Staff, clients of Eureka engineering firm say they were blindsided by sudden closure

Employees of a Eureka engineering firm say they were blindsided by their Chicago employer’s decision to close their 3rd Street location, a move that cost 24 staffers their jobs and left some local cannabis farmers in the lurch.

Manhard Consulting says its decision to shutter its Eureka firm last month was because of the wave of cannabis farmers using their services in the attempt to enter the legal market.

“The decision to close the office was made because environmental permitting came to represent 95 percent of the services provided by the Eureka team which differs significantly from Manhard Consulting’s civil engineering and surveying business model,” the company wrote. “That factor, along with divergent management styles, made it clear that it would be in the best interest of staff and clients to transfer operations to Praj White, former operations manager at Manhard Consulting’s [Eureka firm].”

Those negotiations to spin off the firm to White’s control fell through, with both sides expressing bewilderment as to why they failed.

Former Manhard Consulting employee Sarah Emlet said that all 24 employees at the Eureka location were terminated on Feb. 13 without warning “and had two hours to pack their belongings and exit the premises.”

“Staff were also informed they had been locked out of their computers, emails, and client database,” Emlet wrote in a statement. “The office was not provided the opportunity to contact clients or inform them of the shutdown.”

Meanwhile, clients like Humboldt Redwood Healing CEO Thomas Mulder say they were also given no notice of the closure. Mulder said he had contracted with the Eureka firm for close to 10 years, first for his own contracting work and more recently hiring the firm to manage the development and permitting of a cannabis farm in the Miranda area.

Mulder said he only found out about the closure through a friend.

“I’m appalled by it, as far as there was no notice,” Mulder said. “Luckily I had a friend that had an appointment to go there.”

Mulder said he was supposed to have a Manhard Consulting surveyor at his farm on Feb. 13 — the day the firm closed.

“He called me the night before and said that they had important company meeting and that he couldn’t show up,” Mulder said, adding that the surveyor never showed up the next day.

While Mulder said he was able to recover his documents and be reimbursed by the company for the incomplete surveying job, he said his permitting work is now at least 30 days behind. Mulder said he is lucky that he contracted with other firms to handle other aspects of permitting his farm, but said others were not as fortunate.

“The thing is, us farmers, we still have to be active in our permitting process even though we do have consultants taking care of this,” Mulder said.

Mulder said he blames the company’s corporate headquarters for the closure and said he feels he and other clients were used as pawns in a negotiation scheme to transfer the firm.

The company said it was working toward a “seamless transfer” until White unexpectedly quit in early February.

“Without a licensed [professional engineer] at the office, Manhard had no other option but to close operations on February 13th,” the company statement reads. “Clients were notified by mail and phone calls after the closing due to these unforeseen circumstances.”

The company’s marketing director Tricia Manhard said that the client notifications did not begin until after the closure because they had assumed the firm would be transferred to White.

Reached by the Times-Standard on Friday, White provided his own account. He said the company terminated his employment agreement in December, but indicated he could continue to work as an employee at will, which he accepted. Talks then began about transferring the firm to his control.

“After many discussions about potential transition to local control and management philosophy, we were clearly not in alignment,” White wrote in an email to the Times-Standard.

White said he submitted two weeks notice on Jan. 23, but said the regional manager for the Eureka office, Will Gladbach, asked him to extend his employment until Feb. 16 to continue discussions on the transfer.

White said that an agreement was made in principle on Feb. 7 to a “good will transition.”

“On Feb. 13, Manhard’s management team flew to Eureka and closed the office, laying off all the employees without notice to me or any of the staff,” White said. “The sudden closure and actions effectively ended the possibility of a good will transition to a locally owned and operated firm.”

White and other former employees say they are working to open their own firm, NorthPoint Consulting, this month.

Tricia Manhard said negotiations were ongoing between the two parties’ lawyers, but said that White “disappeared” and cut off communication. Manhard said White was at the office on Feb. 13 and was aware of what was going on, but apparently “changed the deal.”

“Maybe we were a little naïve, but we’re not abandoning anyone or anything,” she said. “I’ve had people contact me for trying to help people find other jobs. Our company has reached out to employees. I think everyone is a little hesitant to reach out to us or return calls because everyone knows everyone.”

Manhard Consulting corporate representatives will still be available at their Eureka office at 517 Third St. Suite No. 6 to assist clients with questions, finalize billing and complete files for transfer to other local consulting firms through Tuesday, according to the company. Representatives will then be available by appointment only from Wednesday through March 23 by calling 707-444-3800.

After March 23, clients can reach a Manhard representative at either or 707-444-3800, according to the company.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.