The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors public meeting begins at 9 a.m. Tuesday. It will be held in the board’s chambers on the fourth floor of the County Administration Center at 2 S. Green St. in Sonora.

A 29-year-old with ties to the local business community is being considered for the newly created job as Tuolumne County’s in-house economic development director at a starting salary of $99,367 per year.

Cole Przybyla, of downtown Sonora, could be hired to the position by the county Board of Supervisors at a public meeting on Tuesday. He declined to be interviewed by telephone or in person on Thursday, but sent an email with responses to some questions about his background.

“I’m uniquely qualified for this position having lived in Tuolumne County for eight years, my experience as a small business owner and through my extensive involvement in community, business and governmental organizations,” he said in an email.

The new position was created after the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority was shut down by the board and Sonora City Council earlier this year following months of heated controversy over the agency’s practices.

Przybyla declined to answer questions about the TCEDA until after the board makes its decision, but he wouldn’t explain why.

Public records obtained by The Union Democrat show Przybyla was also one of 10 people who submitted applications in 2014 for an at-large seat on the TCEDA Governing Board that ultimately went to Dave Thoeny, executive director of Mother Lode Job Training.

Among the people who recommended Przybyla for the seat were Ron Kopf, executive director of the Tuolumne County Business Council, and Darrell Slocum, former president of the council and current executive director of the Sonora Area Foundation.

Przybyla’s resume on the website LinkedIn also lists the TCEDA among the former clients of his marketing and social media advertising company, Cole Video, which he ran in downtown Sonora for six years.

Adventist Health Sonora, the county’s largest private employer, is also listed among Przybyla’s former clients.

Przybyla works as a financial advisor for Edward Jones, according to his LinkedIn website, which listed public relations among his top skills. He holds a bachelor’s of arts degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is pursuing a master’s in business administration from UC Davis.

He also serves on the Tuolumne County Planning Commission and is vice president of the Tuolumne County Business Council. He was unanimously appointed to the commission by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 and re-appointed to a four-year term in 2017.

In December 2015, Przybyla was one of two commissioners who voted in support of allowing a Dollar General to be built near the entrance of Columbia State Historic Park despite intense opposition to the project within the community.

The national discount chain’s proposal was ultimately denied by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioner Jerry Baker joining Przybyla in support of the project. The Board of Supervisors later upheld the commission’s rejection upon appeal.

Przybyla stated in an email that he wants the job as economic development director because he’s “invested in seeing our county continue to grow responsibly in the future.”

“I care deeply about Tuolumne County and am committed to working hard everyday to ensure my community has a bright economic future,” he stated.

If appointed, Przybyla said he plans to focus on retaining and expanding existing businesses, as well as implementing goals identified by the community and set by the Board of Supervisors.

Przybyla said he would hold public forums in each community throughout the county to identify goals.

“Genuine listening and transparent communication will be key to this process, and I feel passionately that each community has a right to voice their desires for our county’s economic future,” he stated in the email.

The proposed employment contract for Przybyla is for a five-year term as the economic development director and would credit him with 40 hours of personal leave. He would also receive the same health and retirement benefits as all management-level county employees.

Przybyla would receive 90 days of severance pay if the contract is terminated by the board before the end of five years, which doesn’t include the 90-day notice that the board would be required to give him.

Public documents for the meeting on Tuesday stated that the board agreed to make a “conditional offer” to Przybyla after interviewing candidates for the job during a private closed session meeting on June 11.

Later that day, the board reconvened in a public meeting and announced there was nothing to report from the closed session.

California law allows local public agencies to meet behind closed doors for personnel matters, including hiring, firing, or other discipline, but it requires them to publicly report any action or decision made that would affect the employment status of an employee.

Jim Wheaton, senior counsel at the First Amendment Project in Oakland, said he doesn’t believe the board broke the law by not publicly reporting the conditional offer to Przybyla because it could be seen as a negotiating position, which isn’t required to be disclosed.

Wheaton said another example of a negotiating position would be an offer of a settlement in a lawsuit before the other side accepts and it becomes final.

There has been much attention on the new position because of the previous controversies surrounding the TCEDA before the board decided to shut it down. It was formed in 2008 through a joint powers agreement between the county and City of Sonora.

The TCEDA flew relatively under the radar until Ken Perkins, of Sonora, filed a lawsuit last year claiming the agency and its chief executive officer, Larry Cope, were illegitimately withholding public records related to the agency’s performance at helping businesses.

In late June last year, the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury released a report that slammed the agency for a lack of transparency and oversight of Cope.

Among the jury’s findings was that Cope had been allowed to claim working time for a month he spent in England toward the end of 2017.

A separate investigation by The Union Democrat found Cope, who’s annual salary at the time was $163,625, had spent more than $100,000 in public funds over two years on trips across the United States for conferences and trade shows, meals at local restaurants with public officials and politicians, and other items for his office.

Cope received more than $120,000 in severance pay and unused vacation time. He was recently hired as the economic development director of Hawarden, Iowa, where his annual salary is $65,000.

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



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