Dismissed El Dorado Hills Community Services District General Manager John Skeel recently confirmed his intent to move forward with a lawsuit against his former employer.
In a telephone interview with Village life Tuesday Skeel said he feels “forced to sue the district,” and lamented that “countless hours and thousands of taxpayer dollars” will be wasted.
“It’s now obvious that I’m not going to win my job back, but I still have a three-year contract, and I need to demonstrate that I haven’t breached it,” Skeel said.
Skeel also shot back at the El Dorado Hills Community Service District Board of Directors, responding to alleged “misinformation” in the board’s Dec. 10 press release.
“It’s important to me to set the record straight so the community knows what’s really been going on,” he said.
In a Dec. 20 press release Skeel took aim at statements made by board president Guy Gertsch that the CSD board made a “strong and genuine effort to address and resolve performance issues and concerns with the general manager,” and “gave it our best shot but, ultimately, it became clear achieving a workable solution was not obtainable …”
Gertsch issued a brief response Dec. 21 stating, “We as a board stand by our contract-termination decision and are resolute in our actions to appoint an interim general manager, whom we believe will be on board in just a few weeks. Alongside this effort, we are preparing a national search expected to result in the hiring of a permanent general manager by mid-2012. The board also plans to lead an effort to objectively examine management practices, succession planning and other priorities that impact the district.”
Skeel accused his former employers of giving the impression that months of meetings occurred between the then-sidelined general manager and the board after the CSD directors announced Skeel would be reinstated as soon as a both parties agreed to a remediation plan. The reinstatement decision was made following a raucous Aug. 23 public hearing when Skeel and his attorneys responded to the charges against him.
“There were months of meetings, but I was only in three of them,” Skeel said.
Skeel said he received a 29-page remediation document outlining the process for Skeel’s return to work from board legal counsel Bob Thurbon on Sept. 30. Skeel called the document “adversarial,” and similar in tone to Thurbon’s charges against Skeel.
“The process the board laid out for me was quite extreme,” said Skeel, who claims he remained willing to work with them. “But certain board members have now stated that it was clear it was never going to work out.”
Thurbon’s plan required Skeel to respond to seven questions as a prerequisite to return to work under a 90- and 180-day review plan.
Skeel said he answered the questions and the board publicly reported “progress was being made” on Oct. 18.
The board then requested changes to his answers, Skeel said. He contends that he complied, but in his third and final meeting with the board on Oct. 25 board members changed their approach and asked Skeel for specific goals and objectives instead. Skeel provided a draft response on Oct. 30, but said he never heard from the board again until Gertsch’s call on Dec. 8, informing him that his contract was terminated.
Skeel reiterated his contention that he was unfairly dismissed. “Now it’s a case of clearing my name. I don’t want to continue to drag everybody through the mud on this, but it seems that the board has nothing but that intent. I’m up against the wall and forced to defend myself.”
Skeel concludes his press release by stating that the pre-Christmas timing of the board’s decisions “could not have been worse” for him and his family, “both financially and emotionally.”
Attorney Jake Flesher, who worked closely with the EDHCSD as the former El Dorado Hills Little League president, said he’s closely watched the whole Skeel affair. Flesher (with Folsom-based Flesher Broomand McKague LLP) is not representing anyone in the matter and wouldn’t speculate on Skeel’s chances of success with the suit. But he did tell Village Life, “I certainly see merits to both sides. But there’s a lot we don’t know.”
The only given in the case, said Flesher, is that it will be expensive.
“It takes time and money to flush out whose side is more right,” he said.
Flesher handles similar cases, and said that typically both side make an earnest attempt at resolution “before things blow up.” He wondered if a severance package was ever discussed.
“As an outsider looking in, it seems like this could have been avoided,” he said.
“We all make hiring mistakes,” Flesher added. “It’s how you handle it when you realize the person isn’t right for the job that’s the overarching issue here. It can be done with class and dignity for everyone involved.”
In the Skeel case, “The community will suffer,” he continued. “Either the cost of a lawsuit or the reputation hit on the CSD. This thing looks like it’s been bungled from the beginning.”
CSD Director Wayne Lowery has stated publicly that he doesn’t think Skeel’s lawsuit will succeed. Even if it does, Lowery noted, the district maintains insurance that will cover the damages.
Early in December Director Bill Vandegrift broke ranks with his board — he did not vote in favor of Skeel’s termination — and worried openly about the limits of the insurance policy and the impact on the future policy costs if Skeel is awarded a large claim.