City council hears public comment on Burlington Telecom on Oct. 16.
Five Burlington City Councilors this week will visit the Toronto headquarters of Ting, one of the finalists in the bid to buy Burlington Telecom.
The trip will cost approximately $6,500 and will be paid for by Burlington Telecom, according to Katie Vane, Mayor Miro Weinberger's communications and projects coordinator. The councilors will fly out on Thursday evening and tour Ting offices and meet with management before returning to Burlington close to midnight on Friday.
On Monday, the city council will choose between Ting or the co-op Keep BT Local as the winning bidder for Burlington Telecom.
Some councilors not taking the trip believe that the visit is an effort by Ting to tilt the balance in their favor. Other councilors say the trip will serve as a valuable piece of research in making a decision.
Ting, a publicly traded company, has put forward a bid of $27.5 million for Burlington Telecom, while KBTL has offered $12 million.
The trip will provide the chance "to get a clear sense of what the company’s like, what the culture is like ... get a sense of their operations," said Adam Roof (I-Ward 8).
In spite of initial misgivings, Roof decided to go on the trip. "I didn't want to be prioritizing potentially negative political optics over what I see as an important due diligence activity," he said.
Besides Roof, four Democrats — Richard Deane (East District), Joan Shannon (South District), Karen Paul (Ward 6) and Chip Mason (Ward 5) — will make the trip to Toronto. Brian Lowe, Weinberger's chief of staff, will accompany the councilors.
"We're now deciding between [Ting] and the local folks we know," said Shannon. "I know that folks have concern about selling to an outside company."
The trip could help answer those questions, she said.
The entire city council was invited on the trip, according to Roof. The five going on the visit also voted on October 16 to keep Ting as a finalist.
"The accusations will fly that this is a wine-and-dine" trip coordinated by Ting, acknowledged Roof. "That’s not the situation."
He said he would make public his itinerary and scheduled activities, as well as his list of questions for Ting and the company's answers.
The trip expenses will be covered by Burlington Telecom revenues — not taxpayer dollars, Roof noted. But if the public has concerns, he added, he'd pay for the trip out of councilor discretionary funds or, if need be, out of his own pocket.
Max Tracy (P-Ward 2) billed the trip as unnecessary. "Other councilors are meeting Ting reps in Burlington," Tracy wrote in a message to Seven Days. "Why do councilors need to go to them if they are already coming to us?
"I think that this crucial period leading up to the vote would be better spent meeting with Burlington residents to share information and gather feedback," he added.
Former councilor and current state Rep. Selene Colburn (P-Burlington) took to Facebook on Tuesday to raise questions about whether the trip was appropriate "given the strong administrative support" for Ting. In early October, Weinberger urged councilors not to support KBTL because he said its low bid would open the city to legal challenges.
Dave Hartnett (D-North District), who voted in favor of KBTL on October 16, is the only Democrat not traveling to Toronto. "I've done my research, I know my options, and I'm happy with where I'm at," he said.
Hartnett noted that he had no concerns about the ethics of the trip, though others may see it as a "pay-to-play trip," he said.
"I don't see it as that. I have respect for all my colleagues," Hartnett said. "All five are going with the intent to learn more about a potential owner of Burlington Telecom."