Sonora City Council took an important step Monday night in voting unanimously for the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority Board to release the findings of an internal investigation into whether there were conflicts of interest among board members.
Supervisor John Gray, speaking as chairman of the TCEDA board, has said the board could not release the findings on conflict of interest because of attorney-client privilege. This is a weak defense, and frankly a wrong interpretation of what attorney client privilege means.
Attorney-client privilege exists to protect the secrets of the client. It requires attorneys to keep quiet about information a client reveals. This is not a mandate. The client — in this case the TCEDA board — can reveal any information it wants to.
The Grand Jury believes the public should see the conclusions of the conflict of interest review with regard to the TCEDA’s sister organization the Economic Prosperity Council, about which not a lot is known, other than the same people who are on the board also ran the council.
The Economic Prosperity Council is a fundraising arm of the TCEDA that funneled money to various entities. The Union Democrat obtained the organization’s bank records, which show a lot of donations to area schools for relatively small technology grants, Columbia College Water School, and a $3,000 grant given to Sonora Area Foundation for the Jamestown Museum.
A lot of equipment for the InnovationLab, which closed last year, was bought with money from this fund. Revenue came largely from people who rented space in the InnovationLab as well as grants from TCEDA, PG&E and AT&T.
The council awarded money to HealthLit now, run by then-board member Barry Hillman, who says he did not take part in discussions about those grants and did not vote on them.
That’s what is publicly known.
Too much about this public agency has been shrouded from public view.
It’s time for a full airing of this agency so Tuolumne County can move on and focus on improving the economy, rather than fighting about it.
As a partner in the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority, City Council has said let the public know what the County Counsel found. Now it’s up to the board to do the same.