The Kiss Administration defended its use of $17 million in taxpayer money to prop up Burlington Telecom before the city council Tuesday night. The administration insists it did nothing wrong but some councilors say that it at least looks like top officials did.
Chief administrative Officer Jonathan Leopold said Burlington Telecom had to borrow city money because the cost to install the telecommunications network was more than expected. He said BT hoped to get financing to cover those costs but when the markets collapsed that became impossible.
Leopold told city councilors he was not aware Burlington Telecom violated its Certificate of Public Good - by borrowing from the city and not paying it back within 60 days - until the fall of 2008 and would have told councilors sooner if a conflict of interest on the Board of Finance had not postponed Burlington Telecom discussions until after the March election.
"This was not done in secret and if this council didn't fully understand what the briefings were that we give I apologize," he said.
Leopold faced harsh criticism from councilors who say he and Mayor Bob Kiss violated public trust by using city money for a venture they promised would be funded fully by investors.
"And you've put yourself in the position where you've created the appearance that you've deliberately hid information," Democratic Mary Kehoe, Ward 1, told Leopold.
The toughest criticism came from Democrat Ed Adrian, who sent a letter to Mayor Kiss, Tuesday, asking that Leopold be put on unpaid administrative leave.
"The situation has gotten to the point where I think there's been enough said publicly and enough admitted to publicly that we take a closer look at this and Mr. Leopold needs to take some time off while we look at this," said Adrian.
It is a request the mayor says he will not entertain.
"there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Jonathan's part and he definitely fulfilled the role of oversight of Burlington Telecom in his capacity as CAO for the city and I think he's done a good job," Kiss said.
The city says Burlington Telecom is still a viable business. Leopold is confident it can now get financing and once it gets financed it will be able to pay the city back. Leopold says if the city decides to shut down Burlington Telecom its assets are enough that it could pay the city back after liquidation.
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