Big Burlington Telecom Thursday: Dockets, Dialogues, Ultimatums, Investigations

(NOTE: 2 of the 3 pieces cited/printed below seem to have been made public by Haik at BurlingtonPol many hours before I caught wind of them. You should visit his site if you haven’t been. Good stuff.

NOTE 2: Briggs had the two emails as well earlier in the day. I really fell down on the linky/hat-tipping job.)

A lot of news in the increasingly fluid Burlington Telecom issue today, as several things have happened to raise the temperature even more.

First is a letter from the 16th (Monday) that has surfaced from the Vermont Department of Public Service on behalf of Commissioner David O’Brien sent to Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss and City Council President Bill Keogh. Against the backdrop of a Burlington Telecom-focused docket pending at the Public Service Board (Docket 7044, which includes as parties DPS, Burlington, and Comcast), the letter suggests that all those involved (including the City Council) begin a dialogue on BT’s survival, cautioning:

Steps now being taken and considered by the City, such as refinancing BT’s debt and

changing its governance structure, could easily become points of contention before the PSB. Providing more fodder for litigation is not in anyone’s interest. Unilateral actions by the City are more likely to become contentious if they fail to recognize the interests and concerns of the DPS.

Ominous, yes, but nearly as ominous as what follows:

I must also be clear, however, that this Department has a responsibility to fully investigate violations and potential violations of Public Service Board orders and other legal

provisions relating to BT. We intend to do so.

Sounds ugly. O’Brien may feel he can be magnanimous with talks of a “dialogue” because he clearly knows he’s been handed Burlington Telecom by the short hairs (and is likely loving every minute of it). The DPS threats may also give context not simply to the recent City Council vote on the proposed refinancing, but today’s ante-upping moves by two City Council Democrats that further distinguish themselves and at least some in the Council from the actions of the Kiss administration.  

First was an email from Councilor Joan Shannon to Mayor Kiss:

On November 11, 2009 the Ad Hoc Committee on BT Governance requested certain information in order to better understand the current operations of BT and its governance and oversight structure.

[…]Ken Schatz has informed me that BT management and the administration are willing to share this information in Executive Session and then collect all materials at the end of the Executive session.  This is not acceptable to the Committee.

[…]In order for the Committee to have time to review this information prior to our next meeting on Tuesday November 24, they need to have this information in their possession before the weekend.  Please let me and the other Committee members know when this information will be available for us to pick up at City Hall by the end of today.  I know that this may seem like short notice, but really we have been asking for this since November 11 and can no longer wait.

In addition, the Council, as the ultimate governing body is entitled to any information we request in order to make fully informed decisions.  The Council also needs all the above information in order to either approve or disapprove of the concept of borrowing $60 million dollars.  We also need the ability to consult with independent experts who can advise us on these issues.  Certainly anyone who receives this information should be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and I would not object to that requirement.  I do object to the administration holding information hostage.

It’s clear that the relationship between the Mayor’s office and many on the City Council has soured so badly that some Councilors are no longer willing to accept anything whatsoever from the administration simply on good faith. Good faith is no longer an operative concept here.

As if to carve that point in stone, Councilor Ed Adrian threw down the gauntlet once and for all with an email of his own:

We have, over a period of time, been asking as individual Councilors for many of the documents that were requested of the Administration at the Council’s November 16, 2009 meeting.  Some of these requests have been for weeks, some for months and in some instances years.

[…]Bob, without getting all of the documentation that we have requested and without having a third party expert interpret this information for us, I will simply not be able to vote to continue the enterprise of Burlington Telecom in its current construction.  If this condition is not met, I will also do my very best to convince others to do the same.

Bob, at the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance for Burlington Telecom, Joe McNeil said that if after asking we were not getting the information that we needed as Councilors from the Administration to make decisions, then we needed to demand that information.

Based on that advice Bob, I am demanding that you provide us with the information requested and that you provide us with the moneys to obtain the resources necessary to make that information relevant.

It’s amazing to read this while considering how different the whole situation would now be if Kiss and Leopold had simply had a tried-and-true “mistakes were made,” mea culpa-ridden press conference and pledged to work with the council when this all broke in the first place.

Maybe (er) next time?

The complete documents excerpted above follow:







Dear Mayor Kiss,

On November 11, 2009 the Ad Hoc Committee on BT Governance requested certain information in order to better understand the current operations of BT and its governance and oversight structure.  Among the requested information is the Shanahan report and Business Plan.  Chris Burns explained that it is really the Pro Formas that currently serve as a business plan.  

Ken Schatz has informed me that BT management and the administration are willing to share this information in Executive Session and then collect all materials at the end of the Executive session.  This is not acceptable to the Committee.  The Committee does not want to spend our valuable meeting time getting familiar with these items.  The Committee would like to receive copies of the Shanahan report for their review in preparation for the meeting.  I fully understand the confidentiality is of the utmost importance to the operations of BT.  If the administration and BT management would like Committee members to sign Non Disclosure Agreements I am amenable to that stipulation so long as the Agreement is reasonable and appropriate in scope.  

In order for the Committee to have time to review this information prior to our next meeting on Tuesday November 24, they need to have this information in their possession before the weekend.  Please let me and the other Committee members know when this information will be available for us to pick up at City Hall by the end of today.  I know that this may seem like short notice, but really we have been asking for this since November 11 and can no longer wait.

In addition, the Council, as the ultimate governing body is entitled to any information we request in order to make fully informed decisions.  The Council also needs all the above information in order to either approve or disapprove of the concept of borrowing $60 million dollars.  We also need the ability to consult with independent experts who can advise us on these issues.  Certainly anyone who receives this information should be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and I would not object to that requirement.  I do object to the administration holding information hostage.

Again, I ask that you please respond to this email by the end of the day so that we can move forward in getting the information that we need.

Sincerely,

Joan Shannon

City Councilor

Ad Hoc Committee on Governance, Chair

November 19, 2009

Dear Bob:

I would like to follow-up on Karen Paul’s letter of the other day and Joan Shannon’s letter of today.  We have, over a period of time, been asking as individual Councilors for many of the documents that were requested of the Administration at the Council’s November 16, 2009 meeting.  Some of these requests have been for weeks, some for months and in some instances years.  The information contained in these documents will likely range from the mundane to the esoteric.  Many of us will need help interpreting and understanding them to do our jobs.  In addition, the audit and its off-shoots will require money.

Bob, my understanding is that the Administration will soon be requesting a budget amendment to rectify an “overpayment” of PILOT monies made to the City by BT .  The overpayment amount is in the 100s of thousands of dollars.  My understanding is that most of this payback will come from the  DPW for this fiscal year.  I am requesting that since you were able to come up with these monies out of the budget of another Department, that you look hard, and that on or before November 25, 2009, you find another $250,000.00 to be put into a special account, to be distributed by a majority of the Council in obtaining independent and expert review of the many working parts that BT contains.  

Bob, without getting all of the documentation that we have requested and without having a third party expert interpret this information for us, I will simply not be able to vote to continue the enterprise of Burlington Telecom in its current construction.  If this condition is not met, I will also do my very best to convince others to do the same.

Bob, at the Ad Hoc Committee on Governance for Burlington Telecom , Joe McNeil said that if after asking we were not getting the information that we needed as Councilors from the Administration to make decisions, then we needed to demand that information.

Based on that advice Bob, I am demanding that you provide us with the information requested and that you provide us with the moneys to obtain the resources necessary to make that information relevant.

The City and the people that populate it deserve no less from their elected officials.

Heading in to the Thanksgiving holiday, I am thankful for the fact that although we vehemently disagree on how to proceed in this instance, I know that we are all trying to do what we think is best for the City.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  For now, I remain,

Very truly yours,

Ed Adrian

3 thoughts on “Big Burlington Telecom Thursday: Dockets, Dialogues, Ultimatums, Investigations

  1. According to BT and the Burlington mayor’s office they were told by Obrien’s DPS to hold off on any reporting to the state actions regarding the inability of BT to pay back the intra-city loan until September. Obrien, it seems, never bothered to ask his staff about the issue before he went publicly ballistic about the issue.

    This hasn’t been out in the public domain, but now it is.

    And if the above isn’t firm evidence the Dems are ONCE AGAIN walking down the path hand in hand with the Republicans I don’t know what is. Why is the council insisting on tying Kiss’ and Leopold’s actions to the future of BT?

    This problem was about city governance. BT did absolutely nothing improper. A city fund was used in an accepted fashion (and yes … the entire council knew this general fund was used as a revolving loan fund for city and city associated departments), and then the credit market collapsed making it impossible for BT to secure the funding that would have allowed for the timely payback of the city’s loan. DPS was notified quite promptly according to BT and the mayor’s office, and DPS told the city to wait until this September to worry about dealing with the problems presented.

    BT now has a solid chance at getting the funding needed to pay back the city and refinance their existing debt to help continue operations … and the Burlington Democrats are busy swapping spit with the Burlington Republicans in an attack against Kiss that could end up bad for Burlington Telecom.

    Sounds just like the WMD and Iraq …. damn who gets bombed in the process … the Dems just gotta be better Reps than the Reps.

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