Black is white and white is black in SLO, city employees say

September 26, 2012

Katie Lichtig


San Luis Obispo city workers, angry about the way the city handles personnel matters, are calling policies that promote employees who break the rules, “black is white and white is black.”

Employees began to vent about the city’s promotion practices following the publication of a CalCoastNews article about city managers promoting and giving awards to employees who are under criminal investigation or who have been written up for anger management and discrimination issues.

On Friday, Assistant City Manager Michael Codron explained the city’s promotion and reward practices in an email to department heads entitled “CalCoastNews article, importance high.”

The email criticized CalCoastNews for publishing the “disparaging article” and explains that employees learn from their mistakes.

“Fundamentally, we know that when mistakes are made, they become valuable learning opportunities for the employee and the organization. Mistakes are not an excuse to punish, demean or reinforce prejudice. I think this is why the article is so upsetting – it is based on the premise that no public employee should ever, ever make any kind of mistake. That is not a characteristic of a high-functioning organization and why we must let our employees know that, true to our organizational values, we don’t operate that way.”

Codron’s response followed a string of employee emails complaining about Christine Wallace’s promotion to the city’s new Neighborhood Outreach Manager position. Over the past few years, Wallace had been ordered to take anger management classes and been chastised for religious discrimination. Even so, she was selected for the management position, beating out other city employees with clean employment records, master’s degrees and longer tenure with the city.

Codron explained to the city’s department heads that promotion, hiring and awards were the result of careful work and review.

“Our personnel processes, including hiring and employee recognition, are conducted with consistency and close oversight to preclude unwarranted bias or influence, and to prevent us from jumping to inaccurate conclusions,” Codron said in the email. “They are aimed at ensuring the highest quality employees are recognized.”

City employees responded by forwarding Codron’s email with the comment “black is white and white is black.”

On Thursday, Derek Johnson, SLO’s community development director, sent an email out to employees saying that City Manager Katie Lichtig sees employee morale as an important issue. To improve morale, Lichtig and department heads are looking for funding resources to add more employees and lessen workloads.

“Two new planning techs will be starting in the next few weeks to provide counter relief,” Johnson said in the email. “These planners are being funded with outside revenues from current development applications.”

Even so, in the past 19 months, 34 full-time city employees ended their employment with the city, according to Human Resources Director Monica Irons.


Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Where is the City getting these managers? The SLO managers’ philosophy clearly illustrate why America is in such a mess – financially, morally and otherwise. City Hall was an example of excellence. Now City Hall is an example of the absurd.

Lichtig was smart to have Codron write such profoundly stupid email. Now she has someone to throw under the bus if things get too hot. In all actuality she probably was home in Topanga Canyon without knowledge that the email was even going to be written and distributed.

Hey Codron, since when did the city begin characterizing state laws as “prejudices” when it comes to thievery by city employees? You need to be gone, man.

Zero acceptance of accountability.

The rot runs deep.

So flipping that city-owned lawnmower for a $2,500+ personal profit by a city employee was a “mistake” and such “mistakes” “become valuable learning opportunities for the employee and the organization.”


Stop insulting my intelligence and integrity, SLO City management.

SLO City Government needs change! First we need a new mayor. Then we need to can Lichtig. From the comments in this article, Assistant City Manager Michael Codron needs the boot as well.

I would specifically like to know from: Barasch, Marx, Aranguena, Ashbaugh, Carpenter and Rice if they are in favor or against Lichtig and Codron remaining in the employ of SLO taxpayers? Please no mealy-mouthed “this is a personnel issue”, cowardly “I’m in no position to say right now” or obtuse “that deserves some study.”

Before hiring Lichtig’s and Codron’s replacements, the process for evaluating applicants and ultimately choosing a new city managers also needs to be revamped. How any process chose them in the first place is simply insulting. San Luis Obispo deserves better than a dilettante from Topanga whose only interest in SLO is a fat paycheck — until she can finagle an even better paying job elsewhere.

That has to be one of the nuttiest defenses of the indefensible I’ve ever read.

Asst. Manager Michael Cordon tries to build a strawman argument because the Cal Coast News article clearly demonstrates real problems in SLO City’s management: management rewarding their cronies with raises, awards and promotions–even when the cronies have exhibited disturbing behavior, have made major infractions, or have committed crimes.

A strawman argument is a type of false logic which is constructed around the strawman’s creator’s (Condon) misrepresentation of the opponent’s (CCN) position.



The way I understand the basic position of CCN’s article (to which Condon responded) is that these nominations for awards, raises, etc. were questionable because of the types of behavior, prior major policy infractions, or crimes the nominee had committed. These were not simple mistakes, like failing to refill the office copier paper tray when it ran out when you were using it. These employee issues included FRAUD, for heaven sakes.



The following is the paragraph in which Condon frames his fallacious argument. (Numbers in parentheses are mine, and used to outline Condon’s argument.

“(1) Fundamentally, we know that when mistakes are made, they become valuable learning opportunities for the employee and the organization.” Condon’s email criticized CalCoastNews for publishing a “disparaging article” and makes two basic points: (a) Mistakes are made, and, (b) People can learn from their mistakes.

CCN’s article did not refute or even mention either of these two principles in their article because the focus of the article was on egregiously undeserving employees being nominated for awards, given raises, or given promotions.

In this group of unworthy-for-raises, etc. are people who have a history of a major infraction, behavior problem, or criminal arrest. These are not simple mistakes, like not refilling the copier with paper if it runs out while you are using it. These are issues that, in the private sector, would get the employee fired (and prosecuted, in some instances). Therefore, Condon is attempting to paint CCN as disagreeing with the two principles when, in fact, CCN made no mention of them.

(2). “Mistakes are not an excuse to punish, demean or reinforce prejudice.” This Condon statement has nothing to do with CCN’s article’s contents. However, by “refuting” his own implied statement that mistakes are an excuse to punish, etc., Condon implies that it is relevant to his attempt at rebuttal to CCN’s article. Condon is arguing with his own Strawman argument he created. Note that he plays the prejudice/race card, attempting to pin it on CCN.

(3) “ I think this is why the article is so upsetting – it is based on the premise that no public employee should ever, ever make any kind of mistake. Condon reframes the discussion by using his own strawman argument. His goal is to shift the blame for the “upset” at SLOCity from himself and Lichtig and onto CCN. Since CCN’s article did not make any of the points Condon attempts to fallaciously attribute to CCN, the “upset” at SLOCity cannot be “upsetting” because of CCN’s article. The “upset” is due to the lack of management and leadership abilities at SLOCity which led to nominating/ rewarding their undeserving cronies, by using SLOCity funds, positions and awards.

(4) “That is not a characteristic of a high-functioning organization and why we must let our employees know that, true to our organizational values, we don’t operate that way.” That may be true, but whether SLOCity is, or is not, run in that way has to do with SLOCity management and administration, not the recently published CCN article.


Cordon and any other SLO City ‘official’ would have been better off not to say anything than highly insult our intelligence.

You’re right. I truly wonder — is this person so arrogant that he felt his letter would actually be accepted by those with the ability to think? Or is he simply obtuse?

It looks like the only “mistake” these employees made was getting caught. I am sure they will learn from this “mistake” and not get caught next time. There surely will be a next time, too, as long as they continue to work at city hall. This is a character issue, not a “mistake.”

Your tax dollars at work. All these people should be fired along with the superiors who made and continue to justify these disastrous decisions. I am confident for the money they are getting we can find qualified honest replacements.

What gets me is Condon’s transaprent attempts to blame all of the upset at SLOCity over the bogus promotions, etc. on CCN’ s article.

It’s interesting how complete moral failures are called mistakes. I’ve several times read of someone who has landed in prison and they claim that they have made some “mistakes” in their life. Being under criminal investigation, having anger issues and being discriminatory are not mere “mistakes”. A mistake is taking the wrong off ramp or misspelling a word.

Almost every politician I can remember who got caught having an affair will frame the issue as “Mistakes were made.” If he is really under pressure to make a confession and get it over with, he may say “I have made mistakes.”

In fact, most scandals involving politicians are summarized by “Mistakes were made.”

This is weird. it would seem that Assisstant City Manager Codron places a VALUE on city employee’s MAKING MISTAKES.

Kind of a revererse/reward process.



Kind of like Calvin & Hobbes “opposite day” (

1 2 3