Final Approval Of Burlington Telecom Sale Again Delayed

Dec 19, 2017

It is coming down to the wire as city officials face an end of the year deadline to sell Burlington, Vermont’s telecommunications utility.  But at Monday night’s city council meeting, final approval of the sale of Burlington Telecom to Schurz Communications was delayed yet again.

The city must sell Burlington Telecom by the end of the year under an agreement with Citibank and other entities or it will lose a portion of its share of the sale.
After the council approved the evening’s agenda it went into executive session with attorneys to discuss the Burlington Telecom purchase agreement. Ward 5 Democratic Councilor Chip Mason offered the motion.  “I would move to find that premature public knowledge of the asset purchase agreement with Schurz would place the city at substantial disadvantage because the council risks disclosing its negotiating strategy if discussed in public.”
Knodell:  “Thank you. Second? Councilor Bushor. Discussion? Seeing none all in favor of that motion on the finding please say aye.”
Council: “Aye.”
Knodell: “Any opposed? That’s unanimous.”

Just before the doors were closed Council President Jane Knodell noted there would be no vote to approve the purchase agreement during the meeting, but they would discuss the timing of the sale later in the evening.  When the city council reconvened public comments included concerns about Burlington Telecom.  Burlington attorney Solveig Overby wanted assurances that contract language prevents monopoly operation of fiber optic resources.  “In 2000 Burlington city voters approved bonding to construct the city’s municipal fiber optic network, which ultimately became Burlington Telecom.  It was intended to be a fiber-to-the-home utility that could be contracted for use by anyone.  Somehow this original vision fell by the wayside over time. Now that BT’s fiber infrastructure is being sold to private investors we should ensure that the original intent of this municipal utility infrastructure is preserved.”

It was late in the evening before the Burlington Telecom purchase agreement came up on the agenda.  Council President Knodell said they could only provide a status report.  “The city attorneys feel that they are very close to getting to a final or near final version of the agreement.  The target is to release the agreement to the general public this Wednesday, which is December 20th.  Then the council will have a special meeting on Wednesday, December 27th at 6 p.m. The only piece of business will be to hear from the public and to deliberate, discuss and to vote on the purchase agreement.  Which will mean that we have met our deadlines, barely, but we will have met them.”

Audio of the city council meeting is courtesy of the live webstream from Channel 17 Town Meeting Television.