The relationship between the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council outwardly appears to have been strained by recent differences over their approaches to economic development, but most elected officials say that’s not the case behind the scenes.

Officials who were interviewed said they have set aside any tensions following the mutual decision to end the 10-year partnership between the two governments on the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority because there are other pressing issues that can best be addressed from a unified front.

“I can’t envision the city and county not working together,” said District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan, who represents an area that includes the city. “Fundamentally, the Board of Supervisors recognizes the importance of the city’s success to the county’s success.”

Brennan said she’s been having conversations lately with Sonora Mayor Jim Garaventa about the city and county collaborating on ways to make the community more resilient to fire and find solutions to homelessness.

One example Brennan cited is a newly formed task force on fire resiliency that includes representatives from the city. She also recently asked Cal Fire Tuolumne-Calaveras Unit Chief Josh White to reach out to Sonora Fire Chief Aimee New in hopes of identifying some mutually beneficial projects.

“The city and county aren’t going to solve these problems without working together,” Brennan said. “We are partners.”

Brennan said she views the debate over the TCEDA as the past and wants to focus on the future.

Tensions between the board and city council surfaced during discussions about the TCEDA at public meetings in recent months, with some members of the council saying they felt like their counterparts on the board weren’t viewing them as an equal partner.

Garaventa said there has been “a lot of tension” over the TCEDA, but he believes the unanimous decision by the board and council to shut down the agency is helping to resolve that.

“Before that, there were differing views on the direction the EDA should take,” he said.

Garaventa said Brennan was in contact with the city to see if the county could provide assistance during and after the recent storms that brought rare flooding to downtown Sonora.

Garaventa said he, Brennan and Councilwoman Colette Such have also met recently with a group a low-barrier shelter and trauma center for the homeless, which the group unveiled in January at a event on poverty hosted by the Motherlode Martin Luther King Jr. Committee.

“I don’t think it’s constructive to point fingers at this point,” Garaventa said.

Such said she believes the tensions between stemmed from differing interpretations of information about the agency from the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury.

“I’ve never understood the county’s response to this because it always seemed very defensive and missed the point,” she said. “I think it’s pretty clear that it was very badly handled and managed and things had gone amuck at a huge expense to this community without a lot of results.”

The city also shares responsibility in how the TCEDA unraveled because it had a seat at the table, Such added, and she believes it’s critical for each side to at least understand the other’s point of view moving forward even if they disagree.

“I tell people this is a cautionary tale — you have to manage public money diligently and be careful with it,” she said.

Karl Rodefer, county supervisor for District 5 and board chairman, declined to comment.

County Supervisor John Gray, who represents District 4 and serves as chairman of the TCEDA board, said he believes the best path forward is for the county to move on with economic development independent of the city and for both to work together on other projects.

The widening of Mono Way and improvements to the intersection at Mono Way and Greenley Road were some projects Gray cited that showed collaboration between the two governments. Though both projects were within the city limits, the county provided most of the funding.
“We’re going to do what’s best for Tuolumne County, and if there’s something in there that’s in the city and would make Tuolumne County better, there will be cooperation,” he said.

Gray said he believes that the city and county could have worked through their differences without shutting down the TCEDA, but he doesn’t have any resentment against council members.

Councilwoman Connie Williams said she believed that communication between city and county elected officials is key to improving the working relationship. She has said in the past that she felt like county supervisors and other members of the TCEDA board didn’t take her concerns seriously while she served on it from July 2016 to June last year.

Williams said she and Brennan worked together after both were elected in 2012 on the project that resulted in the rehabilitation of Courthouse Square, which is owned and maintained by the county but located in the heart of downtown Sonora.

“That’s an example of working together to make it a better place for everybody,” she said. “I think it could still be done.”

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

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