First in a Series: “Don’t Blame Us, Fibrant Got Done in by a Suprise Recession”

Posted on July 24, 2017

Todd Paris, Staff Writer, Salisbury Attorney, and Candidate for Salisbury City Council

♦ The city newsletter began a series focused on Fibrant this past Sunday written by Josh Bergeron. The first installment centers on the the decision by Mayor Susan Kluttz, and council members Bill Burgin, Mark Lewis, Paul Woodson, and  Pete Kennedy to borrow well over $33,000,000 dollars in 2008 to build the municipal broadband epic failure called Fibrant. All of those city council persons expressed they did not regret their decision that placed Salisbury in more than $37 million dollars in debt and caused not one but two major property tax increases.

I suspect Mr. Bergeron must have been a softball player at one time for all the care he took in lobbing these former council members a “slow pitch” and allowing them to blame plant closings, the “surprise” recession, lack of community opposition, and the consultant they hired, Uptown Services, LLC who created a “study” of the Fibrant proposal that predicted profitability in four years. Here’s a “fast ball” folks.

I wonder if anyone wondered that local manufacturing plants were suddenly shutting down and depriving local governments of tax revenue and millions of dollars in payroll could be a sign of a coming recession. Who could have predicted it back then? Gosh it was predicted all over the major media in 2007.  How about Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan on NBC in February 2007?

Let’s talk about the consultant city hall used in their feasibility study. Uptown Services, LLC advertises their services as follows:

• Smart grid implementation

• Fiber to the Premises FTTP Study

• Fiber to the Premises System Design

• Implementation Support

• And Video Programming Contracts

Now if you are going to hire a consultant to help you decide if you should build a Fiber to the Premises  system, I guess you would want one that might say “no” if it’s a bad idea, right? Profits in four years, right? If this same consultant back in 2007 was in the business of designing, implementing and helping with video programming contracts is it possible they might be less likely to say, “No, better not build one?”

Let me make this simple. Let’s say I am on Salisbury City Council and I fly to a junket conference that convinces me that Salisbury needs a municipal pig farm. I convince council that pig sales will be highly lucrative, create jobs, and benefit our city. In hiring a consultant to create a feasibility study to see if we should build a pig farm, should I select a consultant who is also in the business of selling pigs, designing pig farms, and selling pig feed?

This is not the first time I have seen this kind of feasibility study. It’s almost like councils, boards, or commissions often decide to do something not in the taxpayer’s best interests and then go out and find some consultant who will tell them they how brilliant and visionary they are.  Last year, the Rowan-Salisbury School Board hired an architectural firm, well known for building schools, to help create a study that said even though school system enrollment numbers have crashed, we need to close schools and build more expensive new schools.

With proper leadership this does not always happen. I remember an occasion a few years ago when some council members thought it wise to build a downtown conference center. A proper consultant came in, interviewed companies that have conferences, found out that folks want to go to the mountains or beaches or really big cities for conferences and determined that a downtown conference center was a terrible idea. The project was shelved. Heaven only knows what financial shape Salisbury would be in had we borrowed millions to erect a facility that would lose millions each year.

In a July 2, 2017 article in that same print media current, City Council member David Post revealed that the first consultant hired by Salisbury this year was terminated after they suggested that we consider partnering with a company in which he had a financial interest. The city wisely terminated the engagement. Congratulations to David Post for spotting a potential “conflict of interest” there and acting upon it.

Pay particular attention to this definition of a potential conflict of interest. It will come up again in a later article.

In the end, those prior city council members should have expressed regrets for the horrific financial bind that their decision has caused for Salisbury. Word has it they were prepared to increase property taxes ten cents if the project failed. That council swung for the wall, missed the pitch and has struck out.

This is the first article in a series. Honestly, you can learn far more about Fibrant than you will ever read from the local print media by just going to the top of the RFP page and hitting “Fibrant” or typing it in the RFP search bar.  Or clicking here:

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