Citizen advocacy gets results

To the Editor:

The vote to shut down TCEDA by both the Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council was a testimonial to the power of concerned citizens and Sonora City Council making certain our community met standards of good government.

It started almost two years ago when private citizens shared their concerns with the Grand Jury about fiscal irregularity in TCEDA. After a year of weekly meetings and investigation, the Grand Jury confirmed those irregularities and asked the Board of Supervisors and TCEDA’s Board to respond with a plan to correct those irregularities.

When further information documenting those irregularities wasn’t provided, a private citizen, Ken Perkins, had to spend his own funds to win a lawsuit for release of that documentation. TCEDA only provided blacked out, unverifiable information which highlighted unnecessary secrecy and lack of transparency in conducting its operations.

Ultimately, the key to informing the public was The Union Democrat’s dedicated reporting of TCEDA’s nonexistent documentation, poor business practices, and misappropriation in spending. Alex MacLean’s articles were factual, clear and unsparing of every detail that laid bare TCEDA’s one-person agency spending $460,000 annually without supervision or verifiable results. Finally, Alex’s request through the California Records Act to force release the details of TCEDA’s operations revealed every taxpayer’s worst fears of misspending their hard-earned tax dollars. Yesterday’s vote to close the TCEDA was the result.

Thanks also to Deborah Bautista, auditor-controller, and Sarah Carrillo, county counsel, for diligent responses to the public’s record requests that confirmed the communities concerns about TCEDA operations.

Alex’s reporting showcases a community and their newspaper willing to demand the high standards of government transparency and accountability we deserve. I am so proud of Tuolumne County’s citizens. This effort is a tribute to good people working together for better government.

Barbara Dresslar


Historic courthouse has lots of life left

To the Editor

In the Union Democrat’s “Bravos and Barbs” column of Feb. 9, the writer praised the start of construction on a new courthouse, but disparaged the courthouse in downtown Sonora as a “building whose time has passed.” As someone who cares deeply about Sonora’s cultural heritage, which includes its vintage buildings, I take exception to that aside.

The historic Tuolumne County Courthouse Is 120 years young and has plenty of life for whatever governmental activities the county chooses to place in it. In addition, the deed which transferred the land to the county for the location of a courthouse on that site has a reversionary clause which means if the county ceases to use the site for governmental purposes it must be returned to the donors of the land or their heirs.

The donation came in 1853 and I would guess the county would prefer to keep this National Register of Historic Places building in active use for the public rather than doing massive amounts of genealogical research to find heirs to return it to.

Actually at 120 years of age the courthouse is much younger than some of our venerable and revered architectural gems including St. James Church, the Sonora Inn, the Tuolumne County Museum and many of the buildings that line our main street and can be found tucked away on side streets.

Reusing older buildings is a devise many communities use to preserve their sense of place, history and cultural heritage. The Tuolumne County Courthouse is one of these buildings. Wasn’t the Union Democrat building a bank for over 50 years?

Sharon Marovich


Don’t shoot the messenger

To the Editor

The City and County bowed to the inevitable and dissolved the ineptly managed and wastefully run Economic Development organization, which had squandered millions of dollars of taxpayer over many years with little or no discernible effect on the economy of Tuolumne County.

Unfortunately most members of the County Board of Supervisors instead of using this opportunity to improve economic development in the county, proceeded to insult the intelligence of all the citizens and defame the integrity of the persons who were courageous and persistent enough to shine a light on the waste and fraudulent use of taxpayer money that was the TCEDA.

The County Board vote was so decisive and unexpected that, aside from all the posturing about county employee time spent on the matter, I believe the board either finally realized that the TCEDA was mismanaged and unsupervised or the county attorney advised them that they were in an untenable legal position.

In the future, I hope the board will not “shoot the messenger” but instead listen and act when a citizen makes the considerable personal effort to improve county government.

David Morgan


Late-term abortion is murder

To the Editor:

A doctor in Pennsylvania was convicted of murder for operating an abortion clinic that routinely murdered late term and full term babies. Why didn’t we hear about this heinous person and his trial?

There is no good reason for the fact that abortion and the continuing murder of babies should be shielded from public scrutiny and opinion.

People are up in arms because faceless people are being denied access to our country at our southern border. Why not get up in arms because faceless babies are being denied access to life from their mother’s wombs?

Don Nessl


Debate policies, stop hate

To the Editor

A recent letter to the editor compared our president to Hitler and Franco. Others have done the same adding Stalin and Mussolini. Are these comparisons justified?

These evil dictators murdered millions of their own citizens including men, women and children. Are these folks who offered up these comparisons clueless when it comes to history?

Let’s debate policies and then cast an informed vote and stop the hate Trump or hate anyone. Oh and by the way these dictators totally controlled the press, does Trump?

John Quartarolo


Fire danger

To the Editor:

An open letter two the Supervisors of Tuolumne County:

We’ve come up with a new definition for our state’s designation: CA: Clearance and Access. County supervisors throughout the state cannot responsibly sign off on any new housing development that does not adhere to these stipulations.

New housing must have Clearance from brush and trees. Access: If a wildland fire does get started, the inhabitants need roads to get out. Fire insurance is already difficult to obtain for properties that do not meet these conditions. This situation can only become more aggravated in the wake of this past season’s explosive wildfires.

We may live in God’s Country, but it’s not wise to dare him.

Kurt and Kathy Quigley


Importance of local journalism

To the Editor:

If ever there was a reason to support local journalism, it is the recent series of articles by Alex MacLean about the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority. He — and the Union Democrat — provided the “Government Oversight” (the title of one of his pieces) that this county desperately needs, one at which the TCEDA board failed.

All good intentions and fond hopes aside, the profligate spending by CEO Larry Cope simply could not be justified. And the “shallowness of the public” (as Supervisor John Gray so delicately put it) needs the in-depth information provided by this paper.

Maybe the Pulitzer — which these articles deserve — would encourage subscribers and advertisers to support — and save — the Union Democrat and its parent company Western Communications. We need you.

Gary Sipperley

Twain Harte

Government must be accountable

To the Editor:

First we have in-depth reporting by Alex McLean, then a day later TCEDA is gone. Should I be suspicious that our representatives dissolved the agency so they won’t have further investigation?

I have questions. Why was there a 75 percent salary increase? Mr. Cope at $163K when his comparable colleague in Madera County makes $123K. Then there’s travel, phones, lodging allowances, and now a sizable severance deal?

Tell me why this high-earner needed to spend $11,000 of taxpayer money for in-county meals? At that salary the executive director should buy his own lunch and his guests’ meals. I’ll allow him a per diem when he’s working out of town, but that should be a reasonable amount.

Another red flag was Debi Bautista’s comment that county rules were written differently for TCEDA so that they could buy drinks for prospective clients. Really? Next time, let the high salaried ED cover that cost. If you want to schmooze with booze, you pay for it, not me and my neighbors.

Supervisor Brennan says Mr. Cope was effective in attracting businesses. If this is true, it should be measurable. Results should be regularly announced. But I’m left wondering: How many living wage jobs were produced? How many companies did TCEDA recruit? How many of those are still open?

I’ve met Mr. Cope. He seems intelligent, affable, hard-working. I wish him well. He sure does know how to negotiate a great deal for himself.

I spent my career in the public sector. The one guiding principle was: “I am spending the people’s money, so I’d better pay attention to results.” I was required to report weekly attendance for library programs monthly. If I had to count heads to justify the small amount spent on the library, then surely TCEDA should have tangible reporting requirements.

BZ Smith