Video shown at SLO Chamber of Commerce dinner draws allegations of sexism
San Luis Obispo fire Chief Garret Olson and City Manager Katie Lichtig received a written reprimand and were fined for their participation in a spoof video played at the city’s Chamber of Commerce annual dinner on Jan. 21, the city announced Monday.
Complaints alleged that they violated city workplace-related policies. The City Council determined that there were two unintended city policy violations, according to a news release issued late Monday.
The city’s announcement followed a closed-door meeting Monday by the City Council.
Olson, who emceed the dinner, conceived the idea for the video, and both he and Lichtig participated in it.
Lichtig’s pay was docked $2,659 — the equivalent of a three-day suspension. She is paid an annual salary of $230,464.
Olson’s pay was docked for $5,442 — the equivalent of an eight-day suspension. In addition, he is being required to work with the city’s Human Resources staff to “implement a plan to move the Fire Department forward productively.” Olson is paid $176,852 per year.
In regard to Lichtig, Mayor Heidi Harmon released a statement saying: “I speak on behalf of the entire council when I say this was a wholly uncharacteristic lapse in judgment by Katie. We have a strong commitment to civility and inclusivity in our organization and community that led us to conclude disciplinary action was merited.”
Public Works Director Daryl Grigsby — who acted as the authority determining Olson’s fate, a job that normally would have fallen to Lichtig — said that he values “the talents Chief Olson has brought to the organization and community for years,” adding that he has “total confidence in his leadership abilities.”
Olson and Lichtig had both apologized for their involvement in the video and vowed to cooperate with the investigation. On Monday, they reiterated their apologies.
“I offer a sincere apology, and I accept these findings,” Olson said. “I look forward to building positive relationships moving forward."
Lichtig said, “I made a regrettable choice and a mistake, and this will never happen again.”
In a written statement, she elaborated:
“Those who know me understand that I hold myself to a very high standard, and my participation in the chamber dinner video did not meet that mark. Unintentionally I made a number of mistakes in this incident — I didn’t recognize the impact that the video would have on others, I didn’t connect the dots to our city policies, I didn’t advise the Fire Chief well and, simply put, I didn’t put a stop to it. I should have done all four, and I regret the fact that I did not. It is safe to say that I am disappointed in myself, and I promise that something like this will never happen again.”
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 $70,000.
Five formal complaints alleged multiple violations of city workplace-related policy, and the findings showed they violated policy related to sexual harassment and conduct unbecoming of city officials. They broke no laws, the council and Grisby determined.
In the video, Olson is shown visiting the chamber offices wearing a body cam. He speaks with multiple employees, who jokingly refer to “hot,” “full monty” and “shirtless” firefighters.
Lichtig 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.
Female firefighters are not depicted in the scripted skit, only men. The department has no full-time female firefighters or engineers.
The city’s firefighter union, San Luis Obispo City Firefighters Local 3523, issued a news release after the video was shown, calling it a “a highly offensive sexual objectification video of city firefighters.”
Suttorp’s role was to investigate the facts and offer legal advice, but she wasn’t assigned to “render a legal determination whether there was any violation of law or statute,” according to the contract with the city.