Sonora City Council meets at 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 94 N. Washington St.

City officials are going to ask Sonora City Council members Monday if they want to consider ending the city’s involvement with the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority.

If so, a decision on the matter would be made at a meeting in December.

The council has until Dec. 31 to notify the county if it wants to split from the TCEDA before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

“We’ll be asking to see if there’s consensus from the council to consider their future participation in the EDA and what information the council will want to make that decision,” said City Administrator Tim Miller of what’s planned for the regularly scheduled meeting on Monday.

County Counsel Sarah Carrillo, whose office provides legal advice to the TCEDA, recently said the agency and its governing board would effectively be dissolved if the city opts out of the agreement with the county.

Choosing to leave the TCEDA would save the city nearly $103,000 a year that it contributes to the agency’s $460,000 annual budget. The money comes from the city’s General Fund that pays for services like police, fire, public works, and employee salaries and benefits.

The TCEDA is a joint powers authority formed in 2008 as a partnership between the city and county aimed at fostering economic development and growth in the area.

Some citizens have urged the city to leave the TCEDA following the release of a report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury in June that raised concern about how the agency conducts business.

Defenders of the TCEDA who have spoken at public meetings since the release of the jury’s report say they’ve received assistance from the agency that’s helped their businesses thrive.

Any decision the council makes about the TCEDA will likely have to come before the completion of a pending management audit that was recommended by the jury. Some on the council, including Mayor Jim Garaventa, have expressed a desire to review the results of the audit prior to deciding whether to stay or leave.

The jury’s report on the TCEDA noted concerns related to transparency and measuring outcomes, use of public funds, the terms of TCEDA Executive Director Larry Cope’s contract and its structure as a JPA with its own rules of governance that don’t always reflect the best practices followed by the city and county.

Some of the more controversial findings in the report were that Cope was allowed to sign his own expense reports, claim all but four days as work time while he was in England for a month last year, cash out 720 hours of vacation time from 2015 to 2017, and spend more than half of the TCEDA’s meal expenses in 2017 on board members, elected county supervisors and government employees.

The jury’s concerns about a lack of recordkeeping to track the TCEDA’s performance over the years also closely matched the claims of a lawsuit filed against the agency that was filed several weeks prior to the release of the report by Ken Perkins of Sonora.

Perkins sued the TCEDA for withholding information he requested under the California Public Records Act that would support a November 2017 report by Cope that stated the agency was involved with nearly $400 million in capital investment projects, creating more than 2,000 jobs at an average wage of about $21 an hour.

The TCEDA released spreadsheets that stated it had provided assistance to business projects within the city limits totaling $58 million in capital investment and creating more than 400 jobs over the years.

All of the names of projects and businesses in the spreadsheets were redacted because the TCEDA said revealing them would compromise the confidentiality of the private companies it has helped.

Cope said in an interview with The Union Democrat after the documents were released that they did not account for all of the projects the agency has worked on, but only those he could remember when he created the spreadsheets starting in 2016.

The TCEDA settled the lawsuit with Perkins earlier this month after agreeing to pay about $7,000 for his attorney fees. The agency has also already paid $16,500 to an outside law firm for legal representation in the lawsuit, while the County Counsel’s Office has clocked about 135 hours dealing with the matter.

Some detractors have questioned the value that the TCEDA has provided to the city over the years and feel the money could be better spent on other priorities. The city has provided a total of nearly $760,000 to the agency since 2009.

The TCEDA’s annual budget has almost doubled from $232,000 in 2009, while Cope’s annual base salary has increased from about $93,600 to about $163,000. Tracie Riggs is set to make an annual base salary of $160,400 when she becomes the first female county administrator in Tuolumne County history next year.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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