Meeting last night, the Burlington City Council was scheduled to decide which of two bidders for the city’s municipally owned cable and internet provider would be the finalist to buy Burlington Telecom. But after some twists the panel postponed the vote.
A large crowd gathered at Contois Auditorium at Burlington City Hall for what was supposed to be the final deliberations to choose the Burlington Telecom buyer. Ting, based in Toronto and owned by Tucows, bid $27.5 million. The local co-op KBTL, or Keep Burlington Telecom Local, submitted a bid of $12 million.
The council initially met behind closed doors to consider, among other things, the legal implications of an email from Citibank received Sunday that threatened legal action if the council approved the local bid.
When the public session resumed the council took comment from 54 residents whose support was split between both bidders.
“I’m Russ Scully. This is really a matter of does Burlington Telecom live or die at the end of tonight. We have a very prosperous future with a very capable operator in Ting.”
City Council President Jane Knodell: “Lucy Gluck”
Gluck: “Thanks I do not believe that Ting has the best interest of our community at heart as a multi-national investor-owned utility they’re bound to meet the fiduaciary needs of their shareholders first and Burlingtonians last.”
Jane Knodell: “Walter Judge”
Judge: “Not only is the KBTL bid so fundamentally uncertain, it’s so fundamentally bad as an offer compared to Ting’s that lawsuits that were once theoretical, hypothetical, are now certainties.”
Jane Knodell: “David Lansky”
Lansky: “I strongly support Keep BT Local. I’m really puzzled because as I read the BTAB criteria I saw local control as the number one issue. And I don’t understand how Tucows and Ting can meet that criteria.”
When the councilors began their considerations City Councilor Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul recused herself from any further proceedings regarding Burlington Telecom. “I have discovered and confirmed that I have a professional conflict of interest in the matter before us. I’m not able to speak directly to this conflict but I would like to state that my conflict has nothing what-so-ever to do with the parties interested in purchasing Burlington Telecom.”
North District Independent David Hartnett immediately offered a motion to postpone the vote based on the recusal and legal threats if they choose the local bidder. “At the 11th hour we have a city councilor that steps up and says I can no longer participate because I have a conflict of interest, but all along have cast votes to get us to this situation. I would like some legal advice there. Also Citibank now has taken that threat of maybe suing to suing. I take that very seriously as a city councilor and where this puts the city.”
Hartnett’s motion failed and councilors continued debate on the bids. But several city councilors began to express doubts over whether they should vote. Ward 4 Republican Kurt Wright had second thoughts and made a new motion. “I am going to make a motion to reconsider my vote to postpone action from earlier. I think that I made a mistake in not voting to postpone action now. This is going to be a very difficult vote and I think some of the issues that were raised were legitimate.”
Wright’s motion passed and councilors then debated why they should delay their decision. When the final motion came to a vote Central District Progressive and City Council President Jane Knodell said a postponement would be wise. “I think there are aspects of this decision that have not been fully explored and fleshed out. And I look forward to having the opportunity on Monday to do that I expect. So I’m going to go to a vote. All in favor of this motion to adjourn to a time certain of next Monday November 6th at 7pm please say aye.(Aye) Are there any opposed? (No).”
Councilors passed a motion to postpone and will again consider the selection of the final Burlington Telecom bidder at next Monday’s city council meeting.