Spending says much about priorities

The optics of the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors and most of the high-level government staff going to Black Oak Casino’s executive conference room for a meeting to talk about raising taxes are just not good.

It wasn’t so much the cost — $800 or so is an infinitesimal piece of the county’s multimillion dollar budget. But this is a cash-strapped county that needs better roads and other services for the people who pay for the government. It seems county leaders just don’t see that even the smallest unnecessary spending says a lot about their priorities.

This, after the uproar over the spending of an economic development director who clearly had no regard for how the people’s money was spent. County supervisors condoned, if not approved, every breakfast and lunch and dozens of trips to oceanfront cities — both coasts. Several of them ate a lot of the lunches.

The Union Democrat spent a lot of time cataloguing then-Economic Development Director Larry Cope’s expenses. We looked at every credit card bill and calendar for the past two years. We researched the places he went and the people he met with and did not see how all of it contributed to the general good of Tuolumne County.

Now that the city-county-funded Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority has been dissolved and Cope has left the area, county supervisors are poised to hire an interim economic development director at a much lower salary than Cope’s $163,000, but intend to give him or her a $3,500 budget for computers. Cope bought three in the past two years and had at least eight others floating around someplace.

Again, $3,500 is not a lot in the scope of how much the government spends each year. But it’s the message taxpayers hear loud and clear as they roll over yet another pothole.

Fresh air waves

Thursday’s no-cell-phone-service day seemed like another first day of spring. Refreshing. And new. Sure, we kept checking to see if the service had returned, but it was nice to not have the constant interruptions of text messages.

Around the newsroom, reporters had to do some good, old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting to track down people normally easy to reach by cell phone.

No Facebook or Twitter unless you were on a desktop computer. You actually had to seek social media out rather than having it easily accessible in your hand. Happy days.

Park land

We’ve said before in this space that the Park Foundation proposal for a regional park would be a boon to Tuolumne County. Parks draw people to an area and as such are one piece of an economic development plan. Tennis courts and soccer fields and other amenities bolster a young person’s life with physical activity and teamwork.

But the way the sale of 112 acres of Sonora High School’s Wildcat Ranch came about just seems, well, fishy. Everyone knew from the start the Park Foundation wanted that land. They made presentations to the committee established to recommend whether the land should be declared surplus. After the committee said it shouldn’t be, the Sonora Union High School District board said it should.

The Park Foundation had done a lot of research on all available pieces of land in the county. They knew this was the spot. So they waited their turn. By law, there were to be three rounds of bids, and initially it was thought bids from nonprofits should be received in the third round. Then, suddenly, they were in the second round. It seemed to come from nowhere.

They made their offer. They won the prize. But did other nonprofits know their turn had arrived? The Farm Bureau has filed a lawsuit, and a judge will make the determination.

As we’ve said, this is a worthy project, but the process should be fair.

Lyn Riddle is editor of The Union Democrat. Contact her at lriddle@uniondemocrat.com or 209-588-4541.