SLO will pay up to $70,000 for “sexy” firefighter video investigation

The city of San Luis Obispo will pay up to $70,000 — higher than the $50,000 previously estimated — for an investigator’s report into the roles of two high-ranking San Luis Obispo city officials in creating a spoof video that allegedly sexually objectified city firefighters.

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

City Manager Katie Lichtig also participated 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 city hired the law firm Burke, Williams and Sorensen to complete an independent investigation into the facts and the roles of Olson and Lichtig, and submit a written report, which it filed March 22.

The city is responding to multiple complaints, both formal and informal, City Attorney Christine Dietrick said. The complaints allege violations of city policy, including sexual harassment and conduct unbecoming of city officials.

The City Council on Tuesday authorized the higher expense. The city had originally set a spending limit at $15,000, with up to $50,000 if needed.

The latest increased costs came in part because the investigator made two separate multiday trips from Orange County to San Luis Obispo, partly “due to scheduling accommodations for complaining parties and their representatives,” Dietrick said.

The firm’s Santa Ana-based investigator, Katy Suttorp, also needed to conduct follow-up interviews with witnesses and complainants to ensure a “complete and thorough investigation,” Dietrick wrote in a staff report.

The city won’t know the final tab until it receives the firm’s latest bill.

“I don’t anticipate needing anything further (from Suttorp) from the investigation on the facts,” Dietrick said. “It’s very rarely simple with these types of allegations. Sexual harassment and hostile work environment allegations often have a greater context than just the incident itself.”

Dietrick is still reviewing Suttorp’s fact-finding report, along with human resources director Monica Irons, before any potential disciplinary action is considered. Dietrick has not released the reports, saying they are confidential personnel records and are part of an ongoing investigation.

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.

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.”