The finances and management of the TCEDA are being scrutinized now after a Grand Jury report raised concerns about the transparency of the agency’s work and spending. The jury said it was difficult to determine the quality and effectiveness of the work due to lax oversight by the board and no true standards or a means for accountability.
The jury’s report noted there was no record of contacts or successes, and that the authority didn’t adhere to the same standards and operating practices of most taxpayer-funded entities.
Examples of the unique set of policies that TCEDA operated under included allowing the Larry Cope, the executive director, to claim working time for all but four days while in England for a month in 2017.
In response to the jury’s recommendation, the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council called for the TCEDA board to hire an independent auditor to look at the authority’s finances and management practices.
MGO, which annually audits the county’s books, was selected by the authority’s board in September to receive the $41,250 contract.
The financial and management audits were initially expected to be completed before the end of December, which would have given enough time for either the county or City of Sonora to review the results and decide whether they would like to remain in the partnership.
Either government has to notify the other within 180 days of the beginning of the next fiscal year, which run from July 1 to June 30, making the deadline for a decision by Jan. 1.
County legal advisers say the TCEDA would effectively cease to exist if either party backs out of the agreement.
City council members felt pressure from some constituents to withdraw from partnership with the county before the completion of the audits out of a lack of confidence that the authority would make enough meaningful changes.
When it became clear the audits wouldn’t be completed by the Jan. 1 deadline, the council gave county supervisors an ultimatum — either extend the deadline by 90 days to April 1 or the city would leave the TCEDA before the end of the year.
The board agreed to extend the deadline but only by 60 days to March 1, because there was concern that any longer would interfere with the process of developing an annual budget and create more work for county staff.
Now, the financial audit isn’t expected to be completed until later this month and management audit by sometime in March.
On Tuesday, the board will consider asking the council for another extension to the deadline this time. It will also have the option of withdrawing from the agreement and ending the partnership with the city that formally began in late 2008.
The council is also scheduled to have a public meeting later on Tuesday to possibly consider the board’s request for another deadline extension, or determine what the next step will be if the board is the first to walk away.