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.


If he was seeking a cash in return for not ratting out management, that is called extortion! That is a textbook definition.


I find it highly plausible that the Chief, sporting a very impressive list of accomplishments and specialty training, is considered a catch worthy of exceptional treatment by prospective employers. It is no great leap of imagination to think that a city would accept his application after a given deadline, or fast-track the same.

A mistake has been made in releasing him, because he would have remained fiercely loyal to the steady improvement of the city in general until his retirement party. This city would’ve seen the sun set on most of the nuisances and petty crime that plague the downtown (and neighborhoods) if Gessell had been permitted to execute his many well-thought plans.

If cause for termination existed, no payout (nor negotiation) would have been recommended. If it were legitimate cause, the news would have leaked along the usual channels.

He may have some knowledge of things unseen, but no threat would have had to have been uttered, logically speaking, given that his possession of such knowledge would have been useless unless it were generally believed that he did, indeed, possess it.

The skulduggery and sleight of hand in this mess lies solely in the suppression of why he was fired.

Upon being screwed by the city, the chief screwed back according to the terms of the contract the city broke.

Any of us might’ve done the same in clear conscience.


To me the answer is simple. If he is employed under “at will employment”, then you can fire his ass at any time and don’t negotiate. If he is contracted, then different story but before you hire someone else, change to “at will”. Heck the majority of us in the private sector are employed as “at will” or in case of someone like myself, I am an “at will” employer. If it doesn’t work out…………SEE YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!


I don’t know about that. If I were qualified to be a city attorney, I would want such a clause to prevent/compensate for an unjust firing if the city manager or city council decided to ignore or reject my best advice on a routine basis or pressure me into compromising my integrity by spinning the law to allow them to do something that was illegal or unethical. Yes, it would be wise to check out your prospective employers before taking such a job, but what happens if a good city management team gets thrown out in the next election?

The terms of the contract should be reasonable and fair as far as severance goes. But it is the expectation of $200+K salaries and other perks and benefits that need to be reduced. A lot of us could make a better living financially in the Central Valley but are willing to accept much higher costs to live here in SLO County. I don’t see why we can’t find government employees willing to make similar sacrifices for similar benefits. It is not like we’ve been getting particularly great administrators with these salaries.



Home of “Chico and the Man”


IF chico hire,s him they will be SORRY , good luck to a great town .,



Tribune just rolled out story saying that city manager Lichtig and Citty Attorney Dietrick are going before council asking for a pay raise ….. You have to be Shi*#ng me !!!!!

SLO’s version of Dumb and Dumber want to get some more gravy.

Fire their sorry incompetant asses !!!!! WITH CAUSE !!!!


Gotta hand it to them; those power-hungry women have more cojones than a lot of men do.


Wow, if Dietrick really did that (sent out email telling staff to talk to Chico about Gesell’s performance), she’s way over the line on human relations law, and deserves to receive a big fat lawsuit if the Chico gig falls through. The only safe thing for an HR person to do in this case is to say, “He worked here from x to y,” and then shut up. Anything derogatory and it’s “I’ll see you in court” time. But then we knew the city administration wasn’t very smart, didn’t we? Especially its attorney.

Mr. Holly

They will pay Gessell for this error too. Probably another $100k or so.


If you can’t spot the sucker at the poker table it is you.

Unfortunately the local government plays poker with out money. They’ll be asking for a marker anytime now.


with “our” money, rather.


Oh horsefeathers ! A simple clash of personalities brought to a head by the padded junkets .

One would hope that the contract for the next C.O.P. has a termination clause stipulating NO non-pension or non accrued benefits payments at end of service except in emergency/health related causes.