The San Luis Obispo City Council decided that Katie Lichtig stood out from the other 100 candidates for the city manager position, and that’s why all of the members agreed to pay her $221,000 a year to get her to take the job.
It is almost $30,000 more per year than the salary being paid to City Manager Ken Hampian, who earns $194,300 annually.
“It’s something all of us on the council struggled with, some more than others,” Councilman Andrew Carter said. “What it is really about is our salary grade is out of whack with the market.”
Mayor Dave Romero said the seemingly high salary for Lichtig is comparable or even lower than what she would be paid if she were the chief executive of a private business that had 358 employees and a $100 million budget.
However, the salary is $65,000 more than that of the chief executive of the county’s second-largest city, Paso Robles. And it is comparable to what former County Administrative Officer David Edge made overseeing 2,400 county employees before he was fired by the Board of Supervisors.
Lichtig is the assistant city manager and chief operating officer for the city of Beverly Hills. She said her job there is to “make the trains run on time” in a city with a budget of $400 million and 1,100 full-time-equivalent employees. San Luis Obispo, by comparison, has 358 employees and a $100 million budget.
“I’m leaving Beverly Hills because this is a perfect fit for me and my career aspirations,” she said of San Luis Obispo.
She wrote in a memo to Beverly Hills employees that her husband of 23 years will keep his job at a nonprofit organization in Los Angeles, and he will commute.
“Yet in contemplating this opportunity, he and I strongly agree that living in a community like San Luis Obispo is worth this extra effort!” she wrote.
She has also worked in Santa Monica and Malibu, where she served as city manager.
“There are lots of similarities between the communities I’ve worked in and San Luis Obispo,” Lichtig said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “It’s a full-service city. It has fixed-route transportation, a great downtown, a college community.”
She said in Malibu, where she worked as city manager for four years, she encountered town-gown issues between residents and students at Pepperdine University that may help her understand the dynamics between San Luis Obispo residents and Cal Poly.
The council also announced Wednesday that it had selected Assistant City Attorney Christine Dietrick to replace outgoing City Attorney Jonathan Lowell.
With Dietrick and Lichtig’s appointments, the city will have several women in top management positions.
The group includes Police Chief Deborah Linden, Utilities Manager Carrie Mattingly, Human Resources Director Monica Irons, Parks and Recreation Director Betsy Kiser and Assistant City Manager Shelly Stanwyck.
Lowell will become the new city attorney for Pleasanton and leave San Luis Obispo in late December. Dietrick is expected to start as city attorney Jan. 1, Romero said. Dietrick has worked as assistant city attorney for five years. Before her appointment, she worked as contract assistant city attorney in Pismo Beach and as deputy city attorney in Morro Bay.
Dietrick will start at $155,000 annually, according to Irons.
Dietrick received her law degree from Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, and she received her undergraduate degree in literature from the University of Redlands. Her appointment was close to a sure thing once the City Council decided to recruit internally, and Dietrick was the only applicant.
Praise for Hampian
Carter and Romero praised Hampian, admitting he may have been underpaid in part because he did not push hard for pay increases.
Hampian declined a 4.5 percent pay-for-performance increase in 2003 because of how it might annoy other employee groups, according to city officials. And he, along with other employees, agreed to a zero pay increase this year.
When cities have to recruit outside instead of promote from within, they often get a reality check, according to Paso Robles City Manager Jim App, who makes $156,000 annually.
“The low $200s are the market for small cities in Southern California right now,” App said. “Pay ranges per se for city manager are somewhat meaningless when you have to go out to the open market to compete for talent.”
A top city official in Beverly Hills said that Lichtig currently makes $227,000 a year.
What should a city manager earn?
Sample salaries for city manager positions from around California show that there can be variations in pay depending on whether the current city manager has held the position for some time.
Locally, Paso Robles City Manager Jim App makes $156,000. In Santa Maria, the pay scale for city manager is between $176,000 and $213,000.
According to Westerncity.com, an online magazine of the League of California Cities, jobs are being advertised with salaries in the range of what San Luis Obispo will pay Katie Lichtig.
The Riverside County city of Coachella is advertising for a city manager opening with the salary range topping out at $215,000.
The San Joaquin Valley city of Hanford is advertising that it will pay $200,000-plus for a city manager.
San Luis Obispo Human Resources Director Monica Irons said that a consultant informed the council that it could expect to pay between $200,000 and $250,000 to find a suitable candidate.