Investigation further sullies SLO interim director

May 30, 2015

SLO City Manager Katie LichtigBy KAREN VELIE

A recent investigation into the management practices of a former Carmel city manager, who is currently working for the city of San Luis Obispo, revealed multiple violations of municipal code and financial mismanagement.

In December, SLO City Manager Katie Lichtig hired Jason Stilwell to develop the city’s 2015 through 2017 financial plan even though Stillwell had left Carmel under allegations of mismanagement. During his three years at Carmel, Stilwell fired several longtime Carmel city employees, hired former friends and colleagues and awarded lucrative contracts to former cronies.

After Stilwell’s October resignation, the Carmel City Council hired attorney Stephanie Atigh to investigate Stilwell’s management of Carmel.

On May 5, Atigh shared her findings with the Carmel City Council. The report says that under Stilwell’s leadership a computer consultant was paid $344,875.09 — $192,360 more than his contracts allowed. The consultant charged nearly $3,000 for 13 hard drives, but the city doesn’t have them, according to the Carmel Pine Cone.

A Santa Barbara law firm charged the city for more than $63,000 in bills from a PR firm, and it paid them without questioning the expense. In all, Carmel paid out almost $600,000 to three different contractors via eight contracts, all for computer and IT work during the three years Stillwell managed the city.

Nevertheless, Lichtig hired Stilwell as its interim director of information technology for $11,888 a month under a six month contract that expires in the end of June.

After Stilwell resigned, the city of Carmel reached settlement agreements with three of the employees terminated by Stilwell that include both cash payouts and the offer of new jobs.

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Despite its down home name, the Carmel Pine Cone cultivates an image as an aggressive little newspaper, vigilantly protecting the public’s interest in open government. For the better part of two years, it waged weekly battle against Carmel City Administrator Jason Stilwell, accusing him of stealthily campaigning to eliminate conscientious city employees for inexplicable reasons and trying to cover his tracks by rejecting legitimate requests for public information.

That impression was severely undermined, however, by a report from the Monterey County grand jury two weeks ago. Defying most expectations, the grand jury found that the weekly paper had essentially manufactured crisis in City Hall through one-sided reporting, creating the community pressure that led Mayor Jason Burnett and the City Council to cut Stilwell loose last fall even though almost everything he had done was at their direction.

The grand jury found that Stilwell’s personnel actions were logical and legal and that the city’s decision to reinstate several of the employees after his departure was at least partly the result of political panic sparked by the news coverage.