The city of San Luis Obispo is setting its sights on hiring a new permanent police chief by year’s end following the abrupt termination of former Chief Steve Gesell in May.
During the process, the city’s two highest-ranking officers, both of whom have expressed interest in the job, will take turns leading the department in separate trial runs.
City Manager Katie Lichtig said she is contracting with Roberts Consulting Group, a Beverly Hills-based recruitment firm, to find candidates for the job. The contract, which has not yet been signed, does not require City Council approval, she said.
Lichtig said the city plans to begin accepting applications in August with a deadline in September. Interviews are expected to start in late October.
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Meanwhile, Lichtig said efforts are underway to schedule meetings with residents and business owners as well as publish a community survey on the city’s website to help define residents’ priorities for the next chief.
“We will be undertaking the same process for this department head recruitment as in the past that includes focus groups (employees, residents, business representatives and other interested partners), an online survey about qualities for the next chief to possess, a vigorous screening for all potential candidates, a multiday interview process and appropriate background investigation,” Lichtig wrote in an email to city staff.
Capt. Chris Staley, who supervises the department’s Operations Bureau, has been acting chief since Gesell’s departure and will continue to lead the department through August.
Following that, Administrative Services Bureau Capt. Keith Storton will take over as acting chief through November.
“As many of you know, Capt. Staley and Capt. Storton have expressed an interest in competing for this coveted position,” Lichtig wrote. “In order to give them both the opportunity to experience the role of the chief, I have decided to give them both an opportunity to be the acting chief during this interim period.”
Storton was out of the office Friday and could not be reached for comment, but Staley confirmed that he is interested and will be applying for the position once the application process begins next month.
Both senior officers have been with the department for more than 20 years and served among the department’s command staff for nearly a decade.
Gesell, who was hired in 2012, was placed on administrative leave May 8, and a separation agreement that included a $120,000 severance package was approved two weeks later.His last day on the job was May 29.
Lichtig has not said what led to Gesell’s dismissal, citing personnel confidentiality, but she wrote in a news release that Gesell and the city had “fundamental differences about the appropriate roles and responsibilities of the police chief that interfered with their ability to effectively communicate and serve the city at the highest level.”