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.