In the wake of a controversy over a video aired at the recent San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce dinner featuring jokes about “hot,” “shirtless” firefighters, the city’s fire chief and city manager are facing formal complaints.
City Attorney Christine Dietrick confirmed that two complaints were filed with regard to the video. Both of them allege a “variety of violations of state and workplace laws and policies” and the matter is under investigation, she said.
The video, apparently intended to be humorous, was created for the Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and featured SLO Fire Chief Garret Olson wearing a body camera and entering the chamber’s office to speak with staff about emceeing the dinner. In the skit, several female staff members ask Olson if he is bringing any good-looking male firefighters to the event, with one asking if he’s bringing any “shirtless firefighters” to the dinner. Later, the video showed pictures of shirtless male models and featured a pro-chamber rap, with the performers wearing T-shirts with bare, muscular torsos printed on them.
City Manager Katie Lichtig also appeared in the video, which was pulled from YouTube but furnished to New Times by an anonymous source.
Among those taking issue with the video is SLO’s firefighters union, Local 3523. In a written statement, the union characterized the video as “highly offensive.”
“Members of Local 3523 are disturbed, sad, and embarrassed that the highest ranking city officials blatantly demeaned their chosen profession and believed it appropriate to sexually objectify city firefighters both publicly at the chamber’s annual dinner and to circulate the video on the internet,” the statement read.
In an email to New Times, Olson said he sincerely apologized to anyone the video may have offended.
“I had hoped that the video would have been seen by all as it was intended: as good-natured and self-deprecating, not deprecating of others. But for some, I missed that mark, and I am truly sorry,” he wrote. “Rather than defend my actions in the public setting, my focus is to take responsibility for my actions and express my sincere regret.”
When asked about Olson’s mea culpa, Union Vice President James Witt said the incident still necessitated an independent investigation.
“I don’t think the apology is enough,” he said.
The criticism over the video isn’t the first time that members of the union have butted heads with the city’s administration. Witt and 21 other members of the fire department filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city in November 2016 over alleged labor violations. The suit claims that the city knowingly underpaid fire department employees because it failed to include cash payments they received in lieu of benefits in their overtime pay calculations. The lawsuit remains ongoing, according to court records.