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


13 junkets in a single year? Good grief. That alone should be cause for termination.

Find out who ran the SLOPD while Gesell was away junketing. Give that person a 10% raise.

Can Gesell.


Gesell is a problem for more than one reason.

First, there is the obvious issue of his lack of character. How can anyone lead (and chiefs of police are expected to lead) when they so clearly lack character? Does he know right from wrong? How is he to be trusted on any matter?

Next, there is the issue of arrogance. It takes a pretty bad case of entitlement arrogance to act in this manner even if one lacks character. Entitlement is a cancer. It’s doing a real number on local government.

One must also question his intellectual capacity. Anyone (even an arrogant jerk who lacks character) who holds the title of chief of police should have the intellectual capacity to realize what sort of jackpot they set themselves up for if they live like this on the taxpayers’ checkbook.

Both Gesell and Lichtig need to be canned. Neither are of the caliber SLO deserves.


With barely 3 years of service, let’s hope the roots of his unethical behavior

have not penetrated deeply, or really taken hold within the rest of the force.

Perhaps he is an example of those who, when they realize no one is looking–

become more emboldened, and over time

he’s become more brazen, believing he was getting away with it.

What a shmuck.


Avg Salary w/ overtime in this department is ~$125K per year. Don’t tell me entitlement is not rampant throughout this entire department.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Just shut-down the SLOPD and contract with the SLO Sheriff’s Office…


Hey Chief: Isn’t it Pride, Integrity, Guts, Service? PIGS! Not Being a Pig?


The flip side to Gisell’s apparent profligate spending on the city’s dime, of course, is who is signing off on these expense reports? They were either reviewed and approved, or they were approved without review.

But hey, the city passed Measure G, so “No worries!”


Also, since the city is paying for these flights, who’s Frequent Flyer # is being used and who gets the benefits from them, should it not be the city(taxpayers)?


Some private corporations allow their employees to keep their airline miles as a part of their negotiated contract, or compensation.

Since the public is on the hook for these tickets, IMO the miles should belong to the City, but it may well cost more in airline fees to transfer them to someone else than they’re worth.

Upgrading the ticket, at the expense of the taxpayer is an outrage,

and submitting the receipt for a meal consumed days after the conference,

who would ever think that was ok?

Oh, that’s right…no one was supposed to check!


Also, why are meals not detailed, it would really be interesting to see details on meals and such. Wouldn’t meals only for the city employee and not for spouse, kids or others not attending the conference?

And $68 for a car wash?


Kayak, probably it wasn’t $ 68 for a car wash, obviously, and the squiggled “fuel” note doesn’t help. The document says twice NOT A RECEIPT. What classy public employee would submit a slip like that to document public funds expenditure?

Maybe it was a $ 5.99 car wash and the rest was “cash back” ? Who could know from the “not a receipt” document that is shown in this CCN article?

Or could be honest legit free gas for a conference. We cannot tell from the imperfect document submitted by the conference attendee.


Yes, at my company I can not submit a credit card receipt for reinbursement, it has to be the actually receipt, with the details of exactly what was purchased, but I guess when it’s the government and only taxpayer money anything will do.

JB Bronson

It isn’t such a surprise when the former directing attorney at CRLA was terminated for “discrepancies in his billing”, but this is the Chief of Police who sets the tone of behavior for the entire police department. Unacceptable.

Rich in MB

As much as I applaud CCN for doing the investigative work here….honestly…where will this go?

The City will look the other way because he is one of them….entitled to spend a little tax payer money because some pigs are more equal than others! This is how those in power think folks. What are we going to get him fired over it? Persecuted? Not a chance because this is what they all do on these travel junkets!


The answer to that, Rich, lies in the people. Will the people of SLO turn out for a future city council meeting, speak in public comment, and demand answers? Look at Arroyo Grande. That’s how you clean house.


Dave’s right.

There comes a time when enough is enough!

Change can happen,

Write-In Jim Hill

AG Mayor


Sounds good til the chief deploys his anti terrorist militarized swat team against the protesters…..



Good thing Parkinson will be around to keep the peace!


oh pretty boy big spender? he will want some new toys of his own in return.


Misapprriation of public funds is a damn crime. Look at the witch hunt paso did for the street supervisor for borrowing a rototillar and taking home three dilapidated railroad ties. He was basically forced to quit, perform community service, etc. we the public will accept nothing less than prosecution for this crap. How the heck does he think he isn’t? Bs.



To answer your question, he thinks he’s a guy who controls lots of men with guns. Many are criminals themselves and many are on paid administrative leave or out selling drugs. Its more of a gang than a force and he can direct them to do whatever and the city council and the legal guardians of our community will do nothing. What part of that don’t you get.

I truly think the Feds should send in a organized crime task force (didn’t they do that in Bell ?) Things are pretty bad and the morons who live in SLO are too stupid to see it.


look at those receipts – “living the high life”

1 double jack – $19 – lmfao

spicy tuna roll – wowza – foodie!


He’s a cheap tipper! Doesn’t feel the need to share with minimum wage wait staff.


Cheap tipper?

Hey, you gotta cut back somewhere, right?