Slagle: Recent news inaccurately depicts city council's action by David Lias Alderman Frank Slagle terms the Vermillion Plain Talk's June 23 articles critical of the city council and telecommunications in the community "editorials."
He added that the two news stories don't tell the complete story of the cable TV negotiation process undertaken last year.
Slagle critically responded to the Plain Talk articles near the end of Monday's city council meeting.
"I think it's unfortunate when I see aspersions cast on members of the city council as if they are doing something that is contrary to the interest of the community," he said, "when in fact I see a lot of people on this council working as hard as they can doing the best job that they can basically on their own time."
While defending the council's actions, he also revealed tidbits of information never mentioned at public meetings during and after last year's cable television negotiations.
Slagle noted that over a year ago, he and Mayor William Radigan met with Bill Heaston, DTG/McLeodUSA's corporate attorney, in an attempt to reach a compromise.
"I asked Mr. Heaston, 'If we were to give you exactly what you want now, you write it, we sign it, we don't ask any questions, we just simply sign where you point, could you have the system installed by last fall?' He said 'No,unfortunately, we're overextended.' That's what's sad," Slagle said.
He added that the Plain Talk has portrayed the city council as being uncompromising on the telecommunication issue.
"I beg to differ with that conclusion," Slagle said. "We compromised and then we compromised and then we gave and then we comprised."
He then revealed a second fact never discussed publicly. One reason that DTG decided not to accept the Vermillion's franchise offer was because the council demanded that the telecommunication company pay franchise fees on cable Internet services.
DTG was also seeking a franchise with a 15-year term in Vermillion.
Slagle said the city offered DTG a compromise on this issue.
"I said to Mr. Heaston, 'We will waive the franchise fee on the Internet connectivity for five years, and at the end of five years, we can review that. And we can see where we sit. Is cable television still there? Has it been replaced by Internet connectivity? Where are we at? And at that time, if there are questions with the law, they could be resolved as well.'
"I thought that was an offer to compromise, and I thought that it was fair given the rapid rate in which technology was changing," he added. "Mr. Heaston said, 'That's an interesting proposal; we'll get back to you.' And of course, he never did."
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Slagle indicated that a 15 year cable television franchise was viewed, at first, as unacceptable because of the rate of speed that the technology is changing.
"Nobody felt comfortable with that. But DTG wanted it and we compromised, and we gave it to them," he said.
But a settlement never could be reached, apparently, when talks turned to DTG's Internet franchise fee.
"It seems to me, when you take a look at a 15 year contract, are we going to make a decision that's going to serve the city in the short run, but in the long run we'll shoot ourselves in the foot potentially?" Slagle asked.
Even though DTG claims franchise fees on Internet services are illegal, Slagle maintains cities have a right to impose them.
"If we had just simply rolled over and given DTG what they asked, we would have set the stage for the city to be disadvantaged after approximately five or six years," Slagle said. "We would have continued to have been disadvantaged for the balance of the 15 year contract. "When you stop and think about what those franchise fees are covering � it's our property," he added. "It's our easements that we would be giving the right to DTG to have. If the telecommunications industry changes so that your traditional one-way television would dissipate, within a few years, we would find that they would be using their easements for free."
Ironically, Zylstra Communications, now known as Mediacom, didn't have to grapple with the cable franchise issue.
"Did we compromise on that? Yes. We made the same proposal to Zylstra (that we made to DTG). We said we'd like to have the cable franchise fee on the Internet connectivity. DTG steadfastly maintained that it was illegal, that we did not have the authority to do that," Slagle said.
The attorneys for Zylstra are equally as capable, and they did not dispute that it was illegal, he said.
"They just simply said 'Well, as a matter of business, we would rather not have it.' So we compromised, and Zylstra signed on. So we are not collecting any new franchise fees under the new ordinance with Zylstra."
Slagle noted that negotiations with DTG took on added difficulty last summer because the franchise ordinance for Zylstra, the city's only cable provider, was due to expire Oct. 1 1999.
"Yankton didn't have that problem, because their (cable TV) ordinance was due to expire in five or six years and they could renew that, or review it or change it in the fairly short term," he said. "They just took DTG and added DTG to the existing ordinance for the remaining five or six years. We were not given that option."
Slagle noted that Congress is criticized because special interests often dictate the outcome of pieces of legislation.
"And so the question I think is, what is the role of the city council versus a special interest in drafting a city ordinance? It turns out that I watched an enormous amount of hard work done by that (city council) committee," he said. "Nobody received any campaign contributions. Nobody received any thanks for hard work done. I saw a committee spend hour upon hour upon hour doing the best job that they could with an area of telecommunications that is changing as I speak."
Slagle, who noted in a recent council meeting that the poor quality of Vermillion's cable system prompted him to replace it with a satellite television receiver, said that Mediacom has indicated that upgrades to the system will be coming soon.
"Are they doing it as fast as I would like them to do? No. Are they doing it? They tell us that they are," Slagle said. "In any event, I would like to see the members of the council that worked so hard get a little bit of credit for their hard work."