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San Joaquin River Conservancy Leader Is Fired by Board

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John Shelton (right), pictured with Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, was fired by the SJRC board on Wednesday. (GV Wire/David Taub)
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John Shelton is out as executive director of the San Joaquin River Conservancy Board.

Board members for the regional public agency voted 11-1 in a closed session vote Wednesday to look for a new leader.

“The San Joaquin River Conservancy Board thanks John Shelton for his service as executive officer since November 2018,” said board chairman Mike Karbassi in a statement. “Our focus now turns to the future and finding the next leader to advance our important mission of developing and managing lands for public access, recreation, and restoration of floodplain habitat along 22 miles of the San Joaquin River.

Karbassi represents the Fresno City Council on the board.

The conservancy is a state agency that plans and manages the San Joaquin River Parkway, a 22-mile area of the river between Highway 99 and the Friant Dam.

Plans to improve the parkway have long been bogged down by bureaucracy and politics.

The 16-member board consists of elected leaders in Fresno and Madera counties, state agencies, and public members, all appointed by various agencies. Two of the board positions are vacant.

Shelton: Board Impatience Led to Job Loss

After the meeting, Shelton spent perhaps one last lunch with his small SJRC staff.

He said Bryn Forhan, the previous board chair, lost confidence in him, “and from there, I think … the rest of the board got in the same place.”

Forhan, who remains a board member, pointed GV Wire to Karbassi’s statement while declining to comment.

“I think they just ran out of patience with us. I’m not too sure how to fix it by getting rid of … somebody who’s doing work to get things done because it will take a while to get me replaced,” Shelton said. “But yeah, I’m hoping the next person does great because I want the conservancy to work. I think it’s got a whole lot of good things going for it. But I’m really quite worried about what’s going to happen over the next year.”

No interim executive director has been named.

Recent legislation from Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula, D-Fresno, expanded the board and changed how members are selected.

“That whole process made my existing board members think that there were things going on that they had no control on. And I didn’t have any control on them either. But I think I got blamed for some of that,” Shelton said.

Prior to serving as the conservancy’s executive director, Shelton spent more than 30 years in state government, most recently at the Department of Fish and Wildlife. He plans to retire.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s mostly work and fun stuff and then a little bit of politics. I think the last … six months has been a lot of politics … I think that’s going to continue. And I’m kind of good to get out of that. But I’m really worried about anything getting done over the next year,” Shelton said.

Sharon Weaver, who is the executive director of the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, said this in a statement to GV Wire:

“The San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, Inc. respects the decision of the San Joaquin River Conservancy Board on personnel matters. The Conservancy has been one of the Trust’s most important state agency partners in the creation of the San Joaquin River Parkway throughout the tenure of several executive officers, and we anticipate that our positive working relationship will continue.

“We are excited about the new opportunities for public access that are currently underway, and we will continue to work with community partners to achieve the full buildout of the San Joaquin River Parkway.”

Board Members Mum About Shelton’s Dismissal

Karbassi declined to comment about his vote, saying the situation was a personnel matter.

Madera County Supervisor Bobby Macaulay also said that he couldn’t discuss Shelton’s dismissal.

“I am confident in Chair Karbassi’s leadership and the board’s ability to help manage a smooth transition,” Macaulay said.

Anita Evans, representing the Madera City Council, cast the lone no vote. She didn’t explain her reasoning but added that “John Shelton was a very nice gentleman. I wish him well.”

Said Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau: “Out of respect to John Shelton and my colleagues, I have no comment on today’s vote. I am focused on working toward great outcomes for our community with regards to the San Joaquin River.”

Arambula also declined to comment.

A group that works with the conversancy on projects, Western Reaches, sent the board a letter, supporting Shelton and his staff.

“The successful accomplishments to date are credited to everyone involved. John’s knowledge of the Camp Pashayan site and several miles of river upstream have been invaluable,” the group said.

The vote to dismiss Shelton included two abstentions.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email