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105 posts categorized "Burlington Telecom"

July 02, 2012

Mayor Miro Scraps Plans for Moran Plant Development, Offers 'New Direction'

Updated at 4 p.m. with additional reporting and photos. 

Miro and MoranDeclaring that he would "not risk Moran becoming another Burlington Telecom," Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger this afternoon announced he is scrapping the Kiss administration's stalled plan for a Scottish company to build an ice-climbing facility in the former power plant on the Burlington waterfront.

Weinberger declared in an "Open Letter to the People of Burlington" that the city must not serve as the developer of a "complicated, speculative, commercial real estate venture." Making note of the BT-related downgrades in Burlington's credit rating, the mayor added that "now is not the time for further speculative financial adventures by the city."

Instead, Weinberger unveiled a "five-point action plan for near-term progress" on the portion of the waterfront near the Moran plant. In addition to initiating a new competitive process to determine the future of the hulking and scarred 59-year-old structure, Weinberger said the city will seek a permanent home for the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center, which was originally part of the Moran plant redevelopment plan under former mayor Bob Kiss. Sailing Center president Marc Sherman was on hand at the mayor's waterfront press conference to voice approval for Weinberger's new approach.

The "action plan" also includes an envisioned $3 million investment to upgrade the portion of the "beloved" waterfront bike path between Perkins Pier and a point a few hundred yards north of the Moran plant. Weinberger added that he wants to create "a world-class skate park" as part of a set of enhancements to a six-acre parcel of land surrounding the Moran plant.

Weinberger explained that he wants to use a total of about $5 million worth of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds for the waterfront to help pay for the skate park and the bike path upgrade. Burlington voters will have the ultimate say on the outcome of this new process, most likely through a binding vote on TIF investment in the Moran redevelopment. 

Continue reading "Mayor Miro Scraps Plans for Moran Plant Development, Offers 'New Direction'" »

May 24, 2012

Bob Kiss: I'm Running for State Senate as an Independent

Bob KissFormer Burlington mayor Bob Kiss confirmed today what he's hinted about for months: He's running for state Senate this November. The former Progressive told Seven Days he'll run as an independent for one of Chittenden County's six Senate seats.

Kiss, who served in the Vermont House from 2001-2006, said he won't shy away from his controversial record as mayor in the campaign.

In fact, the former mayor said he'll welcome the chance to talk about his six years in office and answer critics of his handling of Burlington Telecom. The municipal telecom provider violated its state license agreement by borrowing $17 million in taxpayer funds without repaying it.

"Maybe more than I've had an opportunity in the past, I'll be happy to talk about issues in Burlington as much as I can," Kiss said in a phone interview Thursday. 

Over the next two weeks, Kiss plans to collect the 100 signatures he needs to get on the ballot and begin building a campaign team. The candidate filing deadline is June 15.

No candidate has won election to the Vermont Senate in recent memory without a D or R next to his or her name. Two senators now serve in the body as fusion candidates: Tim Ashe and Anthony Pollina were endorsed by both Democrats and Progressives. But Kiss is undeterred by that historical hurdle.

"Being an independent voice in the Senate makes a lot of sense — it makes the most sense," Kiss said. "Voters in Chittenden County tend to vote for the person not just the politics. For a lot of reasons that puts me in a good position."

Continue reading "Bob Kiss: I'm Running for State Senate as an Independent" »

October 20, 2011

GOP Mayoral Candidate's Bold Plan for Burlington: Sell! Sell! Sell!

IMG_3021* Updated below: BED's true debt load, plus Kurt Wright responds to the claim his math is wrong. *

Republican mayoral candidate Kurt Wright promised he would unveil a "bold plan" with "bold solutions" to address the serious fiscal challenges facing the city of Burlington — and on Wednesday, he delivered.

At a city hall press conference, Wright revealed his bold plan to shore up the city's finances: Sell one its most prized assets, the Burlington Electric Department.

Wright claims the sale would bring a one-time windfall to the city of more than $100 million.

Aside from BED, Wright said he'd entertain the notion of selling off Burlington International Airport — or at least having its ownership regionalized, or getting the state to take some ownership — as well as Memorial Auditorium, which he claims loses money annually.

What other city departments and services could Burlington auction off? The bike path? City arts? Church Street? The Waterfront?

(Fire away down in the comments section.)

Wright, who has served on the city council in three different stints over the past 15 years, acknowledged his bold solution to sell BED is, actually, not new.

"People have talked about it in the past, but I don't think the climate was right for this in the past and I think it is now," Wright said. "Would I have proposed this 10 years ago? I wouldn't have and I don't think voters would have reacted to it favorably 10 or 15 years ago."

The difference today is the sheer amount of debt facing the city, thanks to Burlington Telecom, the Burlington airport and a flagging pension fund.

Continue reading "GOP Mayoral Candidate's Bold Plan for Burlington: Sell! Sell! Sell!" »

October 06, 2011

Democratic Mayoral Candidate Offers Five-Point Plan to Fix Burlington's Finances

IMG_2942 Democratic mayoral hopeful Miro Weinberger released a five-point plan on Thursday to help Burlington dig out of an estimated $80 million hole.

Weinberger, a nonprofit housing developer and member of the city's Airport Commission, promised at his campaign kickoff (pictured right) that he would offer voters some concrete plans to deal with the city's fiscal problems.

Weinberger is vying with state Rep. Jason Lorber and City Councilor Bram Kranichfeld for the Democratic nomination.

Weinberger claims Progressive Mayor Bob Kiss hasn't been upfront with councilors and the public about the extent of the city's financial troubles or enlisted them in helping to find solutions.

"Clearly, the first job of any new mayor is to put Burlington's finances in order and anyone who wants the job must be willing to do that and show how they're going to do that," Weinberger told Seven Days. "These are my five basic priorities, and I think first and foremost we need to define the problem that we are facing, and I don't think anyone has been able to do that in a way that people can get their arms around."

If elected, Weinberger said he would do the following:

Continue reading "Democratic Mayoral Candidate Offers Five-Point Plan to Fix Burlington's Finances" »

September 02, 2011

Citibank Sues Burlington, Seeks Repossession of Burlington Telecom

BT Citibank filed a long-anticipated lawsuit in federal court Friday, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages and the repossession of Burlington Telecom's equipment.

The lawsuit was filed as a result of the city of Burlington failing to make payments on a $33.5 million lease-financing agreement.

Talks between Citibank and the city broke down in late 2010. The final payments made to Citi by Burlington were in May 2010, when Citi had money released from an escrow account.

"Unfortunately, the city has not made direct payments on this financing since November 2009," said Mark Rodgers, director of public affairs for Citi. "We have tried to allow additional time to arrive at a mutually satisfactory solution by granting extensions in the past. At this point, however, we have had to proceed with litigation due to the city's failure to honor their contractual obligations, including the return of equipment we financed."

Continue reading "Citibank Sues Burlington, Seeks Repossession of Burlington Telecom" »

August 24, 2011

Plaintiffs Lose Round in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit

BT Here's the latest on the citizen lawsuit aimed at recouping $17 million in taxpayer money from Burlington Telecom.

Superior Court Judge Helen Toor has ruled that Burlington Telecom was permitted to use general fund money — i.e. city taxpayer dollars — to pay a consultant hired to restructure the debt-laden municipal telecom. The ruling deals a setback to the two Burlington residents who brought the lawsuit, former city councilors Fred Osier and Gene Shaver, who had argued that spending  taxpayer money violated a 2010 court order.

Before we go further, some background: Burlington officials are under fire for loaning $17 million from the city's cash pool to Burlington Telecom and failing to pay it back within 60 days, a violation of its state license. In February 2010, a Blue Ribbon Commission assembled to address the violations concluded BT was a "valuable asset" and recommended the city hire a specialist in business restructuring to rescue the municipal cable, telephone and Internet provider. Without a major fix, the commission said, the city risked never recapturing $15 million to $20 million invested in BT's fiber network.

Continue reading "Plaintiffs Lose Round in Burlington Telecom Lawsuit" »

July 15, 2011

Case Closed: Feds Drop Investigation of Burlington Telecom

Monopoly In a terse, three-sentence statement the U.S. Attorney's office announced today that it was "closing its investigation into possible violations of federal law by Burlington Telecom and related entities and individuals."

In the statement, U.S. Attorney Tristram Coffin said the investigation had "produced insufficient evidence to file criminal charges, and therefore the investigation would be closed."

The office offered no further comment.

No surprises here, as Coffin intimated to Seven Days two weeks ago that he might break tradition and make a public announcement if his office wasn't bringing charges. Breaking that traditional code of silence about federal investigations signaled that the feds were likely leaning against prosecution.

Continue reading "Case Closed: Feds Drop Investigation of Burlington Telecom" »

July 06, 2011

No Charges Filed Against Entergy for Misleading Regulators About Vermont Yankee

Photo* Update below: Reaction from Gov. Peter Shumlin *

Attorney General Bill Sorrell said  Entergy Vermont Yankee personnel repeatedly misled state officials regarding the existence of underground and buried piping that carried radionuclides, but his office lacked "compelling evidence" that the company's actions constituted a crime.

"We demonstrate in our report today that, in our view, Entergy and certain of its personnel were at best untrustworthy," said Sorrell (pictured at podium) at a late morning news conference. "We lack the smoking gun evidence that this untrustworthy behavior was criminal."

Sorrell issued an eight-page report outlining his office's investigation. The report includes emails and other correspondence between Entergy officials. Click here to read the report.

Sorrell said the 18-month investigation, requested by former Gov. Jim Douglas and other legislative leaders, cost taxpayers a minimum of $100,000.

Was it worth it?

"Absolutely," said Sorrell, even though no charges are being brought. "Any prominent Vermont company that offers repeatedly misleading information deserves to have that conduct scrutinized."

Entergy officials were pleased with the outcome of today's decision and acknowledged that some of their own employees were punished internally for their roles in the misleading statements.

Continue reading "No Charges Filed Against Entergy for Misleading Regulators About Vermont Yankee" »

June 29, 2011

Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges in Burlington Telecom Probe (VIDEO)

* Update below: Burlington Mayor Bob Kiss reaction * 

After a six-month investigation, a top prosecutor announced today he is not filing criminal charges against anyone involved in the high-profile case of Burlington Telecom.

At a morning news conference, Chittenden County State’s Attorney T.J. Donovan said he decided not to prosecute city officials for “neglect of duty” as it relates to complying with a key condition in the municipal utility’s state license.

That condition required BT to repay any money it borrowed from the city’s universal checkbook — the so-called “cash pool” — within 60 days. BT ended up borrowing $16.9 million from the cash pool, which to date has not been repaid. Plans to refinance BT’s growing debt fell apart in 2008 when the global financial markets crashed. It wasn't until late September 2009 when the public first learned that BT was in such deep debt.

Donovan said the burden of proof required to bring a "neglect of duty" charge against one or more officials would be too high to guarantee a win at trial. Also, it would cost "tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of the public's money [and] cause greater division with the city and disrupt the governance of the city, all with an uncertain outcome and no possibility of restitution of $17 million."

Even if it was a sure conviction, Donovan notes, anyone found guilty of the crime would spend a maximum of only one year in jail and face a $1000 fine.

Continue reading "Prosecutor: No Criminal Charges in Burlington Telecom Probe (VIDEO)" »

May 20, 2011

Burlington Telecom's Legal and Consulting Costs Near $1 Million Mark

BT Burlington Telecom has racked up close to $1 million in charges to pay for lawyers and outside consultants to deal with regulatory and criminal investigations, as well as to oversee a major financial overhaul of the struggling municipal utility.

In a memo released late Thursday, City Hall officials claim Burlington Telecom (BT) has incurred up $974,445 in expenses since July 1, 2009.

That figure has nearly doubled since "Fair Game" first reported the growing cost of BT's external consultants. In September 2010 the cost of outside consultants was close to $500,000. That figure rose to $625,000 in December, according to a memo prepared in response to a Seven Days freedom of information request.

The lion's share of the money spent to sort out BT's troubles to date — roughly $620,000 — has been paid directly by BT. Yet another $354,000 has been paid from the city's general fund — or directly by taxpayers. If a judge finds the city in contempt of a February 2010 court order, BT could be forced to repay that money immediately. A hearing on that contempt charge is scheduled for later this month.

Of that $354,000 charged back to taxpayers, nearly $18,000 has been shelled out to the law firm of Langrock, Sperry and Wool for "criminal defense" work related to ongoing investigations by state and federal authorities.

No charges have been filed to date, but Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold announced earlier this year that he is resigning his post at the end of June — a move widely believed to be connected with the ongoing criminal probes.

Click here to download a copy of the updated BT expense report.

Continue reading "Burlington Telecom's Legal and Consulting Costs Near $1 Million Mark" »

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