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105 posts categorized "Burlington Telecom" Feed

May 06, 2011

Judge Denies Burlington Telecom's Request to Delay Court Case

BT Vermont Superior Court Judge Helen Toor has denied Burlington Telecom's motion to delay a hearing on whether the utility is in violation of a court order issued last year barring it from using city general funds for BT expenses.

The ruling means that a contempt of court hearing will be held on May 23 in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.

In 2009, two disgruntled taxpayers — former city councilors Gene Shaver and Fred Osier — sued Burlington Telecom and Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold to repay the city's cash pool the $16.9 million that had been borrowed and not repaid. The failure to repay the money within 60 days is a violation of BT's certificate of public good issued by the state and also potentially a violation of the city charter.

Leopold tried to plead immunity from being named in the suit, but to no avail. That means he could be on the hook financially for some of the money repaid to taxpayers if the court finds in the taxpayers' favor.

As part of the civil litigation, BT agreed to not use city funds for ongoing expenses unless it repaid the money within 60 days. Last year it was learned that the city spent several hundred thousand dollars on consultants for BT-related items, but BT didn't fully repay taxpayers. Shortly thereafter, Osier and Shaver's attorney filed a contempt of court charge.

Continue reading "Judge Denies Burlington Telecom's Request to Delay Court Case" »

April 28, 2011

Burlington Telecom Seeks Delay in Civil Case (Again)

Gavel If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And again. And again. And …

For the sixth time, Burlington Telecom is asking Superior Court Judge Helen Toor to delay a civil court case filed by two disgruntled Burlington taxpayers.

Instead of Toor, BT wants the Vermont Public Service Board to weigh in on proposed fixes to its financial and regulatory problems first — fixes the city has yet to propose to the PSB.

The city is expected to update the PSB later this week on its efforts to restructure its finances and potentially find a new business partner.

The civil suit — filed last year — seeks immediate repayment of the $16.9 million BT borrowed from the city’s “cash pool” to prop up the struggling muni telecom. It also names Chief Administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold as a defendant, and he is potentially on the hook to repay some of the money. Leopold sought, and was denied, immunity from the lawsuit.

Leopold offered a tempered, and brief, apology to city taxpayers two weeks ago when he announced his resignation, which is effective June 30.

According to its original certificate of public good, BT was required to repay the money within 60 days and it failed to do so. Last year, the city agreed to a court order barring BT from incurring additional debt to the city.

The two taxpayers, Fred Osier and Gene Shaver, argue that the city is currently in contempt of that order.

How so? In December, the city revealed that it paid $227,795 to consultants Dorman & Fawcett to renegotiate BT’s lease with CitiCapital, along with roughly $9000 in other BT-related expenses — all out of the city’s general fund. The city defended those payments, claiming the consultants’ work benefited the city, not just BT.

The taxpayers’ attorney, Norman Williams, disagrees.

Continue reading "Burlington Telecom Seeks Delay in Civil Case (Again)" »

April 14, 2011

Burlington CAO Jonathan Leopold To Resign, "Regrets" BT-Related "Difficulties"

Leopold Jonathan Leopold, Burlington's chief administrative officer — and a powerful force in City Hall since Bernie Sanders was mayor — announced today that he will resign in June.

In a letter to Mayor Bob Kiss, Leopold (pictured) cites "serious health problems" resulting from a 2007 car accident as the main reason for his departure. He also acknowledges his highly criticized role in the Burlington Telecom scandal, saying he doesn't want his presence to "polarize" Burlington any further.

"I regret the difficulties the city has faced as a result of the BT controversy and I hope the city is able to resolve these issues," he wrote.

(Full text of Leopold's resignation letter below).

In a press release, Kiss stated that he has accepted Leopold's resignation "with regret" and thanked him for his "hard work and personal commitment to the City throughout his career."

Kiss credits Leopold with management of the budget that resulted in "5 straight fiscal years of a level general services tax rate and an increase in the City’s undesignated reserve fund from $75,000 to over $5 million. Jonathan has also built a strong management team in the Clerk-Treasurer’s Office which will ensure a successful transition,” Kiss said in the statement.

Leopold came under serious pressure after revealing in 2009 that the city had loaned $17 million to prop up struggling Burlington Telecom — a violation of the utility's "certificate of public good" issued by the state.

Photo by Jordan Silverman

Continue reading "Burlington CAO Jonathan Leopold To Resign, "Regrets" BT-Related "Difficulties"" »

April 01, 2011

Lockheed Martin to Buy Burlington Telecom for $65 Million

Lockheed* update *

At a news conference scheduled for later today, Mayor Bob Kiss and Lockheed Martin CEO Stephan James will announce that the global weapons maker has offered $65 million to become owners and operators of Burlington Telecom, the city utility that is more than $50 million in debt.

“BT has tremendous potential,” said James, according to a prepared press release leaked to Seven Days. “It’s a fair price, and we intend to pursue completion of BT's buildout in the city and then seek state approval to deploy this system to other towns in Chittenden County and across the state.”

Lockheed Martin learned of BT after it began working with the city on ways to combat climate change.

Continue reading "Lockheed Martin to Buy Burlington Telecom for $65 Million" »

March 17, 2011

Burlington Meets Bahrain: When Twitter Hashtags Collide

As we noted on page 5 of this week's Seven Days, conversation on the #BTV "hashtag" on Twitter has been dominated by angry tweets directed at an unpopular broadcaster in recent days — and no, the local Twitter community hasn't directed its ire at Burlington Telecom.

#BTV has been the go-to hashtag for Burlington-area Tweeters for years now, derived from the airport code for Burlington International Airport. When someone tweets about something Burlington related, he or she adds #BTV at the end so that other locals can easily find the tweet. These tweets are usually about Vermont weather, pictures of lakefront sunsets, discussion of lunch plans, and other small-talky pleasantries that foster a sense of community. But this week, the #BTV stream has looked different than usual.

Continue reading "Burlington Meets Bahrain: When Twitter Hashtags Collide" »

March 03, 2011

Viva La Bernie! Sanderista Revolution Turns 30

Fairgame-bernieThirty years ago today, Bernie Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington — a political upset that launched and legitimized the Brooklyn-born pol as a force in Vermont politics.

Today, "Bernie" as he's known to most Vermonters is a U.S. Senator after serving eight terms in the U.S. House.

After several losing attempts at statewide office on March 3, 1981 — 30 years ago today — Sanders was elected mayor of Burlington by an eventual 10-vote margin in a three-way race against Democrat Gordon Paquette. On election night, the vote tally was slightly higher. A recount trimmed the total to 10.

Independent Richard Bove was also in the race. Bove had failed to defeat incumbent Paquette in a primary and ran as an independent in the general election, splitting the vote, and helping aid a Sanders victory.

Still even with a third "spoiler" candidate in the race, Sanders supporters and even Sanders himself recall the victory as a bit of a shocker.

"As a Liberty Union candidate the best I had ever finished was six percent, but did I think we had a chance to win? Yes, I thought maybe we could win and win big, or given my Liberty Union experience lose big. To win it by 10 votes was kind of stressful and we had to go through a recount process, too," said Sanders. "But, it was a very exciting moment I recall that day and night very clear."

Continue reading "Viva La Bernie! Sanderista Revolution Turns 30" »

February 01, 2011

Got Al Jazeera?

Images As the world continues to be glued to the unfolding revolution in Egypt, cable TV viewers in the United States are receiving a decidedly Western view of the ongoing protests and unrest.

That is, unless you're a Burlington Telecom subscriber. If you are one of the few thousand BT subscribers you can watch Al Jazeera English (AJE) on Channel 132, tucked between TruTV (which used to be Court TV) and FOX Business.

AJE has received plenty of kudos from news analysts for providing some of the most comprehensive, on-the-ground coverage of the burgeoning revolution and calls for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Despite its financial transgressions, BT remains one of the few cable television providers in the country that offers AJE to select subscribers. To watch AJE, you have to subscribe to BT's "standard plus" cable package.

The only other cable operators that offer AJE are in Ohio and Washington, DC, according to a recent report by Huffington Post.

BT came under fire for offering the channel to its subscribers and initially was prepared to drop the channel, but free speech proponents and Mayor Bob Kiss thwarted that effort.

When the topic came to a head at a BT advisory committee meeting in 2008, Al Jazeera dispatched a reporter to the scene. Shortly after, BT signed a contract to carry AJE.

Maybe the unrest in Egypt will help boost BT's subscriber base. Then again, maybe the last thing Mayor Kiss wants is unending footage of people rioting in the streets and calling for the resignation of an unpopular leader.

If you're not a BT subscriber, and can't become one, you can go to AJE's website and stream live coverage — for free.


January 28, 2011

The Good, the Bad, the Burlington Telecom: Citizens Question Officials About the Future of BT

BTMeeting They came, they saw, they vented. More than 100 people crammed into City Hall Auditorium in Burlington for a special city council meeting Thursday night about the status of beleaguered Burlington Telecom.

The nearly four-hour meeting probably didn't change many minds. Diehard BT supporters are still insisting the utility can be saved. Likewise, those who would like to see the mayor resign and be held personally liable for returning the $17 million BT owes Burlington taxpayers weren't swayed by arguments that the company is now "cash flow positive."

In all, more than 40 questions were put to city officials, outside consultants, lawyers and city councilors. Of those, 35 were submitted in writing ahead of time (see below).

Mayor Bob Kiss and the outside consultants said while BT's financial troubles left a hole in the city's cash pool, the utility has turned things around and is in a better financial position to seek outside investors now. Kiss also refuted some of the claims that have been made about his administration's failing in regard to BT operations and oversight.

His words, however, didn't seem to resonate with most people at the meeting — even BT supporters.

Continue reading "The Good, the Bad, the Burlington Telecom: Citizens Question Officials About the Future of BT" »

January 27, 2011

Citizens Ask Court to Find Burlington in Contempt for Using Taxpayer Funds

Gavel 3Two Burlington taxpayers are asking a Chittenden Superior Court judge to find the city of Burlington in contempt of a court order prohibiting certain use of general funds to support Burlington Telecom.

The motion was filed today on behalf of Fred Osier and Gene Shaver by their attorney Norm Williams of Gravel and Shea. In his complaint, Williams argues that more than $235,000 in city general fund dollars used to pay an outside consultants to restructure Burlington Telecom is verboten.

A February 2010 court order issued in this case, and agreed to by the city, prohibits the city from using any general fund dollars to prop up BT unless the money is repaid within 60 days. The city is also required to provide the court with accounting records to ensure that it's not in violation of the order.

The city paid more than $227,000 to Dorman & Fawcett to help BT restructure its operations and renegotiate its lease with CitiCaptial, among other things. The city also paid out more than $5000 to a broadband consultant to review BT's operations, and roughly $3000 to Langrock, Sperry and Wool for legal "defense" consultation as a result of state criminal investigations. These funds were all paid out of the city's general fund, not from BT's operational funds.

The consulting fees came to light after two city councilors and Seven Days requested a complete record of how much money the city has paid outside consultants and lawyers as a result of the various BT cases and investigations.

As of late December the city and BT paid out more than $625,000 to various consultants and attorneys. That figure was $500,000 as of late August.

Continue reading "Citizens Ask Court to Find Burlington in Contempt for Using Taxpayer Funds" »

January 25, 2011

City Hall Criticizes State 'Audit' of Burlington Telecom

41608_168107802724_1556137_n Late Tuesday, the Kiss Administration issued a 21-page rebuttal to last month's blistering review of Burlington Telecom and the city's oversight of the fledgling telecom.

The so-called "Larkin Report" was initiated in October 2009 by the Vermont Department of Public Service as the city sought relief from a few key conditions contained in its certificate of public good. This was when it was first revealed that the city had used $17 million in taxpayer funds to prop up BT over the course of several fiscal years.

The report, conducted by Larkin and Associates, was released December 10, 2010 and claimed that BT was in violation of Condition 60 of its CPG since its inception, and that BT overpaid for installation services and programming — perhaps twice as much. Condition 60 forbid the city from using any taxpayer funds unless they could be repaid within 60 days.

The report also questioned BT's long-term viability, and whether city officials had fully informed the public and city councilors about the extend of BT's financial problems.

The report was issued just days after the city told state regulators that it had backed out of its $33.5 million lease finance arrangement with CitiCapital and was seeking new financial and strategic partners. Consultants Dorman & Fawcett have been leading those talks and are one of several outside firms who have been brought in to help reorganize BT.

Mayor Bob Kiss and his administration took issue with the report as soon as it was released, but now they've provided additional details and documents they claim the consulting firm either missed, or failed to acknowledge.

Continue reading "City Hall Criticizes State 'Audit' of Burlington Telecom" »

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