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Email: SLO Police chief confident of job months before ousted 

When San Luis Obispo Police Chief Steve Gesell officially ends his employment with the city at the end of the month, he won’t walk away with empty pockets.

According to documents released by the city, Gesell agreed to a severance package of $120,000. That includes $113,000 in severance pay and $6,120 for waiving his rights for future claims under federal age discrimination laws. Gesell signed the agreement May 21 and will receive the settlement in one lump sum, according to the agreement.

click to enlarge SETTLED:  Outgoing SLO Police Chief Steve Gesell will receive a $120,000 settlement from the city as part of his severance package. Gesell was placed on paid administrative leave May 8. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • SETTLED: Outgoing SLO Police Chief Steve Gesell will receive a $120,000 settlement from the city as part of his severance package. Gesell was placed on paid administrative leave May 8.

Gesell was placed on paid administrative leave May 8 after roughly three years serving as the police department’s top administrator. Since the announcement of his departure, city officials have been reluctant to state exactly what got Gesell kicked to the curb. Official statements indicate that the cause may have been a deteriorating working relationship between Gesell and SLO City Manager Katie Lichtig.

“To reach peak performance, the city manager and police chief need to be in complete alignment,” Lichtig stated in a May 21 press release. The release added that the parties 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.”

Gesell’s exit may have come as a surprise to the chief himself. An email obtained by New Times indicated that Gesell appeared confident in his position in February, just months before he was placed on leave.

The email was sent to police department staff at a time when members of the local media (Cal Coast News and The Tribune) were scrutinizing Gesell’s travel expenses.

“I’ve heard there are a few concerns regarding the stability of my employment based on being out with one of the worst illnesses I’ve had in over a decade and a wild story that was propagated on the web regarding my travel expenses coupled with the rogue rumor that I had been fired,” Gesell wrote.

Gesell characterized the accusations surrounding his travel expenses as “baseless character assaults,” and noted that while “no one takes the role of a police chief with the comfort of job security,” he had no intention of leaving the department.

“I have no plans to separate from the city and expect nothing more than to continue to serve as part of our stellar SLOPD team and wonderful city,” Gesell wrote.

According to the settlement, Gesell officially separates from the city on May 29. SLO Police Capt. Chris Staley is serving as the department’s interim chief.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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