Most of TCEDA’s computers on loan to other agencies, business groups;








Seven out of 11 computers belonging to the Tuolumne County Economic Development Authority are on loan to other government agencies and business associations, according to an inventory of TCEDA property released this week.

The County Counsel’s Office included the list with other information for a public meeting on Thursday, at which the TCEDA Governing Board will be asked to give direction on what should be done with the equipment.

Determining what happens next with the property is part of the process of shutting down the TCEDA, which began after both the county Board of Supervisors and Sonora City Council voted on Feb. 19 to withdraw from a joint powers agreement that created the authority in late 2008.

Larry Cope, the TCEDA’s outgoing chief executive officer, is not expected to be at the meeting because his final day in the authority’s office will be Wednesday before his employment with the authority officially ends on Saturday.

Cope agreed to take vacation days on Thursday and Friday as part of the terms of his release, which will also see him receive more than $81,820 in severance pay and a still-undisclosed lump sum payment for unused vacation time.

Debi Bautista, county auditor-controller, she can’t disclose the payment Cope will receive until it’s made. She anticipated that she would be able to release the information on Wednesday after he submits his final time cards.

The TCEDA’s budget for the current fiscal year through June 30 showed close to $15,000 set aside for vacation leave cash-outs. He receives 320 hours per year and can cash-out up to 200 unused hours annually, with no limit on how many hours he can have stored.

However, the authority’s internal financial statements at the end of the previous fiscal year showed $35,653 as the total amount of money needed to compensate Cope if he were to leave the TCEDA on June 30, 2018.

Bautista said she will advise the TCEDA board on Thursday to move the $148,155 remaining in the authority’s reserves into the operating fund to help pay for the costs associated with Cope’s release. She added that she doesn’t know how much total cash will be left over until the city and county make some more decisions.

Cope has not responded to requests for comment since the TCEDA board voted to terminate his contract on Feb. 21 as a result of the decision two days earlier to dissolve the agency. He was hired in March 2009.

The TCEDA had been mired in controversy for months leading up to last month’s unanimous decision to dissolve the agency, beginning with the release of a report by the Tuolumne County Civil Grand Jury last year critical of the authority’s operating standards and practices.

County Administrator Tracie Riggs recently said at a public meeting that Cope is not expected to apply for the county’s newly created position for an interim economic development director. She said he told her he and his wife are moving out of the area.

The TCEDA board directed Cope at its last meeting on Feb. 21 to prepare a list of the authority’s property and work with county staff on a distribution plan for its records.

Most of the computers owned by the TCEDA are being used by the county’s Community Resources Agency, Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce, Sonora Chamber of Commerce, and WorkPlace Sonora, a coworking center on Stockton Road in Sonora that also acts as a satellite office for the Modesto-based Valley Sierra Small Business Development Center.

Two of five Microsoft Surface tablets belonging to the authority are on loan to the Community Resources Agency. Both of the tablets were reportedly listed in “good” condition, according to the inventory.

An extensive review by The Union Democrat of the TCEDA’s credit card records found that taxpayer money was used to purchase three Surface tablets in the span of 18 months from December 2016 to June 2018, though it’s unclear if any of those were the ones loaned to the Community Resources Agency.

Three of the tablets remain in the possession of the TCEDA, as well as a 21-inch iMac.

A 2010 Dell desktop computer and monitor is on loan to WorkPlace Sonora, while the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce was loaned a 27-inch Dell touchscreen desktop computer, a 21-inch Dell touchscreen desktop computer, and 15-inch Toshiba laptop, all of which were listed in “fair” condition on the inventory sheet.

The Sonora Chamber of Commerce was loaned a 17-inch gold-colored HP laptop that’s in fair condition, according to the document.

In addition to computers, Cope also purchased and loaned out TVs, additional monitors, a printer, ViewSonic projector, a standing desk, and a NAO programmable robot. The robot has been loaned out to the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools for educational uses.

A Canon multifunction printer, 65-inch TV, 19-inch Dell monitor, and Viewsonic projector were loaned to WorkPlace Sonora, where people can purchase memberships for access to the center’s accommodations and equipment.

Greg Falken, co-founder and chief executive member of WorkPlace Sonora, said the center received some of the equipment from the TCEDA shortly after opening in May 2017 to support the services they provide to their members.

“It is equipment that we have been making use of here for the services that we offer, but we recognize that it always was long-term loan,” Falken said. “It’s not really up to us.”

David Gonzalves, director of the Community Services Agency, likewise said that they are waiting to hear from the TCEDA board about what it wants to do with the two tablets and 55-inch 4K Smart LED TV that was purchased for the agency’s conference room.

Gonzalves said the tablets are connected to and control the TV that’s used as an interactive monitor for planning purposes related to land use and development. He said in a previous interview the agency was using physical maps and corkboard before the TCEDA purchased and loaned them the equipment.

The inventory contains dozens of other pieces of equipment located at the TCEDA offices at 99 N. Washington Street in Sonora and its satellite office at the Mountain Leisure Center in Groveland, much of which is listed in fair to good condition.

One of the items is a drone in Cope’s office that he purchased for $1,071 in April 2018 to capture aerial footage of commercial properties for promotional purposes. The videos were planned to be posted on the TCEDA’s website but were never completed.

The TCEDA’s website was permanently shut down on Friday.

There’s also furniture and decor from the TCEDA offices listed as inventory, including a number of office chairs, several prints of art for the conference room and Cope’s office, and a “tall ficus tree” for the front office that’s reportedly in good condition.

Upon seeing the list, City Administrator Tim Miller said he was surprised that the TCEDA was loaning equipment to other agencies. The city provided about $103,000 a year of the authority’s $460,000 annual budget, while the county covered almost all of the rest.

“From the city’s perspective, that’s not how we would have expected our contributions to be used,” Miller said of the equipment on loan, all of which went to county agencies or business associations as opposed to the city.

On Thursday, the TCEDA board will be asked to provide direction on the method of valuation for all of the property, whether it wishes to request all loaned equipment be returned, and get lists from the city and county about the items each is interested in receiving.

If the board wants to donate the items on loan, the County Counsel’s Office says there would have to be a finding that there is a public benefit and purpose by the other entities keeping the equipment because it could otherwise be considered a gift of public funds.

In December, the board approved giving equipment at the InnovationLab to local schools that were invited to apply for what they wanted.

Columbia Union School District received most of the equipment that included multiple computers, a 42-inch monitor, laser printers, and a number of different types of tools. Other schools that received equipment were Tenaya Elementary School, Sonora High School, Gold Rush Charter School, Summerville Elementary School, and the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office.

The Columbia Union School District Board of Trustees had a meeting on Tuesday night and was going to consider accepting a $2,000 donation from the TCEDA, as well.

District Superintendent Joseph Aldridge said the donation is a pass-through grant from AT&T to support STEM education programs, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Aldridge said he was invited to apply for the grant during conversations with Cope about the InnovationLab equipment, months before the decision to disband the TCEDA, though he didn’t have time to get it on the agenda for the school district’s last board meeting in February.

The money would be used to help pay for a teacher to staff the school’s STEAM lab one or two nights a week for the public to check it out and use the equipment.

Aldridge said they hope to have the lab open by the end of April, which also is funded by $10,000 grant from the Sonora Area Foundation, $3,000 grant from the Dierker Ferro Fund at the foundation, and $3,000 from McMillen Jacobs and Associates, an engineering firm that has been involved with projects on the Hetch Hetchy water system.

The president of the school district’s board is Jo Rodefer, wife of County Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who recently announced he would be replacing County Supervisor Sherri Brennan on the TCEDA board for the remainder of the dissolution process.

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

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