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Passionate plea for dialogue made to council

Town of Olds mayor says all will be revealed later
MVT O-NET hearing
A look at the crowd who attended the July 26 hearing on creating a muncipally-owned corporation to control Olds Institute and O-NET. Doug Collie/MVP Staff

OLDS — A local resident made an impassioned plea for town officials and concerned residents to get together to solve issues surrounding Olds Institute (OI) and Olds Fibre Ltd. (OFL).

OFL has overseen O-NET, the community-owned firm that provides high-speed internet as well as phone and TV service.

Brian Thompson made that request during a public hearing on a proposal to place OI into receivership and turn it into a municipally controlled corporation (MCC).

Town officials have said a driving force behind the desire to create that MCC are concerns about debt tying the town’s hands.

Years ago, the town arranged to obtain loans totalling $14 million to help finance the installation of fibre optic lines to homes and businesses throughout Olds in order to connect customers to O-NET. 

A $4 million line of credit was provided too for a total of $18 million.

Town documents say a report by BDO Canada has concluded OI does not have the cash to make debt payments coming due as early as this fall.

Thompson was just one of several speakers who called for more dialogue, but his was the most impassioned.

“I just want to say this has been a really moving time for me, going out, talking to people again (about) this,” Thompson said, as his voice cracked with emotion. "Everybody in the community is really, really upset. Personally, extremely mad, too. But no, that’s not really the answer. The answer, what I keep saying to everybody is I would like to see a group put together now.

“If you can put a petition together in three days, you have the next week, two weeks, have a meeting between council, the investors, but there’s got to be a way to solve the problem here. Right now we’ve got fire against fire, and we’ll only end up with ashes. 

“This town wasn’t built on ashes. This town was people working together and making it happen," he said, adding that can be done again. But I don’t want to see us going off and getting into something there. Give us a chance, that’s all I say."

His comments sparked applause from the packed gallery.

During the hearing, Grant Spence presented a petition which had gathered 473 signatures in the three days preceding the hearing. It called on council to postpone a decision on the disposal of OI’s assets until after the Oct. 18 municipal election. Another speaker echoed that call.

Local resident Warren Smith, who resigned recently from the OFL board of directors, was among several people who said during the hearing that a call by the town to enter into a forbearance agreement OICRD and OFL took the OFL board by surprise.

A forbearance agreement is a legal form utilized when a borrower defaults under a loan agreement.

"OI has never defaulted on its payments,” an OI news release issued earlier said.

“I will say, once again, how shocking it was, as a member of the OFL board to have our first knowledge of the actions that had been taken, a letter from a lawyer in Edmonton,” Smith said.

He said the board asked many times to meet with town council to address concerns.

“The answer was, ‘have your lawyer speak to our lawyer',” he said.

Mayor Mike Muzychka said town officials had met with representatives of the boards in question at least twice.

OI/OFL board members say that was last September and October, though, well after the forbearance call was made in May 2020.

Speaking during and after the hearing, several people said trust between volunteers and council has been lost over the way the matter has been handled by town officials. 

Two speakers – Smith and Darren Wilson, who was elected to the OI board in 2020 – said they were OK with creating an MCC. However, Wilson said he did so   – “with some reservations.”

"I don’t know if the MCC is the answer to gaining access to investment capital and growth or sales. It does appear to address the town’s desire for increased involvement, input and control,” Wilson said.

He did agree that OI did have financial problems. For example, he said it had had basically consumed its cash reserves and an effort was made to obtain money elsewhere to keep it going.

Smith echoed Thompson’s point.

“We could have been ahead of where we are now through discussion and collaboration and leadership in our community, rather than legal demands, legal threats, legal submissions, along the way,” Smith said, alluding to concerns expressed before him about lost unity and trust in the community.

“I think we can get there again, but it has to be done in a different way."

At the end of the hearing, mayor Mike Muzychka told the crowd council heard and sympathized with the concern and passion of residents who are worried about the future of OI and O-NET, but he assured them council is acting in their best interest.

He said unfortunately, residents aren’t hearing the full story about OI/O-NET because, under provisions of the Alberta government’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and the Municipal Government Act – and because OFL/O-NET is a for-profit company – they must keep certain information private.

He said all will be revealed by the town later.

 



Doug Collie

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