Will the Burlington Telecom mess ever go away?

Published: Nov. 1, 2017 at 10:15 AM EDT
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Will the Burlington Telecom mess ever go away? That's what a lot of people were asking after the city council postponed a vote Monday night. They need to decide who will buy BT. But the council is evenly split, and there's a deep divide now too between councilors and the Mayor.

For a city council meeting, it was pretty dramatic Monday night. A packed house and passionate comments about who should get to buy Burlington Telecom. The council ended up deadlocked heading into the vote. Then a councilor backing Mayor Miro Weinberger's favorite bidder -- Ting -- recused herself. Councilors then delayed the vote to next week.

"A bomb dropped on the process," said Kurt Wright, R-Burlington City Council. Wright is on the Mayor's side in backing Ting, but he says the Mayor is going about breaking the council's deep divide all wrong. "I think this just taking the attitude of -- as it seems the mayor has done -- which is kind of my way or the highway attitude -- I don't think that's getting us to a good place right now,"

"I would say that unfortunately the mayor has participated in the process in a way that hasn't helped the process," said Council President Jane Knodell, P-Burlington.

Knodell is in the Keep BT Local camp. She says this is the most divided she's seen the council -- and the public -- since Mayor Weinberger was first sworn in nearly six years ago.

"I don't think it's productive to revisit the past because we are where we are, but I would hope the mayor would take some responsibility for how we got in this polarized place," she said.

"We are where we are because of a series of city council decisions," said Mayor Weinberger. He says councilors chose Ting and KBTL as finalists even though he pushed them to ditch KBTL from the final 2 and keep the bid from Schurz. Even councilors who are now complaining say if Schurz was in the mix now it could have brought consensus.

"Unfortunately they chose not to do that, and at this point I think its very difficult to go backwards."

"You also have to know what went on behind the scenes," Wright said. He says councilors warned the mayor and his democratic allies that keeping Ting in the mix would only elevate support for KBTL among councilors because so many constituents support its local control message. And that's what happened.

Wright says a meeting Sunday between some councilors and the Mayor before the vote should have been about finding a compromise. "Our thought was, lets try to work through that," Wright said. "The Mayor really didn't want to hear any of that."

Wright says the meeting ended badly. The mayor agrees but says that is just because he told the councilors that he and the public expect the City Council to choose the next owner of Burlington Telecom from the two finalists the City Council selected. He calls this a long, strenuous and expensive process.

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger won't say if he plans to exercise his veto power next week to prevent the Burlington Telecom bid from going to local bidder, KBTL. "I never used the veto once in the last 5.5 years and I'd prefer it to work that way, so I'm hopeful I wont have to consider using that here either," he said.

Reporter Kristin Kelly: That doesn't really answer the question.

Mayor Miro Weinberger: Well, I think it's premature to fully answer the question, Kristin. There's a lot of time between now and Monday and I'll have to look at what the council action is.

The new vote is set for Monday.