The El Dorado Hills Community Services District Board didn’t flinch Thursday night when union representative Phil Stamborsky delivered an uncomfortable and unprecedented vote of no confidence on behalf of district employees for “the past two years of inappropriate actions by the board” and, more specifically, their potential dismissal of popular CSD General Manager John Skeel.
Last week Village Life reported that the board encouraged their new GM — he’s only been on the job since January — to take an unplanned leave of absence. Board President Guy Gertsch held an “all hands” employee meeting to inform the district of the scant details and later swore them to media silence.
Skeel moved his wife and three children from Evergreen, Colo., to El Dorado Hills in December 2010. The board chose him from 70 candidates for the position, offering an annual salary of $125,000. Skeel also received $9,380 in relocation expenses.
The district used its in-house Human Resources manager to find Skeel. “The district did not track the amount of time she spent on the process so cost is unknown,” according to Sandy Kukkola, the CSD’s newly named interim general manager.
At the time Skeel was hired board President Noelle Mattock said, “John stood out due to his experiences that directly relate to the challenges facing the district today and challenges we foresee in the future.”
Skeel’s wife Paula attended the June 30 board meeting and confirmed that the couple loved the community and hoped to call El Dorado Hills home, but had yet to purchase a house.
Stromborsky distributed a written statement to the board bemoaning the “apparent decision by the board to let Mr. Skeel go” as the new general mananger was “beginning to put the district on a clearer course.” It concludes “Now we are afraid that we will return to a policy of endless reorganization with no apparent goal in sight.”
The letter chastises the board for “over reaching,” “setting goals or policies that are out of reach of the current structure of the CSD” and “demanding disruptive reorganizations” rather than “examining the fundamental reasons goals are not achieved.”
The resulting distrust between the board and the employees has created an unhealthy atmosphere that “undermines the district’s goals to its general public,” it states.
Stromborsky’s letter also charges the board has micromanaging its last two general managers, hampering their effectiveness.
The prior board opted not to extend former General Manager Wayne Lowery’s contract in 2010, after 20 years on the job. He retired, took a similar position in Rio Linda, then won a position on the El Dorado Hills board.
The letter claims Skeel delivered several viable management options that the board either rejected or made difficult to implement.
It criticizes the board for leaving several key department head positions vacant over the last two-plus years, leaving the board without the advice of a professional management team to oversee its $8 million operating and capital improvement budgets. Current vacancies include recreation director, parks director and finance director, with Kukkola filling in at GM for much of the last few years time, including the present.
After the meeting Stamborsky said the current union contract doesn’t expire for two more years and the no-confidence vote had nothing to do with labor negotiations.
“We’ve been floating on a breeze without leadership here for the last two years,” he said. “This guy’s got a lot of integrity and we don’t think they gave him a chance.”
Earlier in the evening Evelyn Weick, the CSD’s senior support council vice president, read a similarly supportive statement to the board, asking them to reinstate Skeel, citing his support of “all things senior-related.”
“John Skeel is an intelligent, experienced, personable and confident leader,” she said. “He should be back at work filling critical management vacancies and actively managing the district.
“You spent a lot of time and money selecting, hiring and relocating him and his family. At the very least, the board has a responsibility to be transparent about the situation and explain it to those who are affected. We have a right to know the facts.”
Gertsch responded to Village Life’s request for comment with an e-mail confirming Skeel’s personal leave of absence as of June 20, but not much else.
“We understand and are listening to the concerns of employees and residents. Under the current circumstances and out of respect for John and his family, we cannot go into details at this time,” Gertsch wrote.
The e-mail also asks employees and residents to respect “his decision as he works through this situation,” and promises to “share information with the public at the appropriate time.”
Gertsch had no comment on the no-confidence vote.