OLDS — Town council has created a new committee – the broadband investment committee.
A bylaw to create it was passed during a special council meeting on Jan. 13. It held its first meeting later that same day.
According to town documents, the purpose of the committee is to examine and make recommendations to council on “matters related to the Town of Olds broadband investment” and "matters related to the Town of Olds forbearance agreements with Olds Fibre Ltd. and the Olds Institute for Community and Regional Development (OICRD).”
Any recommendations it makes will come to a regular council meeting for discussion and possible ratification.
A decision to create the committee was made during a special council meeting on Dec. 21, 2020 on the advice of legal counsel.
The committee consists of the mayor and those members of the Town of Olds council who were appointed to the deputy mayor schedule as per the October 26, 2020 organizational meeting of council. Since that meeting, Coun. Mitch Thomson was excluded from the deputy mayor rotation as a sanction for breaching council's code of conduct.
During a Jan. 11 council meeting, Thomson objected to the fact that he was not included on the committee.
Muzychka told him that’s because council has determined that in the past, he has “played “loose and fast ” with confidential information regarding broadband matters.
The bylaw establishing the committee will come up for review before the end of September.
In addition to committee members, those attending the committee’s first meeting included chief administrative officer Michael Merritt, community services director Doug Wagstaff, finance director Sheena Linderman, and legislative clerk Marcie McKinnon.
Also in attendance were legal counsel and David Lewis of BDO Canada, a firm specializing in accounting, tax, insolvency and restructuring advisory services.
Coun. Wanda Blatz asked if all the committee's meetings will be “of a public nature,” and that minutes of those meetings will be available for the public to view.
“Absolutely. They’ll be on our website," Muzychka said.
"I think that clarification should be made for those who are in the general public,” Blatz said.
However, the bylaw allowing for the creation of the committee says meetings can be held behind closed doors if necessary.
That’s what happened during that first meeting.
Council went in camera (closed to the public) under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) section 16 (disclosure harmful to business interests of a third party), section 25 (disclosure harmful to economic or other interests of a public body) and FOIP section 27 (privileged information).
“We have a presentation to the committee today but of course because of the sensitive nature of the issue, we should be going into camera,” Muzychka said.
In an email, Merritt was asked why it’s necessary to set up the committee when the town already has Olds Fibre Ltd. which in turn owns O-NET, a locally-owned firm that provides high-speed internet as well as phone and TV service.
In reply, Merritt said “the vast majority” of the town’s “investment” in Olds Fibre/ONET consists of loans and loan guarantees and “therefore the town needs to ensure that it receives a solid return on our investment.”
He said over the past decade, the town has invested more than $18.6 million in broadband services.
Merritt was asked if the town is planning to divest itself of investment in Olds Fibre/O-NET and perhaps invest in some other form of broadband service.
“The town is working with Olds Fibre/O-NET to determine the next steps. BDO (Canada) is representing the town’s interest in this investment,” he wrote.
The next broadband investment committee meeting is scheduled for Jan. 26 at 2 p.m.