Larry Cope received more than $120,000 at the end of last week when he left his job as the chief executive officer of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.
The amount includes $81,816 in severance pay because his contract was terminated more than four years early, in addition to a lump-sum payment of $39,225 for unused vacation time.
County Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista confirmed the final amount this week. She said he will also still receive one more paycheck of $7,432 before taxes, which includes two weeks pay and a portion of his monthly allowances for his car, cell phone, and Internet.
Cope’s final day was Saturday. The county Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council both unanimously voted on Feb. 19 to shut down the TCEDA, which was established in late 2008 through a joint powers agreement between the two governments.
The decision came after months of debate between city and county officials over the TCEDA’s future after a report released in June by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury raised concerns about the agency’s operating standards and practices.
A report by the Union Democrat was released a day before the decision that detailed Cope’s travel and business expenses in 2017 and 2018, which totaled more than $100,000 combined.
Days after the decision, the TCEDA Governing Board unanimously voted to terminate Cope’s contract that it had extended through April 6, 2023, less than a year ago.
Cope did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday and has not responded to requests from The Union Democrat since the decision to shut down the TCEDA. He was hired in March 2009 and began work the following month.
County Administrator Tracie Riggs said at meeting earlier this month that Cope told her he and his wife were planning to move out of the area, though officials have not provided any further details on his plans.
Cope’s employment contract entitled him to about half of his annual salary if it was terminated by the board before the end of the term. His annual salary was $163,625, up from $93,594 when he was hired.
The contract also gave Cope the same benefits package as other high-ranking county officials, including 320 hours of vacation a year. He was not limited in how much unused vacation he could accumulate because he was hired before 2011, when the county set the cap at 750 hours.
Unlike most other high-ranking county officials, Cope also received $500 a month for a vehicle and $200 a month for cell phone and Internet.
Cope agreed to waive a 90-day notice period prior to being let go that’s written into his contract, as well as give back 80 hours of unused vacation time to settle inconsistencies between his time card and calendar for 2017.
Cope claimed four days vacation while spending a month in England in 2017, with the rest of the days labeled mostly as “comp time” on his calendar.
For comparison, the contract for Riggs entitles her to three months of salary as severance pay if it’s terminated before Dec. 31, 2023.
There’s also a clause in Riggs’ contract stating that her severance could be revoked if she’s fired for reason of malfeasance or committing a crime involving moral turpitude, but Cope’s contract did not have such a clause.
Meanwhile, the search for an interim economic development director continued on Tuesday after the county Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 earlier this month to create the position as a stopgap while figuring out a permanent replacement for the TCEDA.
The board went into closed session after 1:30 p.m. to interview candidates, but emerged hours later with nothing to report and no action taken.
County officials are also working on a travel and business expense policy for the interim director that will be presented to the board for approval at a future meeting.
Cope was allowed to overrule much of what was in the TCEDA’s travel and business expense policy, as well as approve his own expense reports.
The board set the three-month budget for the interim economic development director at $53,600, which includes $40,500 for salary and benefits, $3,500 for computer equipment and $1,500 for travel, entertainment and meals.
Kathy Gallino, director of the year-old Calaveras County Economic Development Department, gets slightly less than $3,000 a year for conference, training and travel.
A property list recently released by the county revealed that seven out of 11 computers owned by the TCEDA are on loan to other government agencies and groups, including a for-profit business.
Both the city and county will get the first opportunity to claim any TCEDA property, the rest of which will be sold to local schools and nonprofit organizations prior to a public auction.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.