SLO police chief travels on the family plan

January 21, 2015


San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell attended 13 conferences during 2014. Expense records show that some of the conferences turned into family trips and the city footed the bill.

A two-month investigation by CalCoastNews has uncovered multiple violations of city policy and what appears to be abuses of taxpayer money.

In one instance, Gesell took his wife and daughter to a convention in Orlando, disguised that fact on his travel and meal reimbursement requests, and was repaid with city taxpayer funds. City policy does not permit city employees to charge taxpayers for a spouse’s travel and meals.

Gesell, who recently started his third year as the city’s top cop, has not responded to requests for comment. As the CalCoastNews investigation began to wrap up, rumors began about whether Gesell was still in his $157,508 position. SLO Police Lt. Bill Proll said Tuesday he has been instructed not to answer CalCoastNews reporters’ questions, and was not permitted to say if Gesell was still the city’s police chief.

Steve Gesell

Steve Gesell

City Manager Katie Lichtig said late Tuesday, “There is no change in his employment status.”

A public records probe into Gesell’s travel expenses during last calendar year revealed multiple apparent violations of city policy and misuse of public funds. Gesell, like other department heads, approves his own expenses; the city’s financial expense policy does not include oversight of these individuals. The Finance Department’s Barbara Hage processes reimbursement payments, but she does not review the claims, according to City Clerk Anthony Mejia.

In September, the city agreed to reimburse Gesell for the cost of attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Conference in Orlando the following month. In his request, Gesell said attending the training would help him to “better plan for issues facing law enforcement and facilitate the implementation of the department’s strategic plan.”

U.S Airways confirmed Gesell purchased a “special” where one higher-priced, base-rate ticket would allow two others to fly for $46 each, plus tax.

The city’s Financial Management Manual specifies “air travel on city business should be coach class.”

Gesell also demonstrated a taste for upscale hotel accommodations. Of 19 hotels offering special rates to chiefs attending the IACP convention, Gesell chose one of the most expensive, the Rosen Center Hotel.

The event’s host provided a list of discount room rates from $75 to $205. Gesell elected to spend $225 to stay in a VIP room, his own receipt shows.

But city rules call for officials to stay in less expensive lodging.

“In general, you should stay at the most reasonably priced accommodations available consistent with the purpose and goals of your travel,” city policy says.

Travel during the event was provided at no charge by event sponsors. Nevertheless, Gesell’s wife rented a car in Orlando. The city then reimbursed the chief over $400 for the rental car and parking.

City policy also limits reimbursable meal purchases to city employees only. The city authorizes $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch and $35 for dinner. Gesell regularly requested amounts exceeding the per diem limit, and the city reimbursed him for two to three entrees in a single meal.

The city Financial Management Manual requires employees to eat in moderately priced restaurants when planning to charge the city for their meal.

Gesell got the city to pay $39 for an Oct 26 lunch at Mei Asian Chinese Buffet. The lunch buffet at Mei Asian Chinese Buffet costs $8.50 per adult. The reimbursement paperwork appears to show that the bill was charged on one of the Gesell’s personal credit cards at 2:19 p.m.

The conference was in progress when the chief’s lunch bill was being paid. The city paid $3,322 for Gesell to attend the conference.

As an additional perk, the conference included an evening at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park for the chiefs and their families.

“We’ve reserved the entire Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park just for you!,” the conference website says. “All night long, you’ll have unlimited access to incredible rides and attractions like the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, Jurassic Park River Adventure, and the magic and excitement of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Hogsmeade. It’s an entire universe of action and thrills—and it’s all yours!”

Though required to provide itemized receipts, Gesell often substitutes his personal and city credit card slips. In some cases, the chief claimed to have lost records, providing no receipts while asking for reimbursement.

Though the Orlando event lasted only four days, Gesell spent eight days in Florida.

On Oct. 29, the day after the event ended, Gesell and his family drove to the Everglades, a three hour drive from Orlando. In the evening, Gesell purchased two meals at Quinn’s on the Beach for $58.83, and then billed taxpayers, city records show.

Gesell attended another training event in February, this time sponsored by the California Police Chiefs’ Association. Gesell and SLO Police Capt. Chris Staley split expenses paid for with city credit cards.

Although the conference had an association board meeting on Sunday, Oct. 23, and did not officially begin until Monday, Gesell checked into the Monterey Portola Inn and Spa the Friday before.

Gesell charged the city $46.34 for breakfast on Sunday, Oct. 23. During his stay at the hotel and spa, Gesell regularly exceeded the permitted per diem rate with purchases that included items from the children’s menu.

Staley did not arrive until Oct.21, gas purchase records from an Atascadero service station show.

Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson, told about the apparent problems with Gesell’s travel reimbursements, declined to look into the matter. She told CalCoastNews that she “has a full time job” and has “no interest” in reviewing Gesell’s records and violations of policy.

“Each employee is responsible for following these practices,” city policy says. “Violation of this policy may result in disciplinary action, termination of employment or criminal prosecution.”

Gesell and San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig did not return requests for comment before this article posted.

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Giselle reimbursement requests by karen velie


We won’t see any of this in the Tribune or New Times. When CCN scoops the

other media, it dies a certain death. The City Council and especially Dan Carpenter,

should get on top of this one.

Come on, Dan, let’s see another op-ed piece in the Trib about this.


Both are still worried about where the Fosters Freeze sign is going to rest


Hey don’t you guys know that government employees are special and will do whatever they want without fear of reprisal. Unlike those of us in the private sector who fear the government questioning our every move.


Don’t be so quick to label all government employees as being “special”; most of the reports of questionable judgement seem to come from those who are in either a supervisory position, or an elected office that is not part of the normal, government employment structure.


That Disneyland picture was pretty misleading.


RememberWhen: perhaps CCN should’ve used a bag of money labeled “taxpayer dollars” being dumped down a toilet with a laughing Steve Gesell standing nearby.


Be careful Daniel! This police chief believes police are above criticism, and has AK-47s, spy equipment, an armored personnel carrier and the like to take action against people like you! It’s wrong to criticize the police! Period. (See his writings on this subject at Tribune, City News, etc.)

As for Christianson, her smart-ass response is typical. This is how she deals with constituents, also. She should be booted from the Council. She only won because the “press” in this town never reported what an idiot she was before the election. Now she’s elected, has her “full time job,” and to hell with running the city well. I guess that’s not part of her “job.”


Looks like Karen is probably gonna get pulled over again…. Don’t drink and drive!


Greed apparently has hit the police chief over and over again. He could have been happy with an average room, and had his daughter sleep on a couch, but he had to go full tilt, extend the trip, and go hog wild.

Did the city pay for the full 8 days?

Why can’t he attend police conventions in Modesto or Fresno? Oh yeah, not too exciting.

No one wants to call him on the carpet because he can have them pulled over and arrested. Pretty simple. Or not answer a call for help at 11 PM.

slo Fact Finder

Oh my gosh who in the City of San Luis Obispo monitors the police and who is accountable to whom for any indiscretions that may come to light as a result of a persistent investigative

reporter ???


It is truly an epidemic we are witnessing. Every single government run agency is being fleeced and exploited. The “overseers” are in the thick of it. A perfect example is this so called council person Carlyn Christianson and her arrogant attitude. FYI Carlyn, if you are too busy, quit! Go away! Otherwise try pulling your head out from that dark place and at least act concerned. (politics 101, fake interest and concern. This is no better than the looters during riots. Take what you can, greed, entitlement and zero morals. Sickening that this is standard practice, and it is. Sherriff Parkinson was never called out on the blatant lie he told when he (tried) to obtain that half million dollar photo op boat. The department website is overrun with his picture like a Charter triple play commercial. Ok, he’s a very handsome man. He thinks so too….Face it folks, it’s everywhere, big and small government. Every agency represented here is always claiming financial strain and hardships while our taxes just keep rising. For any of you who think this IS part of Carlyn Christiansons job as city council, here is her phone number as listed publicly on the councils website along with the other council members numbers and email.

(805) 550-9320 also

Perhaps she can be helpful with finding out whos job it is.

In the mean time Carlyn, you win this weeks not my job award. Vote yourself a raise.


He would say, “Hey, I’m the police chief and I deserve it. I worked hard to get where I am and if it’s possible to take my family, I’m going to do it. After all, if I can justify at least parts of it, it will probably slide through and no one will notice. It’s no big deal since the government pays for it anyway. For our meals, let’s just say that I am a big eater-there is no law against eating a lot, after all. And perhaps it takes a day or two to acclimate to the new weather and surroundings before the conference begins. Is there a law against that? After all, I am entitled to vacations paid for by the City, too, and they can’t tell me where to spend them so I am actually saving them money by combining the vacation with the conference.”

Yeah, right. Nice work CalCoastNews!!!!! Keep it up!!!!!


This saddens me. While I might normally join the attack chorus with a well researched report, this time I’ll let others handle the chorus and follow up. Sadness seems to be my take on this one. I personally am crestfallen when a LE leader fails to observe good practices, and goes apparently way out of line. We pay such great money that surely he could afford perks and bennies for his kids using his own dime. You let us down, chief.

I know that with Gibson, Hill, Marx, Irons and others, you are IMMERSED in an Arkansas-like regional culture of malfeasance and poor judgment in public office, but some of us old people want to hold a childish youthful belief in the integrity of, at least, our cops.


You’re comment made me LOL! This guy is nothing more than an entitled POS, not too uncommon these days, it seems.


Lame, don’t insult Arkansas! Can’t you do better than that?


I agree with you Lame. The City is going to have to appoint someone to over-see the travel claims, and question the heck out of unnecessary over-spending. It seems okay to me that his family went, just really not okay that the City is paying their way. Given that his salary is quite good, he should be ashamed of himself for taking advantage in the way he has. The City of SLO should make him pay back some of this money IMO.


Gesell should be ashamed!

He should also be fired.


Hang em high!

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