The Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Governing Board will review four applications for two open seats at a public meeting that begins at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
Dave Thoeny, who’s served on the TCEDA board since 2014, said he decided not to submit an application for another four-year term because of time constraints from his jobs as executive director of both the Central Sierra Economic Development District and Mother Lode Job Training.
Former at-large member Jim Gianelli stepped down from the board last month because he moved outside the county. He had served since 2009, the year after the organization was created through a joint-powers agreement between the city and county.
That means the board will consider appointing two of the four people who applied for the open at-large seats at Friday’s meeting.
“The board will look at them, look at their resumes, and they can decide to approve two there, or decide to do further research,” Cope said.
At Friday’s meeting, the board will also consider approving a disposal plan for equipment from the TCEDA’s now-shuttered InnovationLab and choosing three comparable economic development agencies for a pending management audit being conducted in response to a Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury report that detailed potential concerns related to the agency’s practices.
The four people vying for the two at-large board member positions are: Ron Patel, retired chief executive officer of Black Oak Casino Resort; Marianne Wright, a downtown Sonora business owner; Ryan Land, area manager for timber giant Sierra Pacific Industries; and Rob Hoerntlein, owner of Rainbow Communications in downtown Sonora.
Nov. 1 was the deadline for submitting an application.
Land has defended the TCEDA and Cope at public meetings in recent months regarding responses to the grand jury report. He has said that Cope was instrumental in the process of retrofitting and re-opening the Redding-based company’s Standard sawmill on Camage Avenue.
Black Oak Casino Resort and Sierra Pacific Industries were both included on list of 65 entities that had received help from the TCEDA in the past, which was released publicly in response to a lawsuit filed by Sonora resident Ken Perkins seeking those records.
Hoerntlein’s Rainbow Communications is based in downtown Sonora and bills itself on its website as “a leading Roku TV production company.” Roku is a device that people connect to their TVs to access streaming services such as Netflix.
Wright is active in the downtown Sonora merchant community and previously owned an antique shop on South Washington Street before purchasing Serventes Saloon late last year.
The board will also review the recommendations from the California Association for Local Economic Development, or CALED, and consider selecting three agencies for comparison as part of a pending audit of the TCEDA’s management practices.
Comparable agencies recommended by CALED are located in Siskiyou, Madera, Mariposa and Stanislaus counties.
After reviewing annual reports from 23 economic development agencies, CALED determined the most cited business metrics to gauge performance were visits and other outreach to businesses, jobs created or retained, and business support and assistance requests.
Lesser metric s cited were the number of conferences and trade shows attended and media exposure or marketing.
The jury’s report on management oversight for the TCEDA identified potential problems related to budget control, terms for the chief executive officer’s contract, and board personnel evaluation processes.
Other potential concerns identified in the report related to structural issues, such as balancing the needs for public openness with private industry needs for confidentiality and having unique policies that don’t align with the best practices followed by the city and county.
Among the findings were that Cope was allowed to sign his own expense reports, claim work time while spending a month in England last year, and used public funds intended for entertaining clients and business prospects to pay for the meals of county supervisors and TCEDA board members.
The board will also consider adding a proposed definition for client to the TCEDA’s policies that would state:
“Clients are defined as individuals or companies that use the services provided by the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority. Government agencies and their employees, board representatives and Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority board members are not considered clients.
Another consideration for the board on Friday will be the application process for requesting equipment from the former InnovationLab, which was located on the third floor of the county-owned former Tuolumne General Hospital.
The lab opened as a membership-based business incubator and maker space in 2014, before failing to get enough members after about two years and becoming low-cost rental office space for businesses, nonprofits, and school agencies. It closed in August after the county requested the space back for its day-reporting probation program.
Local schools are expected to get the first priority for the high-tech equipment that used to be part of the lab.
Equipment for the lab was purchased through a $22,000 grant from the Sonora Area Foundation and $7,500 from Sierra Pacific Industries that were awarded to the Economic Prosperity Council of Tuolumne County, the TCEDA’s nonprofit arm.
The council’s board has the same membership as the TCEDA board, which consists of two county supervisors, two members of the Sonora City Council, and three at-large members from the private or nonprofit sector.
Cope serves as the entity’s chief executive officer and board secretary.
One of the concerns identified by the jury was the overlapping membership of TCEDA board members on other boards and committees that intersect with business conducted by the agency.
The council is scheduled to consider moving the $29,500 from the grants to purchase equipment from the InnovationLab in the nonprofit’s reserves to the TCEDA’s reserves.
Cope explained the equipment for was purchased with the TCEDA’s operational funds, while the grant funds were placed in the nonprofit’s reserves. He said moving the money over to the TCEDA’s reserves will allow the board to decide how to spend it in the future.
About $344,000 of the TCEDA’s $460,000 annual budget is funded by the county, while the city funds about $103,000.
Some city residents have urged the Sonora City Council to break from the agreement with the county and stop funding the TCEDA prior to the completion of the management audit, because the deadline to do so under the terms of the agreement is Dec. 31.
Cope said he hoped the management audit would be completed by sometime in December, though he acknowledged it could take until January due to the holidays. He didn’t have a comment on the calls for the city to split from the TCEDA, which he said would be a decision for the city council and county Board of Supervisors.
The meetings on Friday will be held in the Board of Supervisors chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center, at 2 S. Green St.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.