Did Steve Gesell game the city to get his settlement?

May 26, 2015


San Luis Obispo’s embattled outgoing police chief Steve Gesell had applied for a new job several months prior to City Manager Katie Lichtig placing him on administrative leave, a job he was first in line to get while simultaneously seeking a large settlement from the city under the assertion he wanted to stay in San Luis Obispo.

On May 8, Lichtig placed Gesell on paid administrative leave while asking the city council to permit staff to negotiate a settlement. City sources claim Gesell threatened to disclose information about city management if he was not provided a six-figure settlement.

On May 12, the city council instructed Lichtig and city attorney Christine Dietrick to negotiate a settlement with Gesell during a closed session meeting.

On Thursday, the chief agreed to a $120,000 severance package that terminates his employment with the city as of May 22. At the same time, Gesell was the leading candidate for the chief of police job in Chico, city sources said.

Nevertheless, while negotiating for the settlement, Gesell’s attorney David P. Warren said Gesell wanted to continue his job as San Luis Obispo’s chief of police.

“We are very concerned that the council is being led to believe that there is a mutual agreement to end the relationship. This is simply not the case,” states the letter dated May 1 and delivered to the city council on May 12.

Earlier this year, CalCoastNews reported that Gesell violated city travel reimbursement policies on several occasions, often making the city foot the bill for conferences that turned into family trips. Shortly afterwards, CalCoastNews received reports that Gesell was looking for a new job because of issues with Lichtig and concerns over further review of city managements’ travel and dining expenditures.

In response to several emails from CalCoastNews in early 2015 asking about Gesell’s ongoing employment, both Lichtig and Gesell responded with claims that rumors about Gesell possibly leaving the city were false.

On Feb. 12, Gesell emailed police department staff a reassurance that he was not seeking employment outside the city.

“I have no plans to separate from the city and expect nothing more than to continue to serve as part of our stellar SLOPD team and city,” Gesell said in an email to police department staff on Feb. 12.

Chico city staffers are not releasing the exact date Gesell first applied for the Chico chief of police position, though they did say it was during the application period that ran from Jan. 17 to the end of February.

On Thursday night, Dietrick sent out an email permitting staff to offer personal opinions about Gesell to Chico staffers, though as part of the settlement agreement they could not speak on behalf or as an agent for the city.

On Friday, members of Chico’s Police Officers Association were in town interviewing current and former police officers regarding Gesell’s performance and background.


Congratulations Chico, you have a new scumbag Chief. I’m sure that SLO can find another over paid, under qualified jerk to take his place. The idea of leaving California looks better day by day.


I’m sorry but I am going to say it. This has AFFAIR written all over it. JMO / reading between the lines people. Sheesh.


“City sources claim Gesell threatened to disclose information about city management if he was not provided a six-figure settlement.”

Isn’t that illegal? Sound like blackmail to me!

WOW! How can this go on?

From Websters:



1. any payment extorted by intimidation, as by threats of injurious revelations or accusations.

2.the extortion of such payment:


3. to extort money from (a person) by the use of threats.

5. to force or coerce into a particular action, statement, etc.:




These employees know how to work the system far better than the people who negotiate their contracts.

Steve Adams negotiated a severance, and almost before the ink was dry filed an insurance claim on a policy it appears only he and attorney Tim Carmel knew about. Of course, Carmel failed to mention the policy when the severance negotiations were taking place.

Gesell in the running for another job while he’s employed here, waiting for his bye-bye $$$ is much the same.


The problem is in the hiring documents. City honchos think they have the right to huge severance (read job blackmail against the city council), and the councils are so witless they sign these things. They claim, the councils that is, they can’t get “good” people without offering these sorts of golden parachutes. I doubt that’s true. I’d be happy to have Lichtig’s job for 100K less than she makes, truly at-will employment, and no golden parachute, but they will never hire the likes of me because I’m an honest, decent person, and that’s not what appeals to the frat-president-wannabe types who run for public office around here.


No big deal with him getting new job but to squeal you were going to tell “all”. Now you got your money and your quiet. Chief is suppose to set the standards between right and wrong. You speaking out about problems with our city management would have been priceless over 120,000 settlement. Thanks Chief. Dinner is on me obviously this time…


Why do I feel so helpless….and violated?


Because we are helpless and violated until California law is changed to break up the public employee unions. The unholy alliance between the employee unions and the politicians will go on.


You are way off base Johnny. Gesell doesnt belong to a union, nor does Lichtig and all the other executive managers.

Line level union people need something to protect them from the dishonest leeches that occupy the ranks of “executive management”


This has NOTHING to do with unions. These sorts of golden parachute perks apply only to those in positions “too important” to be unionized. No union contract at the city contains the fire-me-only-if-you’ll-pay-me-six-months-pay clause these high-and-mighty 1% muckymucks get.


$120k is ludicrous. The damages in a case like this are based on how long the plaintiff anticipates being unemployed. If he gets a job right away then his damages are minimal and therefore the risk would be very low. Someone as young and ambitious as Gessell would likely seek and obtain employment very quickly so the city should’ve anticipated low damages and low risk of a large judgement. They should’ve low-balled him in negotiations. The fact that they paid out so much so quickly is either ineptness, or shenanigans. If the city knew a new potential employer was already investigating his background in town, in preparations of offering him a job, that makes it even worse


Sounds like he doesn’t yet have the job, and that the city is doing everything it can to see he remains unemployed.


Oh, and the 120K was actually less than he could have asked for. His contract would have permitted him to get more, so he settled for less than they said they’d provide. I’m not defending 120K — I’m stating a fact.


Well congratulations on your superb negotiation skills.

Mr. Holly

I appears that Lichtig and Gessell don’t quite get along. This probably has been brewing for sometime with Gessell knowing what the outcome was going to be. I believe that he truly wanted to stay on as the Chief in SLO but the liberals were not going to let him do his job. Bottom line he was not going to be a “yes man”. So the application for Chico was a back up option that Gessell chose knowing what was probably going to happen.

For the payoff, that was in the contract that Lichtig negotiated with Gesell, I bet she has the same options in her contract although probably way more lucrative.The city probably considers it a cheap price to keep him silent on what really goes on within the city. These payoffs are becoming more and more common, just look at Paso Robles, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero and San Luis Obispo.

The bottom line is that it’s business as usual with OUR tax money.


Dont kid yourself Mr. Holly this has NOTHING to do with liberals or consevatives. Gesell was disliked by both. Now that Gesell has left the police department start snooping around to see how people really felt about him … inquiring minds want to know.

Mr. Holly

Most people who are wrong don’t usually like the police, especially when they can’t prevent him from doing his job.


Lichtig doesn’t get along with anybody. She’s had a total turnover in all the top positions, and multiple turnovers in some. She’s a piece of work, but the council loves her. Some of them even go to “visit” at her Malibu enclave. She really knows how to run the council. All the talk about the Mayor not knowing how to be mayor? That’s part of it, too.

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