Weighing the political fallout from the Burlington Telecom debate

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Burlington city officials are reviewing the last minute deal to buy Burlington Telecom.

Early Tuesday morning the city council Ok'd a new plan from Schurz Communications and investment fund ZRF. The deal combined parts of earlier offers that the mayor and the council had passed over during the bidding process. Mayor Weinberger says even though his preferred bidder -- Ting -- did not win, taxpayers and BT customers will. That's because the Schurz offer covers financial and legal threats and aims to keep Burlington Telecom's pricing, expansion, employees, and customer service in place.

"We just took a big step -- and important step forward -- and all of the acrimony and debate should not distract us from the fact that -- from the big picture. We have made huge progress with Burlington Telecom over the last six years, particularly over the last 3.5 years, and it's now on a positive trajectory," Weinberger said.

The documents outlining the Schurz/ZRF bid should be made public early next week.

While the Mayor says BT is on a positive path, the way this deal played out could create some political challenges for him. Officials with Keep Burlington Telecom Local, the local co-op whose bid to buy BT ultimately failed, say the co-op is not going away. KBTL's Alan Matson says he hopes to influence the upcoming city council and Mayor's races. "We have to make sure we can keep an offer on the table," Matson said.

Matson says the disappointment is real, and that he and the co-op members know they lost, but they're keeping their bid to buy BT alive just in case. "I think there are things about our offer that would have to change if all of a sudden the current proposal fell through. But we have to stay there and be ready that we could do something," he said.

Matson says KBTL is also ready to do something -- to be what he calls a force for good in Burlington -- by finding ways to invest in other local assets and by getting involved in local politics. "We are not going to become a political party, but you know, if there are races in the city -- and there are a lot of them this year in March -- where we see our ideals are supported, I think you will see the energy that we could bring to the people as well as raising money," he said.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: Should the mayor be concerned?
Alan Matson: Well, I think as we all know, we didn't get much support from the Mayor.

Some KBTL supporters tell us the process was stacked against them. The most visible example -- Mayor Miro Weinberger calling a news conference in mid-October to urge the council to reject KBTL's bid heading into the final round. "We are not going to get the best possible outcome for the people of Burlington," Mayor Weinberger said at the event.

KBTL's initial $12 million dollar offer was less than half of what the other semi-finalists promised.

"I respectfully disagree with the characterization that this was in any way stacked against them. In fact, I think the opposite was true," Weinberger said.

He says for years the city worked to design a process to give KBTL a shot, and that he rallied behind the last minute push for Ting and KBTL to join forces, with the co-op getting 20-percent ownership in BT. "I think it's unfortunate that that didn't work," Weinberger said. "I think that would have been an even better resolution."

He says he's now working to make sure the sale to Schurz protects Burlington taxpayers, and BT's customers and employees. Details will need cooperation with the city council, which now has some deeper internal divisions and some broken relationships with him. He says repairing all that will happen. "It might take some time here, because it was as divisive as it was and as emotional as it was, and now because we are entering an election season," Weinberger said.

The mayor already announced he's running for re-election. So far no challengers have jumped in, but Carina Driscoll, an active KBTL supporter, is considering a run. The former city councilor and state representative once worked in Weinberger's administration. She is also Bernie Sanders' step-daughter. We are told to expect an announcement on her decision soon.