Larry Cope, former chief executive officer of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, has been hired as the economic development director for the city of Hawarden in northwest Iowa, according to The Northwest Iowa Review.

The newspaper reported that Cope, 49, started his new job Monday. He told the newspaper that he believed his 23 years of experience in economic development “made him stand out during the interview process.”

Cope served as the head of the TCEDA for almost 10 years until his contract was terminated in March after the agency was disbanded under cloud of controversy and public backlash.

City officials in Hawarden did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Details about the compensation Cope will receive could not be located on the city’s website, but its budget for economic development was recently increased from about $40,000 to $140,000.

Hawarden City Administrator Mike DeBruin told the Northwest Iowa Review in an article published on Feb. 1 the city was planning to begin advertising for the position.

In the article, DeBruin was quoted saying the budget for the position would be “in that $100,000 range to include salary, fringe benefits, travel, training, supplies and marketing.”

Hawarden is a city with a population of less than 2,600 and median household income of less than $50,000.

Cope was earning $163,625 a year when he left the TCEDA in March, the fourth highest in the county government employee behind the county administrator, health officer and psychiatrist. He also received more than $120,000 upon his departure, which included an $81,816 severance package and $39,225 in unused vacation leave.

People started to raise questions about the TCEDA in 2017 after Cope’s request to increase the agency’s budget from $411,545 to $460,732 a year, at a time when most county and city departments were having to make cuts and layoffs.

The TCEDA was the subject of a grand jury report released last June that uncovered concerns about the agency’s management practices, use of public funds, and lack of ways to measure results.

A separate report published by The Union Democrat hours before the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council voted to dissolve the agency found that Cope had spent more than $100,000 in taxpayer money over the course of 2017 and 2018 mostly on travel, meals, and office supplies.

About $11,000 of the meal expenses were at local restaurants with TCEDA board members, county supervisors and government officials, while the spending on travel included trips for conference in places like Boston and San Francisco where he sometimes stayed in hotel rooms that cost more than $400 a night.

Other purchases included a $1,000 drone, three Microsoft Surface tablets that cost between $750 and $2,759, and equipment that he loaned out to other county departments and business organizations.

A follow-up grand jury report released last month placed the blame for the TCEDA’s demise on a “culture of insufficient oversight” by the agency’s governing board, which consisted of two county supervisors, two city council members, and three members of the public.

Another issue cited by the jury was that the rules governing the TCEDA were less stringent than the standards followed by both the city and county because it was considered a separate entity.

The county is planning to hire an economic development director who will be governed by the same rules as other county employees and department heads.

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

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