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A new San Luis Obispo IT temporary staffer has drawn criticism

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About two months after an unceremonious departure from his position as Carmel-by-the-Sea city administrator, Jason Stilwell landed a new temporary gig in San Luis Obispo, and City Manager Katie Lichtig recently went on the defensive about the decision to hire him.

Speaking at the Jan. 20 City Council meeting in response to several residents who raised the issue of Stilwell’s past, Lichtig defended her decision to hire him and her authority to do so.

Stilwell’s departure from Carmel came at the tail end of a widespread public campaign for his ouster. According to the Monterey County Weekly, “Numerous city employees either quit, were fired, or put on leave since Stilwell was hired in 2011.”

Others sued, including a former building official and a now-deceased IT manager. After Stilwell’s departure, the city reinstated three employees who had sued on allegations including wrongful termination, discrimination, and harassment.

In SLO, Stilwell has taken the role of interim information technology and financial planning director. According to his online résumé, he received his bachelor’s in political science at Cal Poly, a master’s in public administration at San Jose State University, and doctor of philosophy from the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver.

Stilwell resigned from his position in Carmel on Oct. 1, 2014. Under his SLO city contract, signed Dec. 18, 2014, Stilwell will pull in $11,888 per month plus benefits. He is set to stay on through June 30, with the possibility of a 30-day extension.

Asked about his departure from Carmel, Stilwell said, “I worked with the council to implement an effective organization, and we mutually agreed it was time to change directions last fall.” He added that “it’s a challenge with a lot of the misinformation out there,” when asked how he might respond to potential critics. “It comes with being a public official I suppose nowadays.”

Lichtig said Stilwell will help the city’s IT staff move forward with a number of projects and “reworking some of our procedures and processes.” She explained that during the interview process, she and Stilwell spoke extensively about his job history, including in Carmel.

“I felt comfortable and confident that our need was matched by his skills … to help us through this peak workload,” she explained at the City Council meeting.

The decision to hire Stilwell didn’t require City Council approval. Citing the budget and fiscal policies under the 2013-15 Financial Plan, Lichtig hired Stilwell as a temporary staff member. She told New Times that it’s a commonly used policy to place temporary staff on “high priority projects for peaks in workload of implementing major city goals.”

In his local role, Stilwell is tasked with 23 projects, Lichtig said. Those projects were identified as a pressing need, and Lichtig said she reached out to Stilwell because he had previously applied for an IT position in SLO before taking the job in Carmel, and she was aware that he had recently become available.

Asked if it was a coincidence that SLO’s need to hire such a position also overlapped with Stilwell’s lapse in employment, Lichtig said it was.

“I think that the conversation is getting a little bit muddied by the concept that we did a recruitment,” Lichtig said. “We had an emergent need; there was somebody who was available; his skills matched what our needs were.”

Stilwell said of the timing, “It sounded like she’d [Lichtig] had the need for a while, and I’d been in transition for a couple months.”

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