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Skeel to defend himself to board

By August 15, 2011

John Skeel

Both sides say they want public present

El Dorado Hills Community Services District’s embattled General Manager John Skeel will get a chance to defend himself in front of the CSD’s Board of Directors and the public at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 23.

Earlier this month the board delivered a formal “statement of charges” to Skeel, alleging that he violated the terms of his contract.

CSD Board President Guy Gertsch told Village Life that the Aug. 23 meeting will be held at the CSD pavilion (corner of Harvard Way and El Dorado Hills Boulevard), and was originally scheduled as a “closed session.” But late Friday both Gertsch and Skeel’s attorney, Ellen Arabian-Lee, told Village Life they want the meeting open to the public.

Since the charges are squarely disciplinary matters, Skeel has the final say as to whether the meeting, which CSD board members call “an appeal,” will be held in closed or open session. He can make his final decision as late as 24 hours before the meeting.

As of Monday morning the CSD had not received a waiver of closed session from Arabian-Lee. Skeel has not returned calls from Village Life.

Skeel was placed on paid leave June 20. The story caught the public’s attention in late July when Skeel went public, emphatically stating that he got little feedback and no direction from the board. He also asked why he’d been given only five-and-a-half months to prove himself. See the Aug. 1 story titled “Skeel, EDHCSD board break media silence” on villagelife.com for more detail.

Roughly 80 concerned residents turned out at the Aug. 11 board meeting to hear the latest developments first hand, even though the matter wasn’t on the agenda.

The board has remained largely mum in public, citing Skeel’s right to privacy. They remained tight-lipped on Thursday night, frustrating a local TV news crew who dutifully filmed the public comment portion of the meeting, which consisted of a succession of frustrated but polite residents wondering what was going on in their beloved parks and recreation district.

The contract
Skeel’s three year contract pays $126,600 per year, plus benefits, including up to $1,775 per month in medical, dental and vision coverage, plus a PERS retirement package and a $375 monthly vehicle allowance.

Moving Skeel’s family from Colorado cost taxpayers $9,380. Recruitment costs included four round-trip airfares between Denver and Sacramento. The other finalists for the position were local.

The district’s potential dismissal of Skeel hinges on whether district legal counsel Bob Thurbon can demonstrate that Skeel violated the terms of the contract.

The contract allows Skeel to be “discharged for cause,” for failing to perform broad responsibilities set forth in the contract or falling short of goals that should have been established in his first 30 days on the job. It also called for three- and six-month reviews.

Gertsch confirmed that a three-month review was conducted, and insists it included “issues that needed improvement with examples of each of our concerns.” Skeel contends the feedback wasn’t substantive and goals were never agreed to.

The contract also allows the board to terminate Skeel for “breach of contract, any grounds enumerated in state law, district policy rule or regulation,” a potential silver bullet that would allow the board to bypass potentially subjective performance measures if it can prove Skeel violated state law or district policy.

At the board meeting, Green Springs Ranch resident Denise Chambless worried about the cost the board’s handling of Skeel.

She called for an independent investigation of the hiring, discipline and potential termination of Skeel, the costs of which could stretch to over $500,000 if the board is forced to buy out Skeel’s contract.

Chambless asked if proper employment practices were followed. “Was he informed of expectations and goals? Was he measured? Was there a written warning or a performance improvement plan? Was he given the opportunity and tools to succeed?”

Gene Harter, a senior business agent for the El Dorado County Employees Association Local 1, alleged inaccuracies in CSD attorney Bob Thurbon’s account, as published in Village Life, of the negotiation to “carve out” CSD management positions from the employee’s union.

Harter also asked what happened to Skeel’s notes from the confidential interviews he conducted with each of the CSD employees.

Reached by phone on Friday, Thurbon said the files are being treated as “confidential personnel files,” and he had the originals because Arabian-Lee requested copies.

Arabian-Lee told Village Life that she also asked for an interview with CSD Human Resources Manager Tracey Lynn in preparation for Skeel’s “day in court,” but her request was denied.

The Village Life website contains a meeting notice that will be updated to indicate any status changes to the Aug. 23 meeting, including whether it is open or closed, and any time or location changes.

It it’s open, get there early becuase it will likely be packed.

Mike Roberts

Discussion | 3 comments

  • Noel StackAugust 16, 2011 - 3:14 pm

    Village Life received the following statement from Guy Gertsch: "Over the past several weeks a lot of misinformation/conjecture has been floating around our community regarding the cost to taxpayers of resolving the issue facing the CSD and Mr. Skeel. I cannot emphasize enough that the decisions made by this board have all been made with great emphasis on limiting taxpayer liabilities and costs. First, while we conducted a national search we did so in an economical manner. Had we hired a professional headhunter it would have cost the district between $40,000 and $75,000 as they charge a percentage of the first year’s total compensation package. We chose to use our HR manager who has had extensive experience hiring executives for a Fortune 500 company. The total cost to the district for this search was $8,218.64. This number is inclusive of the trips to bring our top candidate out to meet the employees and a trip to Evergreen. Additionally, we had a professional panel of highly respected industry executives who donated their time to interview the top candidates. Second, inflated figures have been shared with the public as to what the district could potentially owe Mr. Skeel. CA state law says that we could be liable for 18 months of his contract, not the 2 and one half years or $375,000-$500,000 being quoted. Additionally, we are bound by the Constitution which affords all public employees due process when being terminated. During this process we are mandated to pay public employees their salaries. Our district is committed to living up to our Constitutional and statutorily mandated duties in providing a fair and unbiased due process. Third, the public has been misinformed about the potential legal costs of our decision. The district has a flat rate annual contract with our counsel, Thurbon & McHaney. Thurbon & McHaney will receive the same amount of money whether they work 500 hours or 5,000 hours for us. Fourth, the $9,000+ moving expenses reimbursed to Mr. Skeel is a condition of his existing contract. If the contract is terminated within one year, the full $9,000+ requires full reimbursement payable to the district."

  • Stonegate residentAugust 19, 2011 - 7:30 pm

    It's a good things the district pays a flat rate for their attorneys, since they have an HR person who keeps getting them tied up in law suites.

  • well saidAugust 20, 2011 - 12:38 pm

    Here's the basics: The HR Director should be relieved of her job. She hires on a disparate basis (the board is putting itself at serious risk here). Her record speaks for itself. She has a preference toward her religion. Additionally, she is not well liked for her terse attitude and course nature toward employees. The Board oversteps its bounds by "micro managing" the operation, clearly not their prerogative. Mr. Skeel's professionalism is what attracted the board. Now they are protecting the HR manager for some unknown reason. They are clearly, intentionally misstating the nature of this discord. I for one don't want to pay Mr. Skeel's income for the rest of his working life while he lives elsewhere, working for someone else. And I don't believe he wants that either. But if the Board pushes this the wrong way, I'll guarantee you it is exactly what will happen. This issue needs further scrutiny by this paper. We citizens of El Dorado Hills are again being held hostage by the capricious nature of this Board's cronyism and convoluted reasoning. I urge as many residents as possible attend this meeting on August 23rd at 6:30 @ CSD on Harvard Way...just follow the throng...hope you get a parking spot close to the building. This is better than "Who Shot JR". And I know someone who ISN'T going to be reelected next time out! Report inappropriate comments



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