San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig’s salary is a point of controversy as the city council attempts to eliminate a budget deficit of $4.4 million.
Lichtig, who makes $221,500 annually, is the highest paid employee of the City of San Luis Obispo.
As of August 2010, Lichtig earned $308,000 annually in total compensation — nearly $30,000 more than previous city manager, Ken Hampian and $80,000 more than the city’s second highest paid employee, Police Chief Deborah Linden, according to the San Luis Obispo City Council website. Lichtig also makes $80,000 more than all other county executives, according to a San Luis Obispo Tribune informational graphic.
Following Lichtig’s hiring in early 2010, some public dissatisfaction was voiced over her salary. Now that the city council is debating a proposal to cut city employee salaries by $2.1 million, frustration over her pay has returned.
During the April 19 city council meeting, San Luis Obispo resident and frequent speaker at public comment Jody Frey directly addressed Lichtig about her salary.
“One thing I keep biting my tongue on, and I guess I won’t this time, is (asking) the city manager if she’s also willing to take a concession like she’s asked everybody else to do,” Frey said at the meeting.
Frey later said she wants Lichtig to specify the amount of salary she is willing to concede for the betterment of the city.
“I just want to know what (Lichtig’s) willing to do, in not just a general statement, but a specific one,” Frey said.
However, Lichtig isn’t trying to hide her leading salary.
“I’m happy to let people know that the leadership starts with me,” Lichtig said.
Lichtig also said she has already taken a pay cut, effective January 2011.
“I took a greater pay cut than everyone else in the city,” Lichtig said. “I took the equivalent of a 7 percent decrease.”
Still, Lichtig said her salary is deserved.
“I’m running a $100 million dollar corporation,” she said.
Lichtig’s perspective, however, differs from some local citizens, such as San Luis Obispo activist Kevin Rice, who said there is no need to pay so much for a city manager.
“Katie Lichtig seems to be a brand name like Abercrombie and Fitch,” Rice said. “What makes her worth $60,000 more than any other competent city manager?”
Rice said Lichtig’s contract does not allow the city council to reduce her salary or compensation without a proportional reduction to the pay of all other city employees.
“She’s basically put herself in a protected class where, if you cut her salary, you have to cut everyone else’s salary — then everyone will be screaming,” Rice said.
Former mayoral candidate, Don Hedrick, agrees Lichtig’s salary is too high, and said he campaigned to reduce it.
“When somebody asked about high priced managers, I was happy to say, ‘Let’s fire them and get cheaper ones,’” Hedrick said. “I would have tried to pull her off the job.”
Council member Andrew Carter, however, said hiring a city manager at a low price is no easy task.
Carter was on the council when Lichtig was chosen and was involved in the negotiation of her salary.
“It’s a competitive marketplace,” Carter said. “The negotiation was based on the going rate of city managers.”
Carter said Lichtig, upon hire, actually took a pay cut from her previous job of assistant city manager of Beverly Hills, Calif.
“She was making more in Beverly Hills as the No. 2 than she is making as the No. 1 here,” Carter said.
Despite it all, he said Lichtig has earned her worth since assuming the role of San Luis Obispo City Manager.
Carter said the city has been selling downtown parking lots to private developers orchestrating the China Town and Garden Street Terrace projects. Hampian, the previous city manager, sold lots at $5,000 a space, Lichtig negotiated a deal worth $30,000 a space, Carter said.
“With that one deal, she more than made up any salary difference,” Carter said.