The San Luis Obispo City Council gave its city manager and attorney authorization Tuesday to negotiate a settlement with an unnamed city employee, just a few days after police Chief Steve Gesell was placed on paid administrative leave.
Gesell’s name was not listed on the council’s closed-session agenda, and City Attorney Christine Dietrick would not disclose the name of the person involved in the discussion.
But the city’s letter offering employment to Gesell, signed Dec. 30, 2011, states that if he is terminated for reasons other than misconduct, malfeasance or criminal negligence, City Manager Katie Lichtig would negotiate with the council a severance allowance equal to no less than six months’ salary and nonsalary benefits, including the city’s contributions toward the employee’s health insurance.
Gesell’s annual salary in June 2014 was $160,394, with a total compensation of $264,163, according to the city website.
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Gesell, hired in 2012, was placed on paid administrative leave Friday for an indeterminate amount of time. Lichtig declined to give a reason for putting Gesell on leave — but the move signaled a possible end to his more than three-year tenure with the city.
Gesell, who remained on administrative leave Tuesday, could not be reached for comment.
As a department head, Gesell was hired by and can be removed by the city manager.
The council’s agenda item was posted as a conference with legal counsel about potential litigation, and it noted that the city could be exposed to litigation as a result “of the separation of a public employee from employment.”
A paralegal from the law office of David P. Warren in Pismo Beach, who is apparently representing Gesell, was the only person to speak during public comment. Leandra Funkhouser gave some written information to the council, which was not immediately made available.
Warren could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Gesell, who was raised primarily in San Luis Obispo, served for 20 years in Arizona with the Scottsdale Police Department, rising to division commander.
He joined the Atascadero Police Department in 2009 as a commander and served as interim police chief for most of 2011 before his selection as San Luis Obispo’s chief in January 2012.
Since December, Gesell has come under scrutiny for his work-related travel expenses in 2014; an opinion piece published in The Tribune in December in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man, in Ferguson, Mo.; and local police response to a massive “St. Fratty’s Day” party in March that ended with a roof collapse that injured at least eight people.