Mystery grows over Burlington Telecom's dropped 4th bidder

(WCAX)
Published: Sep. 21, 2017 at 5:23 PM EDT
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A multimillion-dollar deal for Burlington taxpayers caught in a clash over who gets to buy Burlington Telecom. City officials on Wednesday announced three finalists that hope to purchase the troubled utility, including Keep Burlington Telecom Local, Schurz Communication and Ting. But now there's a divide over why a fourth bidder dropped out.

City officials on Wednesday announced three finalists that hope to purchase the troubled utility, including Keep Burlington Telecom Local, Schurz Communication and Ting. But now there's a divide over why a fourth bidder dropped out.

"I've described it as a breach of trust between the mayor and the city council -- and it is," said Burlington City Council member Kurt Wright, R-Burlington.

If the city wants to sell Burlington Telecom in time to recover about $5 million from the financial mess, the city council and Mayor Miro Weinberger have to work together.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: Do you trust the mayor?

City Council President Jane Knodell: At this point we have a low trust level.

Right now there's a problem. The mayor surprised the council earlier this week by saying he had been talking to one of the contenders, which suddenly pulled out of the bidding without explanation.

"They didn't just withdraw on their own -- they were -- I think it's been acknowledged now there was some effort to have them withdraw," Wright said.

On Wednesday Weinberger said having a bidder withdraw is a normal part of the process. "It's something we've anticipated could be possible," he said.

But the stunned response now from Jane Knodell, P-City Council President shows to her that it's not normal. "The mayor completely stepped on the prerogative of the council," she said.

The councilors say the issue goes beyond being annoyed that they didn't get their way. Knodell says 8 of the 12 councilors felt the bidder that pulled out was their first or second choice.

"Someone should care as a citizen of Burlington because what if it was the best proposal? What if it was the proposal that worked best for the citizens of Burlington and gave us the best return?

"They have so much to offer the city in the way of new business formation, building a strong tech economy, and creating good jobs for young people coming out of our school system," Knodell said.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: Any chance that that 4th contestant would be invited back into the process?

City Council President Jane Knodell: I am very much hoping that they will be invited back. I'm not sure they would be interested in coming back after what happened.

We wanted to ask the mayor about the growing divide, but he was observing Rosh Hashana with his family. His office released a statement which chalks it up to a communication problem.

"Running a city is an exercise between 13 different people and two co-equal branches of government, and communications between everyone is challenging, especially when the stakes are high and timing is short... I've worked hard over the past five years to develop a good relationship with Council. I care very much about this relationship and will do what I can in the weeks ahead to work our way through this."

Councilors say they are hopeful the relationship can be repaired, too. But they say they feel constrained by the city attorney, who is telling them they can't reveal details about the process because of nondisclosure agreements with bidders. Councilors say they are looking at hiring a lawyer of their own to review that and hoping they can say more about what is happening.