Opinion » Shredder

Head-scratching petty politics


Looks like the kerfuffle over the SLO Chamber of Commerce video featuring SLO Fire Chief Garret Olson and SLO City Manager Katie Lichtig is heating up. According to SLO City Attorney Christine Dietrick, the city has received two fiery complaints “alleging a variety of violations of state and local workplace laws and policies.”

If you missed last week’s column, the concern was over a steamy video of various female SLO Chamber of Commerce employees making sexist remarks to Olson in a searingly funny (Not! It was dumb!) video shown at its annual dinner and briefly uploaded to YouTube. Olson, wearing a city-owned body cam, recorded the women asking about sexy firefighters and whether they’ll attend the annual Chamber dinner shirtless. I’m too sexy for my shirt! Yeah, who isn’t?

The SLO City Firefighters’ Local 3523 union was particularly hot under the collar, issuing a statement that characterized the video as “highly offensive sexual objectification,” adding, “members of Local 3523 are disturbed, sad, and embarrassed.”

Hey, I agree that if the roles were reversed—men were asking women to come topless to a dinner—it would be rank sexism, but let’s ask ourselves a simple question: Who’s more susceptible to workplace harassment, men or women? Obviously, neither is acceptable, but let’s get a little perspective here! Was the video ill-conceived? Yes, that’s why I shredded it last week, but those involved have been contrite.

Olson emailed New Times, expressing his regret, noting he was trying to be “self-deprecating, not deprecating of others,” adding, “Rather than defend my actions in the public setting, my focus is to take responsibility for my actions and express my sincere regret.”

Well, I guess an apology isn’t good enough for the union, who’s demanding an independent investigation, though they may just be engaging in petty politics. Just last November, the union filed a lawsuit in a federal court alleging the city miscalculated and underpaid overtime benefits to two-dozen members over three years. Is their complaint about their members being “sad” or did they see a chance to stick it to the city and take it?

Look, getting screwed out of overtime is truly something to be concerned about, but should we waste more taxpayer funds to investigate a tasteless video in which no one was actually sexually harassed? Let’s not pretend this is a five-alarm fire when it’s really nothing more than an easily stomped out ember. Put on your big-boy boots and move on, you smoldering sexy firefighters!

What’s for sure going to be investigated locally is Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill, who can’t seem to stay out of trouble. He’s now being accused of violating the Brown Act, meaning he allegedly shared confidential information from closed session meetings.

The Arroyo Grande City Council voted to appoint an independent investigator—the law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore—and allocate up to $15,000 to determine if Hill did stuff like give his wife the password to his city email account. Hill says this is a politically driven attack generated by his forceful condemnation of John Wallace, who is accused of funneling money from the South SLO County Sanitation District when we was an administrator into his own engineering company, The Wallace Group.

It’s not looking good for Wallace, who served the sanitation district for 27 years … or was he actually serving himself? His trial will tell!

As for Hill’s upcoming investigation, even his stalwart comrade in arms, Arroyo Grande City Councilman Tim Brown, couldn’t blindly back Hill. The mayor’s main vocal support came from Los Osos resident and former Los Osos Community Services District Director Julie Tacker, who’s been accused of copious political shenanigans herself, including bankrupting the district she previously served. I haven’t seen this much finger pointing since I was a 5-year-old playing cowboys and Indians. Bam-bam! It’s like a banana republic down there!

Meanwhile up in Atascadero, opponents of the proposed Walmart are doing their happy dance after the retail giant withdrew its plans to build a store—plans that were dragged through 10 years of protests and litigation. Anti-Walmart group Save Atascadero co-founder Tom Comar told The Tribune that the project was “not suitable for our small town” and noted the decision “made Atascadero great again.” Why? Because it was great before the proposed store and now that the store’s not coming, Atascadero’s great again? Huh? Look, I like Atascadero as much as the next office machine, but I’ve seen better city planning carried out by a kid with a Lego™ set.

Walmart, which was supposed to begin construction this July, claimed a focus on cyber-shopping led it to withdraw. City officials who backed the Walmart plan had projected $580,000 per year in sales tax—a pretty substantial loss of potential revenue—and Atascadero Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi was particularly unhappy, though instead of blaming Walmart or even Save Atascadero, she blamed California’s cumbersome development regulations as well as California Gov. Jerry Brown. Huh? It’s Governor Moonbeam’s fault? Check your water supply. I think it’s full of Kool-Aid®.

To sum up, SLO wants to investigate a silly video, Arroyo Grande pols want to play I know you are but what am I, and Atascadero thinks Jerry Brown ruined their chance at having a Walmart? This seems like a good time to say, Thanks Trump!

The Shredder has been scratching his head a lot, and it ain’t dandruff! Send ideas and comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.


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