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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Fourth Bidder for Burlington Telecom Says He's Out for Good

Posted By on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 2:04 PM

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The fourth bidder for Burlington Telecom is out — and he confirmed Wednesday night that he isn't coming back.

"I have withdrawn," Faisal Nisar told Seven Days. Nisar, a private equity investor from New Jersey who runs ZRF Partners, had submitted a bid for an undisclosed amount.*

"I'm extremely disappointed; I was a huge supporter of ZRF," said Dave Hartnett (D-North District). "I'm not really quite sure where this leaves us."

The council now must decide between the three remaining bids: The co-op Keep BT Local has put forward a $12 million offer and two out-of-state companies, Ting and Schurz Communications, have bid $27.5 million and $30.8 million, respectively.

"Since Tuesday we have spent hours together and with other parties exploring whether there is a way in which the fourth bidder could re-enter the BT sales process," said Mayor Miro Weinberger and City Council President Jane Knodell (P-Central District) in a joint press release Thursday. "The City greatly appreciates the interest the bidder had in Burlington and the ideas and energy they brought to the process."

On Wednesday, Nisar, who Seven Days first identified as the mysterious fourth bidder, declined to comment further. "I have respect for everyone involved — the council, the mayor, Dorman & Fawcett," he said, adding: "I don't want to say anything intentionally or unintentionally that would interfere" with the selection process. Nisar's bid may not have been the highest, but he brought other community benefits to the table, according to Councilor Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4). The bidder withdrew on September 18 after Weinberger expressed "concerns" to him about a potential conflict of interest that stemmed from Nisar's connections with Dorman & Fawcett, the firm that currently operates the telecom and that will get 10 percent of the sale price.

The announcement caused some councilors to criticize Weinberger for a lack of transparency and communication.

There appeared to be a truce Tuesday when Knodell and Weinberger issued a joint statement noting there was "a strong Council consensus that the City should explore whether the possible conflict of interest with the fourth bid could be resolved." The city would be "pursuing this outcome immediately," the release read.

But, Wright said, it was clear that the damage had been done. ZRF wanted to hear from the mayor that he no longer had conflict of interest concerns, Wright said — and Weinberger couldn't give that assurance.

"[ZRF] didn’t want to be dragged back in there under that cloud," Wright said. "They've already been jerked around a little bit here."

At a community forum in the Old North End on Wednesday night, Knodell said she did not think there was a conflict of interest for Nisar.

The controversy has once again delayed the selection process, which must be made by the end of the year for the city to maximize its share of profits from the sale. The city council originally planned to narrow the field to two on October 2 and pick a winner on October 16. Now, the council "will hear a public summary by Terry Dorman of each of the three proposals and have the opportunity to ask Dorman & Fawcett and the City’s attorneys questions about the bids," officials said in a statement. The two finalists will then be chosen on October 16, the statement said.

The council is already more than two months behind the schedule announced last winter.

The dispute surrounding Nisar's bid has also raised questions about the ongoing involvement of Dorman & Fawcett. Each of the four finalists had expressed interest in retaining the firm, city attorney Eileen Blackwood said at a September 20 press conference.

Knodell said the decision is ultimately up to Dorman & Fawcett. "In many ways it'd be great if they would stay in, but I don't know the status of that conversation," she said.

*Correction, September 29, 2017: A previous version of this story improperly quoted City Councilor Kurt Wright regarding the ZRF bid.



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Katie Jickling

Katie Jickling

Bio:
Katie Jickling is a Seven Days staff writer.

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