How to apply for TCEDA board vacancies

The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority is accepting applications from the private business sector for two at-large positions on the agency’s governing board.

Attributes the agency is looking for in at-large members include “a track record in community activities, ability to attend regular monthly meetings, business experience, and vision for the future of Tuolumne County,” according to a TCEDA press release.

Applications are available online at www.tceda.net or the TCEDA offices, located at 99 N. Washington St. in Sonora.

Nov. 1 is the deadline to submit applications for consideration.

Completed applications with a current resume must be delivered in person, via email, or sent by traditional mail to the TCEDA offices above address.

Email applications to TCEDA Executive Director Larry Cope at larry.cope@tceda.net, or call (209) 989-4058 for more information.

Jim Gianelli gave a farewell speech to the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Governing Board on Thursday in which he chastised the public for not being more involved with the agency, as well as The Union Democrat and its letter writers for what he perceived as sowing division in the community.

Gianelli resigned from the board after serving as an at-large member since 2009 because he retired from his law practice in Sonora a month ago and moved with his wife to Pacific Grove. He said the decision had been in the works long before a recent lawsuit and Grand Jury report put the TCEDA in the spotlight earlier this summer.

“It’s not a matter of we’re the cloaked board of elders up here and we think we’re better than everybody else. We all believe in this mission very dearly, but we need to have the public engagement for the public to understand,” he said.

Gianelli then went on to say that there has been a lot of “misinformation” spread about the agency in recent months and cited The Union Democrat and letters to the editor as being a “big part of that.”

He said he was “disappointed” in the newspaper and cancelled his subscription “out of principle” before he moved to Pacific Grove. He also said the public will never fully understand what the TCEDA board does until they get more involved by attending meetings and planning sessions.

“There’s a tendency to want to see a fight in this community, and I am sick and tired of the division in the country, in the community, I want to see the community get involved with this process,” he said. “Until you actually get to be a part and you understand and you can see what we have been going through and walk in the shoes we’ve walked in, you will not understand.

“Then it’s just pitchforks and torches, and it’s like, that’s not conducive or helpful to the community.”

When Gianelli was asked after the meeting about specific issues he had with The Union Democrat’s coverage of the TCEDA, one example he cited was an article in August about a special board meeting. He said he felt there wasn’t enough focus on the 15 people who shared personal anecdotes about how the agency had helped them in business.

The article published on Aug. 10 was headlined “Business owners laud support from the county’s economic development authority.”

Ten people also spoke at the meeting and criticized the TCEDA and its board over the findings reported by the Grand Jury, which included that the agency lacked transparency, didn’t follow the best practices of other taxpayer-funded entities, and had lax oversight on the expenses of its executive director, Larry Cope.

In the interview after Thursday’s meeting, Gianelli said that perhaps he had been too hard on the newspaper.

Gianelli said during his farewell speech that he believes in the TCEDA and its mission, its board members and Cope, whom he called a “rockstar.”

“He needs to be let loose to do his work and not play defense his whole life,” Gianelli said of Cope.

Applications are being accepted from the general public for two at-large positions on the board, which includes the seat currently held by Dave Thoeny because his four-year term expires at the end of the year.

Whoever fills Gianelli’s seat will serve out the rest of his term that expires in 2020.

The TCEDA board consists of three at-large members and four elected representatives, including two from the county Board of Supervisors and two from the Sonora City Council. The agency was created in 2008 through a joint-powers agreement between the city and county.

About 77 percent of the agency’s $460,000 annual budget is funded by the county, while the city covers the remaining 23 percent.

Applications for the open positions must be submitted to the TCEDA by Nov. 1, after which the four elected representatives on the board will make their selections. Thoeny is also eligible to apply for re-appointment.

Cope said the goal is to fill the seats at the board’s next meeting, which is tentatively set for Nov. 9. The board typically meets on the second Friday of every month, though he noted that it sometimes changes due to scheduling conflicts.

The TCEDA board also serves as the board of directors for Economic Prosperity Council of Tuolumne County, the nonprofit arm of the TCEDA aimed at promoting business education and economic development.

Few people attended the meeting on Thursday compared to others over the past several months. Most were county officials, or people with past affiliations to the agency.

Ron Patel, CEO of Black Oak Casino Resort, was one of the few members of the public in attendance. He declined to say whether he plans to apply for one of the at-large positions when asked about it after the meeting.

During the meeting, the board also reviewed the agency’s year-end financial statements with county Auditor-Controller Debi Bautista for the previous fiscal year from July 1, 2017, to June 30 this year.

The agency took in about $515,000 in revenue and spent about $447,700 of that over the course of the fiscal year, according to the statement. About $344,300 of the revenue came from the county and $102,800 from the city, with an additional $22,600 coming from refunds and reimbursements.

Cope noted that the reason the refunds and reimbursements were higher this year than in the past is due to the agency receiving about $10,000 from insurance to replace a programmable robot that was destroyed in an accident at Summerville High School after being left near a stove.

In July, the TCEDA announced it would shut down its InnovationLab that opened in 2014 on the third floor of the county-owned former Tuolumne General Hospital building in Sonora because the county needed the space back for its high-risk probation program.

A press release announcing the closure stated that the TCEDA would begin a loan-out program of the former InnovationLab’s programmable robot to local schools on a first come, first serve basis.

Cope said at Thursday’s meeting that the county has officially retaken the space in the former hospital building and all of the equipment purchased for InnovationLab is in storage.

The board is scheduled to consider what to do with the equipment at the next meeting in November, though they’ve expressed interest in giving local schools the first priority.

An independent audit of the agency’s finances conducted by the firm MGO is expected to begin next week and be completed by the end of the year.

The same firm is anticipated to begin an audit of the agency’s management practices sometime next month after the board decides on three similar agencies for comparison based on information gathered by the California Association for Local Economic Development, which Cope has been involved with over the years and previously served on its board of directors.

Both audits stem from the Grand Jury’s recommendation for the city and county to pay for an independent management review.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com

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