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Category — Paul Decelles

Interview with the Mayor

Friday was the first time I’ve been in the mayor’s office in almost exactly 20 years. Twenty years ago around this time in January I went there to tell Peter Clavelle I was running against him in his first bid for re-election. He suggested I run for the school board instead. I probably should have listened to him. All well.

I’ve finished transcribing my interview with mayor Kiss. My thanks to him for for taking the time to speak with me on the record, and my thanks to you for reading Visit often!

Click here to read 01.14.11 Interview with mayor Bob Kiss.

January 17, 2011   19 Comments

The Place To Be III

Merry Christmas.   Thank God it’s over.  I have to finish up my reporting on the Wards 4 & 7 NPA meeting Tuesday. It’s not going to be great reporting, but it’s free to read. I just want to relay a couple of things before I forget them. Off the top of my head and in no particular order-

*Somebody asked Vince, Paul and Kurt to respond to something Shay Totten reported in the 12.15.10 “Fair Game” column. Specifically:

“Leopold remembers it differently: He presented “Fair Game” with minutes from a late November 2007 city council meeting, during which he explained to councilors that BT would run out of money in March 2008.

In the spring of 2008, the finance board got a follow-up analysis of BT that included the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Their answers were all surprisingly weak. In a nutshell- Vince:’I wasn’t there’; Paul:’I don’t remember’ Kurt:’Being on the council is hard/I blame the mayor’

*People have wildly different levels of understanding of the Burlington Telecom issue. That’s because it’s complicated.

*Kurt said again that his top priority was recovery of the 17 million. I said the 17 million was lost and what we really ought to be worried about was the 33 million The City owes Citi Capital.  To try to make this point I asked the city councilors if BT was part of the City of Burlington and they hedged on even that.  Kurt tried to say it was an ‘Enterprise Fund’ or something- but I mean seriously.  Really?  We can’t even come to grips with known, obvious and basic facts like ‘The City of Burlington owns Burlington Telecom? ‘ If BT isn’t part of  The City, then why were three city councilors and the mayor there anwering questions about it.  I mean, really?

*In hedging on whether or not BT was even part of the City, Kurt also hedged on whether the 33 million will even have to be paid back. I said Citi Capital will sue us for it and win. Kurt said nobody knows how such a lawsuit would turn out.

*Bob then said the 17 million wasn’t lost, that it was invested in the building of the fiber network.

*The mayor’s assisant Joe Reinert, sitting near me in the audience leaned over and told me that the 33 million dollar loan was not backed by the full faith and credit of the City of Burlington as I was suggesting, and he advised me to Google what a “municipal lease purchase agreement” is, which I did immediately with my super-duper Blackberry smart phone. I read this which kinda backed up what he was saying, but not entirely in my opinion.

After the meeting I discussed the municipal lease-purchase concept with Reinert a little more.  I said that in theory, the city was only on the hook for returning the equipment it was leasing, but that giving back a fiber network was not the same as giving back a fire truck.  I pointed out that a smart person (Leopold) once said “you don’t just walk away from a 33 million dollar debt” and asked why the city’s damaged credit rating didn’t indicate the debt was ours.  Reinert said the damaged credit rating was not because BT couldn’t make its monthly payments to Citi Capital, but because of the insolvency caused by the 17 million missing from the cash pool.  I’m not sure I get it.  I’m not sure I buy it.  But it is interesting, and I will pursue these questions further when I interview the mayor in January.

*None of the Republican councilors advocated for the city dumping BT outright.  Actually maybe Paul did.  I’m not sure.  Kurt didn’t.  He said he wants the City to be a minority stakeholder so there would be some chance at recovering the 17 million.  I’m not sure I buy Kurt’s line of thinking on this either.  Even as a minority stakeholder, The City would still endure the risk of loss, and BT would still have to succeed for the City to see its 17 million again someday.  Going for the minority share just seems wishy-washy to me.  I’m more of the opinion that the City should either be all-in, or get the hell out entirely.

***This is totally off topic and unrelated- but I heard an ad for the New York Lottery the other day promoting lottery tickets as great holiday gifts.   I can’t imagine a worse gift idea.  The odds are you’d would be giving a losing ticket and a worthless present.  If you beat the odds and actually give away the winning lottery ticket as a gift, then how shitty would you feel knowing it could have been yours?

December 25, 2010   6 Comments

The Place To Be II

The NPA was a little disorganized, but it worked.  The open forum on Burlington Telecom broke out during the city councilors’ report, and it never stopped, so in essence it took the form of a Q & A with Vince Dober, Paul Decelles and Kurt Wright.  Bob Kiss took part from the audience, answering questions from there.  I spoke with him a bit before the meeting convened and he agreed to do another interview with me.  Sweet.   Hopefully we can set that up soon.

The place, as usual, was a virtual who’s who of hardcore local political types.  In attendance beside the folks I mentioned, Dale Tillotson, Lea Terhune, Karen Paul, Russ Ellis, Bernie O’rourke, Dave Harnett and Loyal Ploof.

I’ll come back to this…

December 21, 2010   4 Comments

Picks and Predications Election Day 2010

It’s a serious form of exhibitionism to want to tell people who your voting for, but based on this blog’s traffic stats, I’m guessing I find at least 200 voyeurs willing to accommodate me on election day.

I live in Chittenden 3-2 so I’m just going to tick off who I plan on voting for by looking at the sample ballot on the City’s website.

*Constitutional Amendment to let folks register to vote at 17 if they will be 18 by the time the general election rolls around: Yeah, I guess. Hey if that means you turn 17 in January like I did you can vote on Town Meeting in March even before turning 18? Hmmm. I don’t know anymore. Maybe I won’t vote on this.

*For Congress Pick: Peter Welch Prediction: Peter Welch
*For Governor: Pick: Peter Shumlin Prediction: Peter Shumlin
*For Lieutenant Governor: Pick: Steve Howard Prediction: Phil Scott
*For State Treasurer: Pick: Jeb Spaulding Prediction: Jeb Spaulding
*For Secretary of State: Pick: Jim Condos Prediction: Jim Condos
*For Auditor of Accounts: Pick: Doug Hoffer Prediction: Doug Hoffer
*For Attorney General: Pick: William Sorrell Prediction: William Sorrell
*For State Senate: Picks: Philip Baruth and Andy Montroll Prediction: They both win.
*For State Representaive: Pick: Angela Chagnon Prediction: Mark Larson
*For Probate Judge: Skip it.
*For Assistant Judge: Skip it.
*For State’s Attorney: Pick: TJ Donovan Prediction: TJ Donovan
*For Sherriff: Skip it.
*For High Bailiff: Skip it.
*For Justice of the Peace: Picks: Ed Adrian, Terry Bailey, Angela Chagnon, Paul Decelles, Vince Dober, Thom Fleury, Jim Flint, Carmen George, Maggie Gunderson, Selene Hoffer-Shall, Michelle Lefokowitz and Kurt Wright. Prediction: Terry Bailey wins on the strength of this blog’s preceding post.

*Ward Three Special City Council Seat: Vince Brennan has probably already won.  His absence will be felt on the school board.  Good luck on the council Vince!

November 2, 2010   3 Comments

The City Kids Are Alright

Breaking News

City Council Keeps “Nuclear Option”

to Scuttle After-School Changes on Table

I talked to John Briggs downtown today and he said Paul Decelles and Karen Paul were sponsering a resolution that would put the kibosh on the politically disastrous plan for the school department to absorb the after-school program and kick its long-time leaders to the curb.

I went to today’s informational meeting about this incredibly unpopular, practically radio-active proposal at CP Smith, and there was nobody there representing the superintendent or the ‘leadership council’ she’s a member of, which is offering the proposed changes.   The community members who were there were livid and non-plussed.  They implored me as a school board member to try to stop the plan.

I called Paul Decelles this evening and he said that he and Karen Paul had both drafted kibosh resolutions, but he deferred because hers was better and so it’s Karen’s resolution- which will call for an expanded leadership council to go back to the drawing board- that’s on the council’s agenda for Monday night.   Here is the operative clause:

“NOW, THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the recommendation put forward by the Leadership Council be put on hold until January 1 with the Leadership Council continuing to meet but with the addition of the following members: no more than three parents who have children attending Burlington Kids, one site coordinator now employed by Parks and Recreation and one now employed by the School Department, one school board member and one City Councilor who will together to review the budget, evaluate the program and assess its challenges and successes, and arrive at a process for public engagement so the communities’ voice can be heard.”

The tea leaves say Karen’s resolution would have broad support if it remains on the agenda.  The latest scuttlebutt however is that  ‘leadership council’ member Mari Steinbach who runs Burlington’s Parks and Recreation Department may be backing off and rethinking.  She, the superintendent and the other ‘leadership council’ members met tonight to come up with some adjustments to their incredibly unpopular current plan. 

Decelles said the council is keeping the kibosh resolution on Monday’s agenda as a sort of “nuclear option,” in case the current incarnation of the ‘leadership council’ doesn’t step back from the brink of its utterly toxic, third-rail of an idea on its own.  “If the leadership council recognizes their error, we may not need to go through with the resolution.” he said.

June 9, 2010   2 Comments

Election Night 2010

Blogger is ending its FTP support and I’m trying to deal with that. Obviously I’m not doing a good job. Please forgive this blog’s appearance, and thanks for continuing to visit anyway.

So the big news from my own perspective is that I appear to have won a seat on the school board thanks to my Ward Seven write-in candidacy. The unofficial tally shown to me and Tom Fleury said there were 121 write in votes and I won 66 of them. Greg Jenkins, the city council candidate came in second in the school board race with about 45 votes. So that’s good. Winning a write-in election is a rare feat, especially with a name like mine. I’ll do my best as a school commissioner.

Council results: Ed won again in ward One. The Dems squeaked past the Progs in Ward Two. Emma won unopposed in Three. Kurt beat Russ Ellis in Four. Keogh and Paul return from Five and Six respectively. In Ward Seven Paul Decelles won re-election with 911 votes. The “s” in “Decelles” is silent. It’s pronounced “Deh-sell.”

Ed said the mayor should step down on Channel 17 and then Kurt went overboard in chiding him about it.

We have voted to repeal instant runoff voting.

March 3, 2010   10 Comments

Council Delays Financing V

Breaking News: Council Scuttles Piper Jaffray Deal

I think now it’s safe to say “scuttles.” They just voted 8-6 to put out a request for proposal to try to get other funding offers from other money companies. That move essentially rendered moot the resolution that would have authorized the letter of intent for a 61 million dollar funding deal with Piper Jaffray. So moot, it was withdrawn.

(Now as I’m writing they are considering Paul Decelles’s resolution to kick the CAO off the board of finance. I’ll let Briggs report on what happens with that.)

So will the scuttling of the financing proposal scuttle BT itself? BT’s chances of survival are clearly diminished after tonight. It’s out of money and another big draw from pooled cash to keep it afloat seems unlikely.

We’ll see what happens…

December 15, 2009   37 Comments

Council Delays Financing III

So the council’s big BT meeting is going to start in about 15 minutes. We’ll see what kind of information they’re given. I’m sure they will hear all kinds of dire warnings about what will happen if they don’t take the financing. Leopold will craft projections to assure the council of BT’s eventual profitability. People can make numbers say whatever they want them to say.

The good thing about tonight is that the city council is trying to pry open the hood on this baby so as to finally have a look-see at the engine. It’s ridiculous that everything has been so friggin’ secret. I’m proud of the things Paul Decelles said in the paper today. It’s not monopoly money, and I hope he does fight like hell to avoid executive session tonight.

If it’s “our network” then enough with all the damned secrecy. It’s OUR network!


They did the hard scary stuff with Leo and numbers first and got that that of the way- now the BT folks are doing the feel good stuff. The new customer service person Lisa seemed good, however her presentation included the use of “ie” where she actually meant “eg.” Oh God, does she make Donnelly’s old salary? Jesus Christ. I want to die.

Is it me or did Leopold change his tune a bit from “you don’t just walk away from a 33 million dollar debt”a few weeks ago to “no legal recourse” tonight, saying now that if the council decided not to appropriate a lease purchase payment, then Piper Jaffray could only seize BT and no more, and the investors who purchased the certificates of public good will have simply realized the downside of their own risks- taken freely by them. Sure, heh heh- nobody else would want to enter into a lease purchase finance with the city ever again, but otherwise- Scott Free! It was unclear to me what their answer was as to how that scenario might affect the city’s bond rating.

It’s like I’m watching a game show. You know the contestant is gonna say “no deal!” They’re gonna press their luck and they’re gonna shoot the works.

There are only two options: kill BT now or keep rolling the dice, and it’s simply a political impossibility that they kill BT now. It simply is. It’s like fighting gravity. Killing BT would certainly incur painful unknowable fallout and cause many bills to come due immediately. Whereas refinancing… ahhh… the can gets kicked down the road… things settle down… the issue goes away…

Remember kids- no good deed goes unpunished. Suppose a majority votes to pull the plug now. What will they be remembered for? Killing BT. Even if it’s the right thing to do, it won’t win you any votes, because voters and tax payers would feel the pain immediately. Kicking the can down the road is politically irresistible, because A) if it fails down the road, you don’t get the blame B) If BT actually succeeds you can take credit as a visionary, and C) it isn’t your money at risk, except for part you might personally have to pay to the city for your own property tax and whatnot.

There are immutable laws of the universe that far surpass what we suppose is our own free will. This issue is done. It is as I have foreseen.

And hey- maybe BT can add the customers it needs and become a success. Who knows? It was me who had the problem with emailing BT and getting called back, by the way. I am all about treating the customer right, especially when I’m the customer.

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December 3, 2009   13 Comments

Council Delays Financing II

“Had I been there I would have voted against splitting the question, and against the postponment of the letter of intent.” -Me from the last post

A prominent local attorney wrote to me yesterday to express his belief that Monday’s resolution was more binding than I thought. Why a resolution authorizing the pursuit of funding from a lender, with whom a tentative agreement had clearly already been pursued?

Good point.

The bottom line though- can BT possibly repay one-hundred million dollars in twenty years on its own merits? Based on its current track record, a reasonable person could conclude- no. They could not become cash flow positive after spending fifty million dollars and there is no proof they ever can.

Let’s look at the facts, OK? BT has 4,500 subscribers (maybe). Comcast has twenty-five million. That’s five thousand times as many. What makes the city interested in competing with that? It feels like we’re trying to cross the ocean in a row boat with this thing. For what? We might just want to turn back while we can still see the shore. In another year or two Burlington Taxpayers might only be able to dream of owing just seventeen million dollars.

This re-fi makes the city liable to repay 6o million in principle and 40 more million in interest. Sure the city may repay the money with BT proceeds if it wishes, and if they’re sufficient to do so, but as far as Piper Jaffrey is concerned repayment is “fungible.” That means they don’t give a shit where the money comes from as long as we pay them.

No creditor ever gives a shit where the money that pays them back comes from.

And when BT revenues aren’t enough- the money will come from the taxpayers.

At this point it’s hard to imagine Chris Burns and Jonathon Leopold can slap together a convincing business plan to show how BT becomes profitable. I mean for heaven’s sake- they start their customer service reps out at seventeen dollars per hour. Seventeen dollars per hour! That is so much money! They aren’t worth it. Richard Donnelly alone took home nearly 70K in FY08. Somebody could have done whatever the hell he did for BT for half of that I’m sure.

Most of the network is already built in Burlington. Wiring the city with fiber was forward thinking, but who really cares who runs the network? And the value of fiber could easily drop with more and more wi-fi available.

The thing is BT is a totally non-essential city service. It could disappear tomorrow and Bob Kiss could still be remembered as a good mayor for creating a rainy-day fund and paving the roads. Who care about BT? Judge Judy is Judge Judy regardless of the cable carrier. So who cares?

“Um is not an answer, sir!”

Is it worth the risk of owning a 100 million dollar dinosaur that eats? I urge my city councilors Paul and Vince in particular to consider that question carefully, since they are the swing votes.

November 19, 2009   1 Comment

Council Delays Financing

Breaking News

Well that was one of the more entertaining council meetings I’ve seen in recent years. In the end Bill Keogh couldn’t quite keep up with his officiating duties and posed the motion to postpone in such a way as to be unintelligible by all present except city attorney Ken Schatz, and perhaps Jonathon Leopold. The council didn’t really understand that they had just voted to kick the can down the road to December 7, but they did.

The administration wanted the council to give its collective signature to a letter of intent with Piper Jaffrey to start working on the 61 million dollar financing deal. The resolution on the table had two parts. Part one said the BT would come into compliance with condition 60 by repaying pooled cash within sixty days. Part two was the letter of intent.

On a motion from Ed Adrian, the council voted to split parts one and two. He and Joan Shannon had attempted to split the “whereas” clauses, as well as the operative clauses in the resolution, but Ken Schatz and Sharon Bushor correctly pointed out that for Shannon to have assigned her notion of which whereas clauses fit which “resolved” clauses, would have in fact created two new resolutions.

C’mon people. Really? Split the “whereas” clauses? You got to be kidding me.

The council passed part one, but then postponed funding it with part two pending more info.

What info? Mainly like a business plan for Burlington Telecom. Apparently the one they’ve got is two years old. In other words no planning since Nulty left. Nice. Here’s an idea to save BT some money. Besides start their CSRs at $2 less per hour- just eliminate Chris Burns. Does he do anything except fill the space between Leopold and the rest of BT?

Anyway. At one point Sharon Bushor was very vexed, red-faced and at a complete loss of words, quite obviously because of Adrian. You could almost hear her wishing Kurt Wright were there to call the cops on him. That was kind of funny to see.

The meeting started sizzling around 11:30 when words started to fly. Some quotes-

“I won’t be scolded!” -Nancy Kaplan

“I won’t be boxed in by this council!” -Sharon Bushor

“I am appalled!” -Marrisa Caldwell

“You are voting to destroy Burlington Telecom for the sole purpose of embarassing this administration!” -Jonathon Leopold

“I would appreciate Mr. Leopold it if you would not speak to me in a condeceing way!”-Mary Kehoe

“I screwed up the queue.” -Bill Keogh

“How is that doing what’s right for the city?”- Marrisa Caldwell

“I really don’t like be accused of not having the city’s best interest in mind.” -Joan Shannon

“Befuddling…Infuruating…Very disappointing…” -Emma Mulvaney-Stanak

“We have the power.” -Sharon Bushor

“Just for the record [Jonathon Leopold and I] did kiss and make up.”- Mary Kehoe

“Think before you speak.” -Karen Paul

“I move to call the question.” -Paul Decelles

Had I been there I would have voted against splitting the question, and against the postponment of the letter of intent.

November 17, 2009   7 Comments