Tri-Agency settles with ex-director for $30,000

By Aaron West, The Triplicate June 26, 2014 02:04 pm

Bill Renfroe inspects the former site of the failed Surfside Grill & Brewery in 2011 when he was still executive director of the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority. Del Norte Triplicate file / Bryant Anderson
Bill Renfroe inspects the former site of the failed Surfside Grill & Brewery in 2011 when he was still executive director of the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority. Del Norte Triplicate file / Bryant Anderson
After more than a year of legal wrangling, a cash-strapped agency looking to move past its financial woes settled a lawsuit out of court last week with its former executive director. 

Two files worth of complaints and counter complaints, motions and counter motions, judge transfers and a failed settlement negotiation were put to rest after the Tri-Agency Economic Development Authority settled for $30,000 a breach of contract lawsuit brought by the agency’s former executive director Bill Renfroe. 

Tri-Agency Board Chairman Mike Sullivan said he couldn’t comment on the circumstances surrounding the settlement, which were hashed out in closed session meetings.

Bill Renfroe didn’t return calls to the Triplicate for comment.

 

In the lawsuit, filed in February 2013, Renfroe argued that the Tri-Agency owed him $31,000 for early termination clause payments as well as for work completed in October 2012. For its part, the agency said that Renfroe had quit — not been terminated — and hadn’t performed the work in October that he said he had and thus wasn’t entitled to those payments.

According to court documents, the Tri-Agency tried to settle with Renfroe for $18,000 earlier this month, but a compromise couldn’t be reached. The lawsuit would have been heard in court this week had the two parties not settled.

However, the embattled agency isn’t out of the woods quite yet, according to Board members. The settlement was only the first step in an uphill trek to solvency, and ideally, according to agency Board members, productivity.

“I think we’re in the process of trying to get the Tri-Agency up and going again, and this was one of the hurdles that we needed to get past,” said Tri-Agency Chairman Mike Sullivan.

The question of what’s next is simple, but the answer is obscured by a complicated history that involves an old, defaulted $400,000 USDA loan, originally taken out to pay for a number of local projects, as well as a Small Business Association loan the agency borrowed to build a now-troubled property on 400 Front St.

The agency, which is a joint powers authority made up of the City of Crescent City, the County of Del Norte, and the Crescent City Harbor Commission, was formed in the ’70s and in its current incarnation now acts as a conduit between its entities to facilitate the economic development of the area by offering loans to help start small businesses as well as help oversee local projects. It’s a cooperative goal that “sounds easy but sometimes can get pretty complicated,” Sullivan said.

Some of those complications — namely the recently settled lawsuit but also the problematic loans — have affected the agency’s ability to do what it was created to do. That became evident when the Tri-Agency closed its office and terminated all of its existing contracts in late 2012, which ultimately led to the city and harbor district pulling its funding of the agency — 28 percent and 6 percent of the Tri-Agency’s budget, respectively — as well as stopping budgeting for those expenses. The county, which according to its agreement with the Tri-Agency is responsible for 66 percent of the agency’s funding, still budgets for that contribution, but county administrative officer Jay Sarina said the money will remain unused until the Tri-Agency needs to pay an executive director’s salary or starts needing it for developmental projects again. 

Exactly when that will be is still up in the air, and Sullivan said that at the moment the agency, which has no accounts, bills or office, doesn’t need a director and is fine being represented by its Board members, which consist of two City Council members, two county supervisors, and two harbor commissioners. 

“The concept behind Tri-Agency was to get all the boards on the same page,” Sullivan said. “Without getting into Brown Act Violations, it pulls two members from each board so it’s an easier time to get a vote from that board.”

On the project side of things, however, he said that now that it’s past the lawsuit, he wants to see the Tri-Agency move back into a functional role sooner rather than later.

“We’re going to start planning going forward as to what the next set of projects are for the county,” Sullivan said. “I think right now (the lawsuit) was one of the major obstacles to get past. Our next thing is to work on a planning session at that point.” 

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