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Investigation into ‘sexy’ firefighter video is complete, and it may cost SLO over $50,000

Video shown at SLO Chamber of Commerce dinner draws allegations of sexism

A video shown at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Jan. 20, 2017, in which chamber employees jokingly refer to “hot,” “Fully Monty” and “shirtless” firefighters, has resulted in at least one personnel complaint filed against
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A video shown at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Jan. 20, 2017, in which chamber employees jokingly refer to “hot,” “Fully Monty” and “shirtless” firefighters, has resulted in at least one personnel complaint filed against

An investigation into the roles of two high-ranking San Luis Obispo officials who participated in a spoof video that allegedly sexually objectified firefighters is now complete, but it isn’t being made public.

The cost of the investigation is now expected to exceed the $50,000 already authorized by the City Council.

The video — shown at the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Jan. 20 — was produced by fire Chief Garret Olson and depicts chamber employees jokingly refer to “hot” and “shirtless” firefighters.

The video has resulted in two pending personnel complaints filed against the city, naming Olson and City Manager Katie Lichtig, who appears in the video as one of three women posing as male firefighters wearing muscle T-shirts that resemble naked male torsos. The video also cuts to photos of muscled, shirtless men, who are presumably models.

The personnel complaints allege multiple violations of city workplace-related policy, including sexual harassment and conduct unbecoming of city officials.

As a result of the complaints, the city hired Santa Ana-based attorney Katy Suttorp, with the law firm Burke, Williams & Sorensen, on Feb. 10 to independently investigate the facts and offer legal advice at a cost of up to $50,000.

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said Tuesday that she had just received the “quite lengthy” reports and was reviewing them. She declined to release them, saying they are confidential personnel records and are part of an ongoing investigation.

“We are aiming for completion (of the review) by the middle of next month, but have not yet finalized/noticed dates, as we will need to develop recommendations and conclusions regarding law and policy compliance once we digest the reports,” Dietrick said in an email to The Tribune.

We are aiming for completion by the middle of next month, but have not yet finalized/noticed dates, as we will need to develop recommendations and conclusions regarding law and policy compliance once we digest the reports.

Christine Dietrick, city attorney

At its next meeting, the City Council will be asked to authorize payments for the investigation beyond the previously approved $50,000 because costs are expected to exceed that amount, Dietrick said.

Olson and Lichtig both have apologized for the video and vowed to fully cooperate with the investigation. Olson said the video was made “tongue-in-cheek” and was meant to be self-deprecating.

Suttorp’s role was to investigate the facts and offer legal advice, but she “will not render a legal determination whether there was any violation of law or statute,” according to the contract with the city.

The City Council will review any action that might be taken related to Lichtig, and the city will issue a public notice in advance, as required by law, of any closed-session meeting.

Review of action related to Olson will be completed by an “uninvolved” city department head serving as an “acting appointing authority,” Dietrick said. Lichtig normally would have that role.

Collectively, the city has an obligation to follow through, and we have faith in and trust in the city’s process.

Matt Polkow, president of the city’s fire department employees union

Dietrick said she and Monica Irons, the city’s human resources director, would both be involved in making final recommendations, “but the Council and Acting Appointing Authority will review and make final decisions.”

Matt Polkow, the president of the city’s fire department employees union, said Wednesday that he was satisfied with the city’s process to determine any violations.

“Collectively, the city has an obligation to follow through, and we have faith in and trust in the city’s process,” Polkow said. “They are living up to what they said they would do, and that’s all we ask for. … They seem to be doing a thorough job.”

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