Katie Lichtig leaves her job in Santa Monica, retires from public service

May 27, 2020

Katie Lichtig


Former San Luis Obispo City Manager and current Santa Monica assistant city manager, Katie Lichtig, is retiring from public service this week.

Lichtig, 58, announced in January she would retire on April 9. Amid the coronavirus crisis, she delayed her retirement by nearly two months. Now, Friday will be Lichtig’s last day on the job in Santa Monica.

Though announced prior, Lichtig’s retirement comes about a month and a half following the abrupt resignation of the man who hired her. Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole announced his resignation in April amid a dispute over budget cuts and public pressure over his handling of city finances during the pandemic.

Shortly before the Santa Monica city manager announced his resignation, a city resident launched an online petition call for the firing of both Cole and Lichtig. The petition garnered nearly 2,900 signatures, and it alleged Cole and Lichtig were abusing their power during the pandemic and blaming the crisis for the city’s already dire financial situation.

In his resignation announcement, Cole acknowledged Santa Monica faced fiscal challenges and “massive pension obligations” prior to the pandemic. During the pandemic, the city became faced with a projected budget shortfall of $300 million over 26 months. Likewise, fear and anger arose among staff and the community over looming budget cuts and layoffs, Cole stated.

The individual who launched the petition, a man identifying as Sir Santa Monica Steve, responded to Cole’s resignation by saying it was a success but Lichtig still needed to be terminated immediately.

“We have won this battle but still have work to do. Katie Lichtig is still employed and budget cuts are looming,” the person behind the petition wrote. “I think we can all agree how essential it is to have trustworthy, ethical leaders at the city’s helm, and Rick Cole and Katie Lichtig do not meet that standard.”

Cole, who had served as Santa Monica city manger since 2015, earned a base salary of $342,780 and $462,172 in total pay in 2018, according to Transparent California. That year, Lichtig received $278,296 in base salary and $388,789 in total pay.

Lichtig served more than 7.5 years at the helm of San Luis Obispo’s city government. She left the city of SLO in 2017 after Cole selected her from a nationwide field of candidates to become Santa Monica’s assistant city manager and chief operating officer.

“I sought out Katie because I knew about her achievements and skills in our profession,” Cole said at the time.

Early in her municipal career, Lichtig served a first tenure with the city of Santa Monica, spanning 1992-2001. She then served as city manager of Malibu and assistant city manager of Beverly Hills before moving to SLO and ultimately returning to Santa Monica.

“Public service has defined my life and it has been my honor to work on behalf of the city of Santa Monica. After 35 years, I am ready to start a new chapter,” Lichtig said in a statement released in January. “I take this step into retirement with tremendous gratitude for everything this community has offered me both inside and outside the organization.”

Lichtig’s tenure in San Luis Obispo included several controversies ranging from the amount of money she made to her appearance in a raunchy video. While with the city of SLO, Lichtig’s total pay regularly exceeded $300,000 a year.

The city of SLO fined Lichtig over her participating in a video that allegedly sexually objectified firefighters. The video was intended as a spoof to promote the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, but it resulted in Lichtig receiving a $2,659 fine and then-SLO fire chief Garret Olson getting fined $5,442.

Additionally, San Luis Obispo’s staffing and pensions costs rose considerably during Lichtig’s tenure as city manager, culminating with the city facing multi-million dollar budget shortfalls following a decision made by CalPERS to lower its investment forecast.

“That we reached out to bring Katie back home tells you all you need to know about how Santa Monica feels about her,” Santa Monica Mayor Kevin McKeown said in January. “Katie’s been an indispensable core part of every achievement our city takes pride in.”

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Congrats to Katie. If there is an unsettling issue with her compensation then why does the public afford it? It is the public that has afforded all public employee compensations, next there may be lowering of retirement age and employment years eligibility. Sure they will take a cut for that exit but there will be more of them collecting. There is no reason to get mad if you don’t get involved, check both party headquarters then choose which to support. Who knows, you may want the party that raises taxes to support a new position for your kid or the party that supports your kid to be self-reliant? Yes you have to do something, even if only making a verifiable choice.

Can we come up with a solution to this? I am reminded of Prop 13, which restricted an unlimited tax/revenue generating system, AND survived legal scrutiny.

Let’s say a Countywide ballot initiative capping an individual public employee’s annual compensation. Say, “no public employee of SLO County or the cities and special districts located herein, shall receive an annual compensation in excess of $XX. Compensation being defined as wages, retirement plan contributions, health benefits, and any other form of compensation deemed taxable by the IRS. Further, no current or former public employee of SLO County or the cities and special districts located herein, shall receive an annual compensation in excess of $XX as part of a reciprocal pension system”. Surviving legal scrutiny would be the rub. People thought Prop 13 would be tossed out, so this would have to be carefully drafted.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! Katie and company will get a lifelong thank you from the places they worked called a CalPERS pension. At 2 percent per year of work (35 years), multiplied by the highest/last salary, this comes in her case to a whopping 70 percent of her last salary, or well over $200,000 per year forever. Your tax dollars at work. The city must pay CalPERS to fund these pensions. This takes money away from services like streets, infrastructure and every other city responsibility. At this time the city of SLO owes CalPERS over $160,000,000 to fund these lavish retirements.

I firmly believe these outrageous salaries and pensions should be capped. Government jobs were meant to to provide a middle class standard of living, not make multi-millionaires out of very ordinary employees.