SLO to spend big on employee supervision
April 9, 2014
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.