to suggest that there is something else going on is dismissed by quite a few without discussion.

        And being “technically correct” about ADA compliance is what “being in compliance” is all about; either you are or you are not up to code.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

    • SLOBIRD says:

      Bob, you comments are interesting. I do business at City Hall all the time and if are doing business you are there for one of two: 1) customer services or 2)administrative services.

      First, if you want customer services this is on the first floor on Palm St. Convenient, easy to access, great service. The services include: water/wastewater payments and services (90% or more are done by mail, phone call or direct deposits, business tax, accounts receivable, bus passes, parking tickets, etc. Quick in and out services to the general public.

      Second, you have administrative services which are assessed by climbing the first steps or parking in the back parking lot with handicap parking and easy access. The administrative services include: administration, city attorney, city clerk, city council, human resources and IT staff.

      My experience would state that very few people, if any, are going to use both of these services and certainly not at the same time. Someone may buy a bus pass during working hours and could attend a council meeting in the evening. An elevator would not be required as the whole building would not be available to the public.

      This is a waste of money and definitely about control by Ms. Lichtig and nothing, VOTE NO on MEASURE Y…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

      • October says:

        Bob, if you do business all the time at City Hall, then I’m sure there have been numerous times where you have had to go to both the City Manager’s office and the City Clerk’s office. I have been to the City Manager’s office several times where there is no one available at the front desk to help me. The Assistant City Manager had to come out and help me. I believe a shared public counter for these two functions will be a benefit. However, I do see the possibility of it making it a little more difficult to access the City Manager because there will now be several layers of administrative staff to go through rather than one secretary.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      • bobfromsanluis says:

        SLOBIRD: I agree that using either is convenient for anyone who wants to use them, and, that accessing both services in the same trip is probably pretty rare, BUT, as I said before, you are either in compliance with ADA (fully) or you are not, period.

        Of course it is very possible that Ms. Lichtig is wanting this remodel so she can have even more control, the ability to make it harder through more layers of bureaucracy for someone to address her office, and the ability to insert herself into more and more of the day to day operations of city staff, AND she is able to have the very convenient excuse of bring the building up to code to justify the remodel. But there is still the “possibility” that remodel is something that has been in the works for a long time to bring the building into full ADA compliance, and Mr. Friedman’s article totally ignores that possibility; I just wish that he had some “inside” information that would back up his assertion that the bulk of the remodel is all about Ms. Lichtig and her iron grip on City Hall. Perhaps an unnamed staffer has knowledge of the remodel that was slated for construction but found out that a few “tweaks” were made to the plans in order for Ms. LIchtig’s office to move to a specific location that hadn’t been on previous plans for the remodel; that would seem to be a good indicator of Ms. Lichtig’s intentions.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. SLOBIRD says:

    There is a lot of negative comments here about Katie, but, she could not do any of this without the consent, direction and permission of our wonderful City Council under the leadership of Jan Marx and the democratic compadres.

    Remember, Jan Marx who calls you an obstructionist if you disagree with her and the democratic compadres.

    Remember, Jan Marx who said we need this Measure Y tax to continue for infrastructure improvements as deemed important by her and the democratic compadres.

    Remember, Jan Marx and the democratic compadres are having a review of City pay ranges, positions, reassignments, etc. that are going to cost taxpayers from the Measure Y tax money. Police got it on the first pass of the tax and the general unit and management are now due their share,

    And I ask, why an elevator? This building, built in 1950’s has survived for over 60 years with an elevator for two floors, both on the first floor depending on what floor you enter into. A sign in the front and back of the building, costing around $500, would be a lot cheaper than an elevator, But then, if you are carrying on the unread correspondence to the recycling dump you might need an elevator.

    What a waste and a mess.

    Hopefully Kathy Smith will spill the beans once out of office as I understand there is a lot to be told. Several people I know at City Hall said it could not be worst to work for the City and working in the Clerk’s office is so controlled by Katie and the Council no reasonable person would want to be City Clerk. My guess is Tony is leaving soon and they are in preparation mood.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  8. obispan says:

    Here’s the way it works. The waste and bureaucracy in SLO is so entitled and expensive that if you actually want the city services you thought you were paying for, that’s extra. Your basic taxes go to feuds between overpaid employees, be it public works employees dumping waste due to a temper tantrum or appropriating and selling City equipment, or the much more highly-paid management chess games, as well as the selling of valuable City land assets for fractional value to whoever has the most pull. The City’s focus is 100% on creating a combination of a profitable Disneyland and a profitable lower State Street downtown and seeing after their personal career interests in the process. ‘F the residents. And ‘f Steve Barasch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  9. hijinks says:

    If Katie’s gone, Codron’s put in charge. Think about having that skunk running things before you get too het up over Katie. Of course, since he’s her creation, maybe you should all be het up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

Leave a Comment