San Luis Obispo police Chief Steve Gesell does not want to leave his position and the city has no good cause to sever his working relationship, an attorney for the chief wrote in a letter to the city’s attorney dated May 1.
“With this history, we are very concerned that the council is being led to believe that there is a mutual agreement to end the relationship,” states the letter from Pismo Beach-based attorney David P. Warren that was delivered to the City Council during its closed-session meeting Tuesday. “This is simply not the case.”
The city has not made the letter public, but KSBY-TV obtained video of it during the public comment portion of the meeting, when the letter and additional material were handed to the council.
The council met in closed session to hold 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.”
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Gesell’s name was not mentioned on the agenda item, and City Attorney Christine Dietrick would not disclose the name of the person involved in the discussion.
Dietrick reported after the closed-session discussion that the council had given its city manager and attorney authorization Tuesday to negotiate a settlement with an unnamed city employee, just a few days after Gesell was placed on paid administrative leave.
The council’s vote was not made public; Dietrick wrote in an email to The Tribune on Wednesday that the discussion was negotiation and settlement direction only. There was no final reportable action, she said, and the council did not authorize her to disclose further information, including individual positions or the consensus on the direction given.
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.
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.
As a department head, Gesell was hired by and can be removed by the city manager.
Warren, Gesell’s attorney, could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.
His letter to Dietrick states that “we are concerned about the statement in your email of April 28, 2015, that ‘the council is aware that we have reached a point where the parties agree that continued employment is not viable,’ as this is not accurate.”
Warren wrote that he had been told in a meeting that “it had gone beyond working it out and that Ms. Lichtig intended to sever the relationship.
“San Luis Obispo is Chief Gesell’s hometown and he waited for seven years for the opportunity for this position,” the letter continued. “He has accomplished a great deal during his tenure with the city, as I believe everyone admits.”