On Friday morning John Skeel tried to describe his reaction to the news that he’d been fired the night before. “I was stunned … It’s still sinking in … I wasn’t expecting this … I’m very disappointed.”
Following the public portion of the Dec. 8 El Dorado Hills Community Services District Board of Directors meeting, Director Noelle Mattock, absent to that point, joined the other four directors and district legal counsel Lindsey Moore in closed session, emerging 30 minutes later to announce that they voted 4-1 to fire Skeel, according to Interim General Manager Sandi Kukkola.
Director Billy Vandegrift was the lone dissenting voice. Vandegrift broke ranks with his board last week, stating that he was ready to reinstate Skeel. On Friday he explained his vote as a lack of confidence in the strength of the charges against Skeel. “We had to get it done one way or another,” said Vandegrift. “It’s gone on too long.”
The decision comes as the directors face increasingly loud criticism that they’ve been sitting on the promised reinstatement of their general manager too long. It’s been 13 weeks since they announced Skeel would be allowed to return to work pending agreement on a “remediation plan.”
The board met in closed session weekly from September through November trying to agree on a remediation plan for Skeel.
The GM was placed on paid leave June 20 for what the directors said was a lack of knowledge of various district policies and functions, lack of participation in community activities, not engaging and eliciting cooperation with other agencies, not understanding the budget process, not attending committee meetings and failure to maintain open, effective working relationships with the board and senior staff.
Director Wayne Lowery said discussions began to break down in late October after the board recieved Skeel’s most recent draft remediation plan, which Lowery called “disappointing.”
“It was pretty clear that our expectations and his didn’t align,” he said.
Reached at home on Friday morning, Skeel struggled to retain his composure as he recalled the phone call late Thursday night that informed him he’d been fired.
“There was no explanation,” he said.” “It was so cold. Guy just said, ‘We’re terminating your contract.’”
Skeel confirmed that he’s had just three meetings with the board since the reinstatement was announced Sept. 2, the last on Oct. 23. “Even though I was frustrated it was taking so long, it seemed like things were moving in a positive direction,” he said.
Many in the public assumed that a flurry of phone negotiations and iterations of e-mailed goals and objectives were flowing between the parties through November, but Skeel said the remediation document wasn’t discussed or negotiated in that time.
“Early on I received a packet from [CSD legal counsel] Bob Thurbon telling me to put a plan together, and I did that, we met, and I was asked to make some modifications to it and we met a second time and then they asked me to do something completely different. I did that, and that was the last time we met. There’s been no back and forth, no feedback, no nothing,” he said.
Asked if he plans to file a lawsuit, Skeel briefly lost his composure. “I have to. I have no choice. I’ve got a family to support. The board has forced me to do this.
“I wanted to work with them,” he continued. “I was trying to help them make this right.”
The incident has done irreparable damage to his career, he said. “My future prospects are bleak.”
Skeel said he’s interviewed for other positions over the last couple of months, “in case this happened,” but questions always arose about goings on in El Dorado Hills.
What’s next for the Skeel, his wife Paula and their two school-age children? “We’ll be here for a while,” he said. “We just renewed our lease. I’m hoping to find something else in the area. Failing that … I don’t know.”
Skeel thanked the public for all their support. “People who don’t even know me or my family have voiced their opinion and tried to get the board to return me to work. I’m sorry it didn’t work out.
“There are still things that need to be fixed in the district,” he added. “I hope the community continues to be engaged, advocating for the employees and the district itself.”
On Saturday morning the district released a formal statement explaining the firing:
“The termination of Skeel follows private meetings over the past several months between both parties to develop a remediation plan designed to give the board reasonable assurance Skeel would overcome certain performance issues and return to his duties. Efforts to jointly develop such a plan were unsuccessful.”
The press release states that board members made a “strong and genuine effort to address and resolve performance issues” with Skeel, and quotes Gertsch: “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.”
It concludes by stating, “The board will now turn its focus and full attention to the district’s interim management issues, while strategically planning for and engaging in a comprehensive search for a new general manager to lead the district.”