Tuesday Dec 13 2011
El Dorado Hills CSD ousts John Skeel as general manager
By: Eric Laughlin, Telegraph Correspondent
The ex-chief said he plans to sue the district
The El Dorado Hills Community Services District general manager who has been paid more for being off the job than on it, was officially terminated during a closed session of the board of directors Dec. 8. In a 4-1 vote, Board President Guy Gertsch, Vice President Noelle Mattock, and directors Wayne Lowery and Tony Rogozinski voted to terminate the three-year contract between the district and GM John Skeel. Director Bill Vandegrift was the lone dissenting voice. The decision came after months of public outcry and at least $6,000 worth of meetings being held since Skeel was placed on paid administrative leave in June. He had been hired just months earlier in January at an annual salary of $126,500. “This was not an easy decision but it was time to make a change,” said Guy Gertsch, El Dorado Hills CSD board president. “As a board elected to represent the entire community, it was critically important for us to make a strong and genuine effort to address and resolve performance issues and concerns with the general manager. We gave it our best shot but, ultimately, it became clear achieving a workable solution was not obtainable. Now we must look forward and ensure the search for a new general manager and any other actions during this time of transition serve the best interests of our fellow residents and employees.” Director Wayne Lowery said discussions between both sides began to fall apart after Skeel submitted his most recent draft of a remediation plan (in late October). “He submitted something we were disappointed with,” Lowery said. “It was pretty clear that our expectations and his expectations just didn’t align.” Skeel was reached by phone Friday morning and said he was shocked by the decision. He said Gertsch called to notify him not long after the vote was recorded Thursday night. “I didn’t see this coming,” Skeel said. “I gave them the (remediation) plan, and there was no back and forth, no feedback. I just thought they’d come up with something else.” On Sept. 2, the board voted to suspend termination proceedings against Skeel, not long after a heated public meeting that drew hundreds who supported the embattled GM. Since that time, an online petition seeking Skeel’s immediate reinstatement has also been circulated among El Dorado Hills residents. Skeel was placed on leave stemming from allegations that he retaliated against “whistleblower” Tracy Lynn Lowry by suggesting her position be cut. Skeel has explained it was purely a cost-cutting suggestion after being instructed to trim $100,000 from the annual budget. At this point, Skeel said he’s left with no option but to sue the district for breach of contract. “This is the outcome I wanted to avoid at all costs,” he said. “I just wanted to come back to work and move forward. But I have a three year contract and the only way it can be terminated is for breach of contract, and we’ve already agreed there was no breach.” Director Lowery said such a suit would not hurt the district financially, since it maintains good insurance and that counsel Robert Thurbon is on a retainer. “(Thurbon) could spend two hours on it or be in court all year and it would cost us the same thing,” Lowery added. He said he doesn’t think a lawsuit filed by Skeel would be successful. Mattock, in a letter to the Telegraph, apologized to residents and the Skeel family for the way the situation has been handled. She wrote, "I stand by the decision we made as a board, as the right one for the district and our community." She is pushing for new legal counsel, a new interim general manager and a new parks director, acknowledging, "the cry for leadership and the lack of trust in the current management." Vandegrift said he voted against termination because he felt the frustrations among taxpayers that Skeel had been collecting a paycheck to sit at home. “He’s made more money not working and as a taxpayer, that’s hard to deal with,” Vandegrift said. “I just figured let’s give him a chance, see what he can do.” Skeel was appreciative of the support he received from Vandegrift. “It’s actually ironic, because during the hiring process, he was somewhat skeptical, wondering if they should bring on someone from the private sector,” Skeel added. “I really did appreciate his support.” He said he’s had success getting interviews for other local positions (he plans to stay since his three children are enjoying school), but plenty of questions always pop up about what’s been going on with the CSD. “Anybody can go Google my name and read about everything that’s been going on,” he said. “That can be really hard to overcome.” To read Mattock's full letter, go to "opinion" and "letters to the editor" at edhtelegraph.com.