Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« Best Bites: PK Cafe | Main | Campaign '10 News & Notes: You're Hired! »

September 22, 2009

Burlington Telecommentary

A plan aimed at making Burlington Telecom more accountable to taxpayers was put on hold last night amid fears it would jeopardize company trade secrets.

The Burlington City Council voted 7-7 not to make the city-owned cable and telephone company an official city department, effectively killing the measure for now. The council's seven Democrats voted for the change. The three Progressives, two Independents and two Republicans voted against it.

Backers of the measure, including Council President Bill Keogh, D-Ward 5, argued the current system of oversight — with two advisory panels, city department heads, city councilors and other boards all playing roles — is "dysfunctional" and needs serious overhaul.

Keogh praised Burlington Telecom ("Quality is so good on the screen, I feel I'm right at the Red Sox game") before proposing a resolution that would lay the groundwork for making it answerable to a new seven-member commission, and more transparent as a result.

Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold warned the change would put Burlington Telecom at grave risk of having trade secrets exposed — and then being buried by the competition, namely Comcast and FairPoint. Both the City Council and city commissioners have leaked confidential information in recent years, Leopold said, costing the city money and headaches. Leaking telecom information could be devastating, he said.

"I don't want to be the skunk at the tea party here, but this is very serious," Leopold said.

In a phone chat today, Keogh said he understands the privacy concerns but maintains Burlington Telecom must be more accountable to taxpayers, who put up the $6.1 million to get the fiber-optic network off the ground nine years ago.

"While it's a competitive market, it's still a municipal operation and some degree of accountability is needed," Keogh said. As for leaks, Keogh acknowledges it's been a problem in the past, but says, "In the past two sessions, we've emphasized to city councilors the importance" of confidential material staying private.

Leopold argued that Burlington Telecom makes quarterly reports to the city, in addition to annual reports — all of which are available to city councilors. The most sensitive information, however, is considered proprietary and not public. That includes: marketing and pricing strategy; cable content contracts; service installation and repair pricing; contract negotiations; customer specific data; finances; and network design and architecture.

Keogh argued the city can't even begin to debate which of that information should be made public following last night's vote. "We think we know what proprietary means, but in the case of Burlington Telecom, that has not been discuss," he said.

Keogh said he won't reintroduce the proposal unless someone on the council has a change of heart — something he's not holding out for.

Starting to look like, or hell no he has been,Jonathan Leopold is the most powerful person in Burlington. This is not really setting internally well with me. To all on the city council your party affilation aside. "Lets be carefull out their"

Wish they were coming to South Burlington. Comcast needs competition (and no, satellite is NOT competition).

"I don't want to be the skunk at the tea party here..."

First of all, who talks like that? Secondly, of course he does. He totally lives to be the skunk at the tea party.

I would have voted with the Dems on this. Transparency is a good thing. If it shouldn't be transparent, it shouldn't be public. Kinda like how if it's 'too big to fail' then it's 'too big to exist.' Burlington Telecom is public so it's fighting against it's own nature to try to keep all these secrets.

And with the exception of customer data, I don't buy the argument that most of things Leopold mentioned are big secrets. I mean marketing and pricing? You want your advetising out there. That's the opposite of secret.

Am I wrong?

Marketing and pricing strategies are traditionally considered a company's proprietary and confidential information. If BT had exclusive customer territory, like an electric utility, that would be one thing. No one could compete with them w/i their territory so there would be no harm in forcing them to disclose their plans and strategies, and every reason to do so. But if Comcast can compete for BT's customers, and BT is forced to discuss all its business in public b/c it's a city department, that would not be fair. Comcast doesn't have to disclose its marketing strategies. They'd love to attend a public meeting and fight out what BT's plans are.

Good for the Dems for hitting this issue and sticking together, and shame on the other councilors for giving Jonathan everything he wants. "BT is top secret" -thats a crock. If Jonathan is really worried about losing control of BT secrets, then he should do more to keep BTs employees ; most of the high quality people have left due to current rotten mngt. (it's become an awful place to work, tkae it from me} What are the odds of a former employee (A) having importnt information, and (B) sharing it with th competition (aka her next employer)? High! We need to know BT's health! That's our investment, our company, our infrastructure. And we're just supposed to trust the guy who can't run a straight election to operate a state-of-the-art telecom?

The real secret at risk here is that Jonathan is mismanaging BT and he simply does not want any genuine oversight that would reveal this to be true (and the City Council can't do it.. they don't have the time or the right skill set. And the Finance Committee is Jonathan's buds, so they aren't doing it either). People say he's some kind of genius so he must have some fantastic motive for driving our incredible asset into the ground, as he appears to be doing now. What's the plan? Sell our network to Comcast? How "Progressive" is that?

C'mon Progs -- get progressive. C'mon Republicans -- question government control and state secrecy. C'mon independents -- get INDEPENDENT of our mini-Dick Cheney.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684