|Councilor Chapman shared his comments in regards to a Common Carrier or Open Network; the difference between public non-profit and private networks; definition of Common Carrier and Open Network Options; and the process the Council should take in order to make a decision regarding the Ashland Fiber Network. He also provided revenue and expense figures associated with AFN.
Mayor Morrison noted the Council received a letter of interest from the JPR Foundation, which was submitted into the public record.
John Gaffey/637 Oak St/Stated that AFN has had seven years of documented failure and it has been given more than enough time to prove itself. He questioned whether this Council and future Councils could maintain daily operational control of AFN, cover its current and future operational expenses, and make it a success. Mr. Gaffey stated that the AFN Options Committee already answered this question, which is City Councils cannot operate high tech businesses. Mr. Gaffey noted the initiative petition he has been circulating that would bring before the voters charter language that prohibits the City from owning a telecommunications business and suggested the Council focus its efforts on the spin-off option.
John Bullock/565 Taylor St/Explained that AFN could be a very valuable asset to the City in attracting the desired businesses to Ashland and stressed the value of the internet asset.
Jimmie Young/1151 Tolman Creek Rd/Commented on the positive side of AFN and how he relies on AFN in his profession as a book designer.
Cathy Shaw/886 Oak St/Stated that she is also speaking for Alan Bates, Peter Buckley, and Nancy Morgan.
Ms. Shaw noted that there is only a single line that runs to many houses in Ashland, and explained that if the television portion of AFN collapses, AFN would also lose its data services subscribers in these homes. Ms. Shaw gave a presentation on AFN and their closest competitor Charter Communications.
*MS. SHAW'S WRITTEN PRESENTATION WAS SUBMITTED INTO THE PUBLIC RECORD.
Charles Carreon/1131 Barrington Cir/Noted the debt associated with Charter Communications and voiced concern if the City were to sell AFN to this company. Mr. Carreon commented on his satisfaction with the service of AFN and stated that what we have is an asset that cannot be measured in dollars.
Jim Olney/361 Wiley St/Spoke in support of AFN and noted his internet teaching business. Mr. Olney stated that AFN had attracted him and would attract other businesses to the community. He requested that the Council not sell AFN and stated that retaining AFN would be a way to attract young professionals to Ashland.
Ronald Kramer/120 Wimer St/Executive Director of Jefferson Public Radio and the JPR Foundation/Noted the letter submitted to the City expressing interest in entering into negotiations with the City to require responsibility for the operation of AFN. He stated that JPR believes that it is important for ownership and control of AFN to remain locally vested and stated that they have the capacity to help the City resolve this challenge. Mr. Kramer stated that JPR would continue the relationships with the local ISPs, assume full responsibility for the system, and would help service the debt annually. He stated that if the City wishes to make a change, JPR would preserve the core values for which AFN was founded.
Alan Oppenheimer/110 S. Laurel St/Thanked the AFN Options Committee for their work and commented on the Common Carrier option. He voiced his support for retaining the internet service, but supports spinning off the cable television portion of AFN. Mr. Oppenheimer stated that television is too expensive and too risky for the City to provide as a fundamental service. He also commented on the benefits of an Ashland internet utility and noted the benefits AFN has provided to the community.
Priscilla Oppenheimer/110 S. Laurel St/Spoke on behalf of all AFN ISPs, with the exception of Unicom, who could not be reached. She requested that if the City decides to purse a sale of AFN, that they do so solely with parties who commit to preserve the existing access arrangements with the ISP partners.
*MS. OPPENHEIMER'S WRITTEN TESTIMONY WAS SUBMITTED INTO THE PUBLIC RECORD.
Jim Teece/864 Neil Creek Rd/President and CEO of Project A/Stated that they are at a crossroads and the actions of the Council will determine the fate of the community as a whole for decades to come. Mr. Teece voiced his support for the Options Committee's findings, but stated it was missing the element of client apprehension. He encouraged the Council to act on the recommendations as long as the following are maintained: 1) the unique open network for ISPs needs to stay intact, 2) the new owner needs to have local management and local oversight, and 3) the City needs to maintain ability and rights to the expansion and future of the network. Mr. Teece encouraged the Council to make a decision tonight so this can be moved forward.
Aldena Adame/1300 Eston Ct, Medford/Noted that she works as a cable installer for the City and commented on the number of installs she has performed for AFN. Ms. Adame commented on the support and dedication of the AFN Staff and commented on the importance of adding new services to the cable television line-up that would make AFN more competitive in the Ashland marketplace. She noted the local customer service AFN provides and stated that this is an important competitive advantage for AFN that should not be overlooked.
Richard Ryan/801 Enterprise Dr, Central Point/Owner of Hunter Communications/Stated that his business built AFN seven years ago and commented on how Hunter Communications has grown due to this service. Mr. Ryan voiced his concern if the relationships between the City and businesses change and stated that AFN helps businesses to grow. He stated that the Council needs to determine whether they want to offer a public service, a public utility, or run this as a business, and suggested that they consider serving the community rather than trying to make a profit, as it was originally intended.
Michael Donovan/110 Westwood St/Chair of the AFN Options Committee/Stated that he is speaking on behalf of himself and commented on the recommendations brought forward by the committee. Mr. Donovan stated that AFN is a tremendous resource that has brought many benefits to Ashland, and stated that the central issue is the $15.5 million debt associated with AFN. He stated that this issue needs to be dealt with as a community and the City cannot continue to obligate future councils with this debt. Mr. Donovan commented on the industry trend of bundling services and noted that the committee was informed that the cable television and internet services could not be separated. He shared his opinion that AFN could survive as an entity outside the city structure and encouraged the Council to not delay making a decision.
John Dowd/245 E. Nevada St/Noted the benefits he has experienced because of AFN. Mr. Dowd commented on the ISP customers and stated that these subscribers are not the City's to sell, and questioned if the ISPs and their employees are being considered. He noted the excellent customer service offered by the City employees and the ISP businesses and asked the Council to exercise a little more patience and consider the new information that has been presented tonight.
Ann Marie Huston/550 Oak Knoll Dr/Explained that she is not opposed to AFN, but rather is opposed to the City's ownership and commented on their inability to run this service.
Ron Roth/6950 Old 99 Hwy S/Provided a copy of his comments submitted to the Budget Committee two years ago. Mr. Roth suggested that those who are supportive of AFN should step up and work with the Council and administration to determine what should be done. He also stated that even if AFN were saved, the City would still be stuck with a substantial debt and suggested a moratorium on capital spending until the debt is paid-off.
*MR. ROTH'S LETTER WAS SUBMITTED INTO THE PUBLIC RECORD.
Paul Mace/345 Clinton St/Co-Chair of the AFN Options Committee/Stated that he is speaking on behalf of himself and commented on the findings of the Options Committee. Mr. Mace stated that the way cities operate and the requirements of a high tech business are at constant odds with one another. He stated that a new director or restructuring of reporting would not cure the difficulties associated with AFN and strongly urged the Council to pursue the recommendations of the Options Committee.
Christopher Briscoe/287 Fourth St/Spoke regarding the benefits of AFN and commented on the PowerSchool program which he accesses through AFN. Mr. Briscoe voiced his support for AFN and asked the Council what kind of legacy they wanted to be remembered for.
Councilor Hartzell stated that she was mildly interested in the spinning off of cable television, but questioned the difficulty of accomplishing this. She voiced her concern with taking steps in the direction of selling AFN and stated that the Council needs to perform due diligence to determine the worth and not just the market value of AFN.
Councilor Jackson voiced her support for the steps recommended by the Options Committee and stated that these actions would produce valuable information that would assist the Council with their decision. She noted that she is not interested in selling the hardware, but voiced support for instructing Staff to pursue the path suggested by the Options Committee.
Councilor Hardesty agreed that obtaining a market evaluation would be helpful in making their decision.
Councilor Silbiger stated that looking at the sale option would not push them down the path to a sale of AFN, and would give them an idea of where they stand and provide beneficial information. He voiced his support for pursuing the sale and spin-off options and to direct staff to explore these further.
Councilor Amarotico noted the need to hire an IT Director as soon as possible.
Councilor Chapman stated that he is not confident that the City would receive an acceptable sale offer, but believes they should pursue a sale in order to determine the market value of AFN. He suggested that they approach this in two ways, selling only cable television and selling the entire system. He also voiced his support for pursuing the spin-off option as well as determining the worth of AFN. He stated that all of this information would be helpful towards making a decision.
Mayor Morrison noted the importance of establishing the market value of AFN, but also noted the need to determine the value of AFN to the community. He voiced his support for pursuing the spin-off option and stated that they need to further explore the issue of single wired homes. He suggested that Council direct Staff to explore the spin-off option, establish the monetary and community value of AFN, further explore the possibility of separating cable television, and move forward with the hiring of a director.
Councilor Hartzell requested a staff report on the issue of separating cable television, including: the potential for separating the two services, the inherent problems, associated costs, and legal ramifications. She also requested that Council articulate to Staff exactly what would and would not be for sale.
Several comments were made that the 'backbone' (fiber network) should not be for sale.
City Administrator Gino Grimaldi requested that Staff be allowed to go into the marketplace and work with other entities to gather information for Council, rather than preparing the staff report first and then testing it in the market.
Councilor Jackson/Hardesty m/s to direct Staff to pursue the Spin-off Option and to pursue the sale values per the Options Committee's recommendation and informed by Russ Silbiger's email. DISCUSSION: Councilor Jackson clarified her motion for the Council and voiced her support for placing this back in the hands of Staff to continue to investigate the options so that Council can make a better informed decision. It was questioned if the motion includes the suggestions made in Councilor Silbiger's email. Jackson clarified that the motion states that Councilor Silbiger's email would taken under advisement. Concern was voiced with the clarity of this motion and comment was made that it could have been worded better. Motion was withdrawn.
Councilor Jackson/Chapman m/s to direct Staff to follow the three pronged approach recommended by the AFN Options Committee, including pursuing a Spin-off Option, the sales values, and including the Common Carrier concept. DISCUSSION: Comment was made questioning the issue of what is and is not for sale. Jackson clarified that Staff has been given clear guidance related to not selling the backbone of AFN and stated that she did not wish to enumerate every possibility in the motion. Suggestion was made for Council to direct Staff to head in the direction of an evaluation that is not driven by AFN's competitors. Comment was made that that value of AFN needs to be explored in every capacity, and in no way does the exploration of value indicate any predisposition to an actual sale. Mr. Grimaldi stated that Staff understands Council's concerns regarding not selling the backbone, but noted the importance of determining what the entire system is worth. Suggestion was made for Council to direct Staff to begin identifying and documenting the other aspects and values of AFN to the community. No opposition was voiced for Staff to include this in their evaluation. Council briefly commented on the issue of negotiation and what Staff is being asked to do. Mr. Grimaldi requested that Staff be given the opportunity to explore the different options, and stated that he did not believe this characterized negotiations. Roll Call Vote: Councilor Amarotico, Hardesty, Chapman, Jackson and Silbiger, YES. Councilor Hartzell, NO. Motion passed 5-1.
Mr. Grimaldi presented the background information on the recruitment for an IT Director. Finance Director Lee Tuneberg noted the staff shortage in the IT department and stated that Staff's recommendation is reactivate and complete the interview process for the hiring of a new IT Director.
Mr. Grimaldi clarified that three finalists had previously been identified and Staff would like to complete the interviews with these candidates. If necessary, Staff could then determine if this position needs to be re-advertised. He also clarified that regardless of whether AFN stays within the organization, the IT Director would still be needed, as the information technology portion of their duties would remain. It was also clarified that this position is included in the budget.
Support was voiced for the hiring of an IT Director. Comment was made questioning the job description that was prepared. Mr. Grimaldi pointed out that this description applied at the time this process began and stated that if Staff is permitted to move forward with the candidate interviews, the focus will change.
Councilor Chapman/Amarotico m/s to direct Staff to pursue with the recruitment for an IT Director. Roll Call Vote: Councilor Amarotico, Jackson, Silbiger, Hartzell and Chapman, YES. Councilor Hardesty, NO. Motion passed 5-1.
Councilor Hartzell/Amarotico m/s to extend the meeting until 10:30 p.m. Voice Vote: Councilor Hardesty, Amarotico, Hartzell and Chapman, YES. Councilor Jackson and Silbiger, NO. Motion passed 3-2.