With Fibrant’s Director Kent Winrich Gone, What’s Next for the Debacle? Can It Even be Sold?

Posted on August 26, 2016



RFP Staff

♦ Yesterday the city announced that Fibrant Director Kent Winrich resigned. Winrich is the third Fibrant Director to resign since the municipal broadband began. The other two were Mike Jury and Michael Crowell. Winrich had an extensive background in network and broadcast engineering, but no experience running a cable television and internet business. While a nice guy, it is no surprise to us that he did not last long under the City Manager Lane Bailey’s directive of making Fibrant financially viable, a task that is impossible given the loss in excess of $3M the utility experienced last year. Back in April we recognized Fibrant’s mounting losses would result in departures:

https://rowanfreepress.com/2016/04/23/fibrants-losses-mount-is-city-hall-hearing-footsteps/

City Manager Lane Bailey to date avoided the heat by letting Winrich be the face of making Fibrant financially viable. With Winrich gone, Bailey needed fresh meat to be in the spotlight. Yesterday Evans Ballard was rudely shoved into the spotlight. Who is Evans Ballard? Nobody ever heard of him. A search turned up that he was a low-level budget analyst employed by the City of Salisbury. Speak about anonymous.

Sources shares with us that Ballard was a 14 year City of Salisbury employee serving as a budget analyst the entire time with no supervisory responsibility. Ballard has zero experience working in the technology field. Now with no experience in either technology or management he will supervise a large technology and sales staff. Not a good recipe. It is a bad practice to place someone in a position way out of their lane and over their head.

Last January Assistant City Manager John Sofley was yanked from supervising both Fibrant and the city’s Finance Department after the Salisbury City Council was briefed that over $2.5M in Fibrant costs hidden in the city’s General Fund despite Sofley and Mayor Pro Tem Blackwell previously stating on a City Council meeting video that this practice did not occur.

After that fiasco, John Sofley could not be considered for Fibrant’s interim role. Sources remind us that at the start of the Fibrant debacle it was Ballard who reported directly to John Sofley and was instrumental in preparing Fibrant’s dishonest budget. Is Ballard tainted? Will the magic math practices continue under his new Fibrant role? Ballard’s LinkedIn page confirms our sources and states he is budget liaison to the fiber optic utility. City Manager Lane Bailey and the Salisbury City Council may not be aware of his prior history.

The other choice would be City Manager Lane Bailey to take control of Fibrant and serve as the interim director. While he has no experience running a television or internet business, at least he did have some supervisory experience unlike Ballard.

With Councilman David Post taking a more active role in Fibrant and communicating its challenges directly to influential citizens in Salisbury we have our fingers crossed that realistic minds will decide to unload the utility and cut the city’s immense losses. A previous attempt to sell Fibrant to North State Communications took place under former City Manager Doug Paris’ leadership, but was blocked by former Mayor Paul Woodson. That unwise decision continues to pile up millions of dollars in losses on the City of Salisbury.

Think positive. Maybe without Winrich feeding at the city’s salary trough, Fibrant might show less of loss with an interim at the helm?

Sources:

Winrich LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kentwinrich

Ballard LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/evans-ballard-2685b810

Ballard Bio: https://www.sog.unc.edu/about/faculty-and-staff/evans-ballard

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