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Letter: Council hasn't functioned in the best interests of citizens regarding O-Net

We believe it is at best irresponsible for the town to place a successful and profitable company into the control of an outside manager

Due to our disagreement with the actions of the mayor, Michael Muzychka, and councillors of the Town of Olds (Debbie Bennett, Mary Anne Overwater, Heather Ryan, Mary Jane Harper, Wanda Blatz) in putting into receivership our sole shareholder, the Olds Institute for Community & Regional Development, we have submitted our collective resignations from the board of O-Net.

More than a decade ago a decision was made by the partners of OI (Olds Institute) to provide high-speed broadband internet capability to all residents, businesses and institutions in Olds.

This was accomplished due to thousands of hours of volunteer time under the capable leadership of O-Net managers and employees. The support of the Olds town council at every step along the way was integral to this accomplishment.

Over the years the business, O-Net, has slowly grown into a multi-million dollar entity now heralded as one of the model municipal broadband internet success stories in Canada.

For many years the board and administration of O-Net have been able to grow the business by increasing customers in Olds, and by providing service to other municipalities and businesses in Alberta.

O-Net is a major employer in the town, and despite the challenges common to start-up businesses, has a solid reputation for service and product quality.

In November of 2017 the current Olds town council approved the re-structuring of the OI/O-Net debt to provide flexibility for business development. It is the actions of mayor Muzychka and these councillors since that time that has potentially caused damage to the operations and the reputation of one of the great success stories of Olds, O-Net.

We believe it is at best irresponsible for the town to place a successful and profitable company into the control of an outside manager.

On May 14, 2020, the demand that OI repay the outstanding loan balance within a few days, under threat of receivership, and with no prior discussion, was a shocking moment in O-Net history.

The repeated refusal of mayor Muzychka and town council to discuss with O-Net the rationale and reasons for this action has caused considerable challenges for O-Net:

1. The resulting uncertainty of ownership has potentially devalued the O-Net brand.

2. Widespread rumours in our community have resulted in the loss of valued customers and potential new customers.

3. Some municipalities that O-Net has been in negotiations with have expressed concerns over the future ownership of the company.

4. The efforts of O-Net to forge business partnerships for added capitalization have been marginalized.

5. The cost of the town’s lawyers and other advisors, plus the devaluation of the O-Net brand, and the loss of outside business opportunities may ultimately cost our community and local investors losses in the millions.

For the past 14 months as directors of O-Net, we were in the untenable position of inability to make decisions in the best interests of the company and the community we volunteered to serve.

Despite our many requests, mayor Muzychka and these councillors have for the last year refused to meet with our board, and have insisted that all communication be through town legal counsel, an Edmonton law firm.

We are so disappointed in the actions of mayor Muzychka and these councillors, who in our opinions have not functioned in the best interests of the citizens of Olds.

In light of the receivership of Olds Institute we have no further role as the board of O-Net and have effectively resigned as of July 5, 2021.

We will continue to believe in the vision of our O-Net journey, and we have immense pride and satisfaction in accomplishments to this point.

Through the many years of dedicated service by the management and staff of O-Net, this company has become a mature and sustainable enterprise, a leader in customer service in Canada.

Thank you to Brett Muzychka and all past and present Old Institute board members for your ongoing support of O-Net.

Finally, we express our gratitude to the customers of O-Net for your faith and continuing support.

Joe Gustafson, Jim Barbour, Warren Smith, Peter Premachuk, Tom Christensen, Harvey Walsh, Bill Dunbar, Craig Dobson, Ben Stone

Former board of directors, Olds Fibre Limited (O-Net)