Tuolumne County will move forward with recruiting a permanent economic development director following an unsuccessful two-month search for someone to fill the position temporarily.

The county Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 at a special meeting on Monday to create the permanent position, which will be appointed by the board and serve under the direction of County Administrator Tracie Riggs.

“This is a fresh start, and we’re creating something new, so it will take time,” said County Supervisor Ryan Campbell, who was the only one to previously vote against searching for an interim director because he favored a permanent solution.

The board voted 4-1 at a meeting on March 5 to hire an interim economic development director, two weeks after unanimously deciding to shut down the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority due to controversy over how the agency was being managed and spending public funds.

Riggs said interviews are scheduled with four candidates who met the qualifications for the interim job.

Options for the board to consider on Monday were either to hire an independent contractor or create a permanent position who would be a county employee.

The board decided to go with making the position a county employee because they would have more oversight than a contractor, which was also supported by people who were at the meeting.

David Goldemberg, of Sonora, cited an April 2018 ruling by the California Supreme Court that stated independent contractors are “free from the control and direction of the hirer in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of such work.”

County Supervisor John Gray, who has served as chairman of the TCEDA Governing Board since 2014, said he’s looked at what other counties have done for economic development and believes that an employee gives them the best chance at success.

The board also unanimously voted to have the position be appointed by the board, similar to other heads of county departments, as opposed to having them serve at the will and pleasure of the county administrator.

Riggs said the human resources and IT managers are the only department heads hired or released by the county administrator without board input.

Another option Riggs presented was creating an additional position under the economic development director responsible for coordinating commercial projects, but the board wanted to wait until later to decide on that.

“I think the right thing to do is let’s hire the right person, get them on board and then we’ll talk with them about a project coordinator,” said County Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who serves as board chairman. “I’d like to hear their input before we make any decisions.”

On Tuesday, the board is also scheduled to consider using $52,843 budgeted for hiring an interim director to replace two inoperable vehicles in the Animal Control Department.

Howard White, a consultant with the Modesto-based Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center, said he was concerned about the possible perception that could be created by taking away the funding for the interim director.

“The message I don’t want to send is that Tuolumne County is closed to business development,” he said.

White said he has several clients who are struggling with issues that are mostly related to delays in the county’s permitting process and need an advocate to help them.

Riggs said the hope is to have someone in place by the start of the next fiscal year on July 1 and making the job a permanent position will attract a larger pool of qualified candidates. In the meantime, she said officials in her office and the county Community Resources Agency are trying to assist people.

The annual base salary for the position will be between about $99,400 and $121,300, which was determined by the Human Resources Department to be a comparable rate to similar counties.

They would also receive the same retirement and medical benefits as other high-level county officials.

Larry Cope, the former TCEDA chief executive officer, earned more than $163,000 a year in addition to medical and retirement benefits before his contract was terminated when the board and Sonora City Council decided to shut down the agency.

Also at the special meeting, the board voted 5-0 to move forward with the second phase of constructing two community resilience centers in Groveland and Tuolumne.

The county received $20 million in federal funding through the National Disaster Resilience Competition to build at least one center that will serve as a place for people to evacuate during an emergency, as well as host events and gather during normal times.

County officials estimate that each center would cost about $30,000 a year to operate and maintain, but would pay for itself by generating between about $40,000 and $45,000 a year through renting space.

More than 50 people from Groveland and Tuolumne attended the meeting and spoke passionately in favor of building such a center in their respective communities.

The board also voted 4-1 to extend a temporary ban on growing industrial hemp in the county by an additional 22 months, after the federal government recently legalized the plant that’s a non-intoxicating cousin of marijuana.

County officials argued that allowing cultivation without specific regulations would open the door for people to grow hemp in certain residential neighborhoods and make it more difficult for authorities to enforce a separate ban on growing marijuana due to the similar appearance and odor between the plants.

Campbell was the only one opposed to the ban because the law now allows hemp cultivation and he didn’t feel passing it as an urgency ordinance was appropriate because it “doesn’t represent an immediate threat to public health, safety and welfare.”

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

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