The head of the union representing San Luis Obispo police officers accused city staff of hiring a $225-an-hour facilitator who had a conflict of interest to emcee the city manager’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force.
Matt Blackstone, president of the San Luis Obispo Police Officers’ Association, spoke before the City Council at its Jan. 18 meeting, calling for an independent investigation of the hiring of Michael Gunther and his company, Collaboration Business Consulting.
Gunther was a prominent member of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce—he was a vice chair of its legislative committee—when he was hired for a $10,000 fee to facilitate 13 meetings of the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force. He became chair of the chamber’s Board of Directors this year. He was elected to the position Dec. 16, the same day as the final meeting of the task force.
The $10,000 contract was authorized by City Manager Katie Lichtig. Several City Council members said they didn’t know about the contract.
Blackstone said because the Chamber of Commerce is a major force in city politics and, it turned out, a supporter of many of the task force’s significant findings regarding pensions and city staff cost reductions, it was a conflict of interest to hire Gunther.
“It’s in the contract that there should be no conflict of interest,” Blackstone said. “Yet his organization is consistently asking for the city to spend more money.”
The chamber definitely has a set position on the city’s labor issues, he added.
Members of the Chamber of Commerce were a prominent part of the Jan. 11 forum where citizens told the council what projects they want the city to pursue. Gunther represented the chamber when he spoke before the council.
Gunther, representing the chamber, also sent a letter to the council on Jan. 6, asking the city to invest more resources in economic development and to reduce spending to “achieve long-term fiscal sustainability.” The letter suggests reducing staffing costs as a percentage of revenue—to the 2002 level of 68 percent from today’s 80 percent—and using private sector salary levels to help determine city salaries. It also suggests implementing pension reform and eliminating binding arbitration. These are positions that closely mirror the task force’s findings and aren’t popular with many police and firefighters.
Gunther said he merely facilitated task force meetings.
“I managed time and managed conversations,” Gunther said. “The task force wrote the report. I didn’t bring my opinion into it at all.”
Christine Dietrick, the city attorney, examined the documents presented by Blackstone at the City Council meeting and said, “There doesn’t appear to be any conflict of interest.”
Dietrick signed Gunther’s contract.
Lichtig said she was satisfied with Gunther’s performance managing the task force.
“I feel he was unbiased in his facilitating,” she said.