SLO council gives pay increases to city manager and attorney

SLO City Manager Derek Johnson


Amid a pandemic-driven global economic crisis, and shortly following the passage of a sales tax hike, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted to give approximately $20,000 raises, as well as benefit increases, to each of the city’s top two executives.

On Dec. 8, the council approved 9.24 percent salary increases, along with added benefits, for City Manager Derek Johnson and City Attorney Christine Dietrick without any discussion. The raises were part of a consent agenda item that consisted of amending Johnson’s and Dietrick’s contracts.

However, the agenda did not mention raises, and the council did not discuss the matter prior to voting.

With the 9.24 percent increase, Johnson’s base salary will rise from $218,374 a year to $238,550 and Dietrick’s annual salary will increase from $206,622 to $225,706.

Though Johnson’s and Dietrick’s amended employment contracts show they received 9.24 percent raises, a city staff report states the council agreed to give them 5 percent salary increases.

In addition to the raises, the council also awarded Johnson a car allowance of $450 a month, or $5,400 a year, and Dietrick a car allowance of $250 a month, or $3,000 a year. 

Likewise, both Johnson and Dietrick can now cash out up to three weeks of unused vacation time annually. Furthermore, Johnson received a one-time cash-out of 107 hours of accrued vacation time for his “commitment and leadership” and limited ability to have gone on vacation since 2018.

The council also voted to increase the city’s contribution to Johnson’s and Dietrick’s retirement plans.

Christine Dietrick

City official stated in a staff report the pay increases bring both Johnson’s and Dietrick’s total compensation to the “median of the market.” The city of SLO frequently compares employees’ pay to compensation given to workers for other cities and government agencies in order to justify salary increases. 

For years, San Luis Obispo employees have topped the list of highest paid city workers in the county. Dietrick took the number one spot in 2019 with $376,602 in pay, benefits and pro-rated pension funds, while Johnson garnered $343,626, according to Transparent California.

Last month, San Luis Obispo voters approved an indefinite 1 percent sales tax increase, which was listed on the voting block as a funding source and not as an increase in sales tax.