The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority released heavily redacted documents Friday afternoon related to a lawsuit filed by Sonora resident Ken Perkins, who is seeking a list of businesses that the director has had a hand in recruiting.
One of the most detailed documents is a spreadsheet listing 44 projects the agency says it is involved with that would provide a total of nearly $422 million in estimated capital investment and create 1,993 jobs at an average wage of $21.22 by the year 2027.
None of the documents show any projects worked on or completed prior to 2018.
The projects are grouped by industry type — agriculture, health care, technology, manufacturing, restaurants, retailers, tourism, service and extraction — but the names are redacted.
Five of the 44 projects are listed as having a “100 percent” chance of being landed in 2018, totaling $8.4 million in capital investments and 49 jobs at an average wage of $19.40 an hour.
The document stated that 26 of the projects have anywhere from a 60 to 95 percent chance of happening between this year and 2027, while two have a 20 to 30 percent chance and 10 others have a 50-50 shot.
One of the projects grouped under tourism doesn’t have a percentage chance listed, though it would be an estimated $75 million in capital investment and create 300 jobs at an average wage of $13.50 an hour by 2027.
None of the projects were listed as being within the Sonora city limits.
There were five other similar looking spreadsheets sent in a cache of documents via email from Deputy County Counsel Carlyn Drivdahl. The email was timestamped 4:59 p.m., a minute before most county offices closed for the weekend.
None of the other five spreadsheets include a column listing the chance of a project happening, nor do any have an explanation for exactly what they’re showing.
Each also lists a different estimated amount of total capital investment from all of the projects, ranging from $74 million to nearly $437 million.
Drivdahl, the primary legal adviser to the TCEDA, and Larry Cope, executive director of the TCEDA, could not be reached for further explanation Friday afternoon.
The latest development in the ongoing saga involving the TCEDA stems from the lawsuit filed by Perkins in early June.
Perkins is seeking documentation to support a claim Cope made last November in his regular report to the TCEDA Governing Board that claimed the agency at the time had “projects that total $392,950,000 in investment, creating 2,080 jobs at an average rate of $20.87 per hour.”
Perkins filed the lawsuit after his requests for the information under the California Public Records Act were denied based on a legal provision intended to protect the trade secrets of private companies.
A press release was included in the email with the documents on Friday that stated the documents were initially withheld to protect the confidentiality of the TCEDA’s clients.
“Initially, the TCEDA chose the most vigilant position and withheld some records in their entirety,” the press release stated. “But upon closer inspection and legal analysis, the TCEDA has chosen to release all of the records with some redactions to protect sensitive business information, much of which was provided to the TCEDA with the understanding of confidentiality.”
The TCEDA was formed in 2008 through a partnership between the city and county. About $102,000 of the agency’s $460,000 annual budget comes directly from the city’s coffers, while the county covers nearly all of the rest.
The press release stated the TCEDA regrets having to spend public funds defending the lawsuit and hopes for a quick resolution by releasing the records.
The TCEDA board approved hiring the outside law firm Best, Best and Krieger, which charges between $165 and $365 an hour, to assist with the agency’s defense.
“The TCEDA considers this an opportunity to reevaluate its policies, to determine what can and should be done different and makes every effort to improve its relationship with the public and continue its successful partnership with businesses to bring economic vitality to this county,” the press release concluded.
Drivdahl stated in her email to local news reporters on Friday that the documents had also been provided to Perkins’ attorney, Chad Morgan.
Perkins said that neither he nor Morgan received the documents before they were released to the public Friday.
Perkins said he was having Internet trouble at his home Friday and had to go over to his neighbor’s house to read the documents online, but what he saw didn’t make him willing to settle.
“I’m not surprised, these are the types of games that bureaucrats usually play,” Perkins said. “I guess they’re calling my bluff that I’m not going to settle my lawsuit. We’ll do it in court before a judge.”
He said one of his issues with the documents is they do little to explain how much of a role TCEDA has played in making sure any of the projects listed are successful.
“What it appears Cope is doing is recording everything that’s going on in the county,” Perkins said. “You could get a secretary to do that.”
The case is scheduled to be heard at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 16 in Tuolumne County Superior Court.
In addition to the lawsuit, the TCEDA has faced public criticism in recent months over a scathing report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury .
The report found, among others things, similar issues with transparency of documentation to provide evidence of the agency’s performance over the years.
People have urged the Sonora City Council at its past several public meetings to withdraw its share of funding for the agency at least until a management audit is completed like the jury recommended in its report.
An attorney for the city is scheduled to give a report to the council at a meeting on Monday regarding the suspension of funding for the TCEDA while a management audit is pending, according to the agenda.
The council meets at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 94 N. Washington St.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.