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Monday, November 13, 2017

City Council to Decide Burlington Telecom Process — Again

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 at 9:30 PM

click to enlarge Scene from the October 30 Burlington City Council meeting - FILE: KATIE JICKLING
  • File: Katie Jickling
  • Scene from the October 30 Burlington City Council meeting
The Burlington City Council created a subcommittee Monday night that will try — once and for all — to establish a process to select the owner of Burlington Telecom.

A four-member committee, composed of Jane Knodell (P-Central District), Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), Chip Mason (D-Ward 5) and Adam Roof (I-Ward 8), is tasked with deciding by the end of the week how the council will narrow four finalists to one buyer at a meeting scheduled for November 27. Under the resolution, Tucows, Keep BT Local, Schurz Communications and ZRF Partners must submit revised bids for the council to consider by November 20.

The council adopted the measure by an 11-1 vote.

The latest decision is yet another wrinkle in the sales process. The council was supposed to choose between the Toronto-based Tucows and the co-op Keep BT Local in a final vote last Monday, November 6. Instead, gridlocked after a pair of 6-6 votes, the council asked the two bidders to come up with a joint venture proposal by last Friday. The effort failed. Now, according to the council's directive from last week, four bidders are back in the running.

Roof, who sponsored the resolution, acknowledged that he had heard frustration from constituents about the convoluted and lengthy procedure. "The process undoubtedly has had twist and turns," he said. "This resolution will help us get to the finish line."

"It's crucial that we have a council that’s willing to compromise," said Wright.

The return to four bidders reverses all progress the council had made in narrowing the field of finalists since September. ZRF Partners dropped out because of a possible conflict of interest and the council eliminated Schurz Communications in an October 16 vote.

Originally, the council had planned to have a buyer selected by July.

The city has until the end of the year to complete the sale. Otherwise, Burlington will lose 15 percent of the net sale proceeds as stipulated by an agreement with a creditor, Blue Water Holdings.

Monday's resolution also bars councilors from communicating directly with bidders. That decision follows a controversy last week when Joan Shannon (D-South District) criticized Knodell and Wright for communicating with bidders.

Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) also offered an unsuccessful amendment asking that the mayor disclose their communications to the council.

The city council will have the option to meet with Burlington Telecom staff, visit the headquarters of each bidder and get a legal and financial analysis of all bids. Some councilors already visited Tucows in Toronto.

The bidder proposals will be made public soon after they are submitted.

Schurz Communications CEO Todd Schurz said in a phone interview Monday that the company would improve its public relations campaign now that it's been given a second chance. Schurz praised the process as "robust" but said that earlier this fall, "half-truths and mischaracterizations" had circulated about his company's customer service, prices and the political affiliations of his family members.

This time around, he said he'd try to tell Burlingtonians the company's story more clearly. "We’d like to learn from our mistakes," he said.

Faisal Nisar, head of ZRF Partners, did not respond to requests for comment.


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Katie Jickling

Katie Jickling

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Katie Jickling is a Seven Days staff writer.

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