New CSD general manager on the job
Three jet-lagged Colorado imports started school in El Dorado Hills Jan. 4. Their father, John P. Skeel, began a different educational process last week when he assumed the El Dorado Hills Community Services District general manager position.
Skeel and his family arrived in Sacramento late Monday from a vacation in the Florida Keys. The family is temporarily housed in an El Dorado Hills apartment while they look for longer term accommodations.
The CSD Board of Directors chose Skeel from 70 candidates for the position. Several other agencies showed interest in the 25-year parks and recreation veteran, but in the current budgetary climate, months or even years can separate interest from an actual offer. The El Dorado Hills offer of $126,500 annually sealed the deal.
The Skeels enjoyed their three years in Colorado, but were ready to return to California said Skeel in a recent phone interview. “I was looking at Northern California communities of a certain size that offered challenges,” he said. “I wanted to work some place with a stable budget that was going places. El Dorado Hills stood out.”
The CSD flew Skeel and his wife in for one-on-one meetings with the board. He also got a chance to meet the staff and hear their concerns, and even sat through a board meeting.
“It seemed like a good fit, the right place and the right time,” he said.
Skeel spent the last three years managing the Park and Recreation District in Evergreen, Colo., a long-standing “front range” outpost 25 miles southwest of downtown Denver. Evergreen grew along with Denver and became an affluent suburb, but remains unincorporated, under county control, with many similarities to El Dorado Hills, he said.
Skeel implemented a district-wide reorganization plan there, and found grant money for trail and park projects. He also oversaw a park development master plan for the 110-acre Buchanan Park, which split the community between backers of a new arts center in the park and opponents who wanted a less developed, more natural park.
Prior to Evergreen Skeel worked for the city of San Ramon for six years, where he oversaw park development, cable TV and libraries.
Skeel hails from Brighton, England, and began his career as an apprentice printer at age 16. “It was a rigid, repetitive factory job,” he said, in his distinctive British accent. “I simply hated it.”
In his spare time he volunteered for the local YMCA and dreamed of doing something similar as a career.
He caught the eye of a YMCA director, who encouraged him to apply for an international exchange program as a camp counselor for at risk youth. The summer of 1988 was a turning point for the future El Dorado Hills CSD general manager. He found himself working at a camp in Michigan, using experiential education techniques to motivate his charges, and loved every minute.
Skeel met his wife Paula, a Michigan native, that summer and never looked back. They married in 1991, and currently have three children: Brighton, 14; Madison, 12; and Jaden, 9.
Undergraduate degrees in therapeutic recreation and psychology from Central Michigan University followed the summer camp experience, culminating in a master’s degree in park, recreation and tourism at Michigan State University.
He became a National Recreation and Park Association certified park and recreation professional, and has remained active in the California Park and Recreation Society and the Commission for the Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.
Skeel’s predecessor in Evergreen held the position for 30 years and remained involved with the district after he took over, not unlike Wayne Lowery’s 20 years at the helm of the El Dorado Hills CSD.
Skeel said he’s not concerned about following a popular general manager who’s now on the board. “I’m not going to be a Wayne,” he said. “I’ve got my way of doing things. I’ll take my cues from the board and the community, especially those who attend the meetings.
“I anticipate Wayne being able to offer a lot of insights into why things are the way they are and how they got that way,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Likewise, Skeel doesn’t anticipate any problems with the unionized staff. “Like any other group, I’ll meet with them and hear their concerns,” he said. “Some things will have to change but it’s a two-way street. I’ve been working with special interest groups for 25 years and I’ve always been able to find some common ground that allowed us to move forward.”
Skeel said he sees himself as a problem solver. “I love coming to work every day and finding a better ways to do something, or maybe even do something that’s never been done before,” he said, conceding less affinity for the the administrative part of the job, which he called a “necessary evil.”
His promise? “Where there’s room for improvement you’ll see improvement; where there’s a need for change you’ll see change; where there’s a need to continue to do things the same we’ll retain that.
“I don’t always do things by the book, or because someone else does it that way, but I’ll always be as transparent as possible.”
Skeel knows he won’t be able to please everyone, especially the extreme fiscal conservatives who oppose new projects, but promises some fiscal tactics that might not have been seen in these parts before. “I’ve had success applying for grants and being creative with services offered. I assure you, there are other ways of funding besides fees and taxes.”
He takes a certain pride in “reorganizing how things get done,” he said, getting “more bang for the buck.”
With several key management positions currently vacant, John will get a chance to put his mark on the district quickly.
At age 45 Skeel said he considers himself at the midpoint of a career in which he has consistently sought greater responsibility. He promised the board five years in El Dorado Hills, at a minimum.
“I’ve been fortunate to continue to find new outlets for my own creativity, and for the creativity of the people around me,” John said. “I’ve always helped the community grow.
“This could be my last job,” he added. “If I’m still contributing I will stay as long as I’m welcome and making a difference.”