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Hundreds voice support for CSD manager

Board claims Skeel retaliated against whistleblower at packed public meeting
By: Eric Laughlin, Telegraph correspondent
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Board deliberations continued Tuesday night in the matter of the El Dorado Hills Community Services District general manager placed on administrative leave after only six months on the job. The five CSD directors must decide whether to sever ties with John Skeel and face potential legal action over the terms of his three-year contract, or to simply reinstate him. The discussions follow a lengthy Aug. 23 public meeting, during which Skeel and his attorneys responded to allegations the district’s lawyer claims led to him being temporarily forced out of his position. Hundreds of residents attended the meeting and repeatedly voiced their support for Skeel. The allegations suggest Skeel retaliated against a whistleblower when he attempted to discharge district human resources manager Tracey Lynn Lowry, following Lowry’s disclosure to him that unnamed employees had been engaging in unlawful “buddy punching,” or clocking each other out after they leave the district offices. Skeel said he investigated the time-clock related allegations, but didn’t find merit to the claims. District counsel Bob Thurbon said such acts of retaliation are not only in violation of Skeel’s employment contract, but that they also carry potential criminal action, since public employees are protected under whistleblower laws. But Skeel’s attorneys Ellen Arabian-Lee and David Daniels denied such allegations altogether, claiming that Skeel’s effort to lay off Lowry, as well as assistant general manager Sandi Kukkoka, was purely a cost-cutting measure, after he had been instructed to cut $100,000 from the annual budget. Arabian-Lee said Skeel had been investigating the possibility of outsourcing HR, based on the district only employing 31 people. She added that such a move would be common sense. Other charges against Skeel had to do with his alleged failure to attend district committee meetings, his alleged act of increasing hours for two Park’s Department employee during a board mandated-freeze on wage increases, and his alleged act of trying to renegotiate his contract with respect to health benefits. Arabian-Lee and Daniels vehemently denied those charges as well. Arabian-Lee said Skeel is a cancer survivor and that he received an email in October 2010 informing him he’d be eligible for health benefits on Jan. 1. In response to hiding the two payroll increases, Skeel himself denied the charges and said he only told the employees he would try to get the additional work time approved. He also said he removed the increases from the budget prior to the board’s approval. As far as missing committee meetings, Skeel said he’d delegated attendance to assistant GM Kukkola, but attended when she couldn’t make it. Neither Kukkola nor Lowry attended last week’s public forum, but there was plenty of criticism directed at Lowry. Such dialogue came from former employees, Skeel’s attorney and even members of the public who have become increasingly interested in the matter. Arabian-Lee said several former district employees came forward with information about Lowry and her practices as HR director. “They’re all similar,” Arabian-Lee said. “They crossed Tracey Lynn and they were retaliated against and eventually fired.” Attorney Daniels read from a stack of employee surveys, which contained more finger-pointing at Lowry. One respondent said Lowry has way too much power for a human resources director. Others accused Lowry of hiring her friends, family members and even her own nanny for positions within the district. Arabian-Lee drew attention to the fact that Lowry had also been involved in a massive job search for Cameron Park CSD general manager Fred Smith, who was fired a year after coming aboard. Attempts were made by the Telegraph to contact Lowry; she has not responded. The board’s talks Tuesday night follow deliberations that took place last Friday, after additional public comment was recorded. At last week’s public forum, director Wayne Lowery (no relation to Lowry), asked Skeel what he’d do to rebuild the board’s confidence if reinstated. Skeel responded that both parties would need to sit down and have a serious discussion about communication and expectations.