Skip to content

Letter: Misleading info on O-NET needs clarification

I encourage citizens to express their concerns and stand up for transparency, integrity, and accountability
opinion

I find it necessary to correct some misinformation that has been distributed in our community related to Olds Institute (OI) and the Olds Connected Community Network (OCCN) and its wholly-owned Olds Fibre Ltd. operating as O-NET.

On May 22, 2020, the Olds town council issued a press release that they were demanding repayment of the $14 million loan to OI that was used to build OCCN and O-NET.  This same council approved this loan November 2017. At the request of the OI Board and OCCN Tech Committee and the OFL board, I agreed to chair an ad hoc committee of volunteers mandated to explore restructuring solutions that would satisfy the town’s desire to reduce or eliminate its debt commitment to the OCCN project, while preserving this community gem, O-NET, recognized across Canada for benefits delivered to our community and college, especially during the COVID pandemic.

The town’s subsequent press releases spoke of collaboration and cooperation but although our volunteer committee requested town participation while working with interested parties from across North America to develop workable business relationships, partnerships, joint ventures, etc., the town declined to participate. Finally in late October, they appointed a licensed insolvency trustee to our committee as their “agent” and sole contact to town council.

Through these months, we were denied public discussion and debate with our councillors, who we understood were acting on legal advice, and we avoided conflict that could be harmful to OI, O-NET and the community. I find it interesting that these same elected officials who are willing to put OI into receivership and jeopardize all the work done by OI over the past 20 years, including O-NET, MVP, and all the other OI initiatives, had at times taken credit for O-NET and the additional OI successes when at provincial and national meetings or when interviewed by the media.

For example, in November 2020, the mayor was interviewed on the CBC’s Calgary Eyeopener about O-NET. Not once in this six-minute interview does the mayor mention “volunteers” as contributors to this success story. His comments included,

1. “The Town of Olds built the dark fibre, we call it, so all the actual fibre optics that go in the ground, and then we also set up O-NET to light it up." The fact is OI built the dark fibre with a portion of the money loaned by the town, some coming from the provincial government, some from private Investors. It was the Tech Committee that researched, designed, developed the models, issued the RFPs, issued and managed the contracts for fibre deployment, and the payment for all services rendered. Project management was by Tech Committee volunteers with oilfield and telecom infrastructure experience. The OFL board of governors (volunteers) employed the necessary technical experts to set up O-NET to light up the fibre.

2. “We first started talking about it back in about 2009…” The fact is a large community consultation in 2003 with a cross section of social, educational, government and economic sectors directed OI to seek fibre optics for our community. By 2009, six years of volunteer time meeting multiple provincial cabinet ministers and MLAs and successfully lobbying to secure $3.5 million in provincial grants had occurred.  All done by the volunteers, supported by councils and administrations dedicated to seeing Olds having fibre to the premises.

3. “I want to applaud the business people that got together and came up with this idea just to push us over the edge.” The volunteers that met every other Thursday morning at 7 a.m. at the town office, thanks to CAO Dale Withage and the council of the day, were educators, the Olds College president, real estate salesmen, homemakers (domestic engineers), retired telecom workers, oilfield project managers, lawyers, accountants, town employees before going to work, high tech enthusiasts, former town councillors and retired men and women working collectively for the benefit of Olds. Yes, there were business people, but everyone was there for better community development, not just business development.

Many of these same volunteers helped create Mountain View Power, Olds Fair Trade, Olds Community Lifestyles, Olds Physician Retention, Olds Sustainability Plan, and other initiatives, yet this council has decided these contributions are of no value to the community and will just shut the Institute down. If there were issues with OI governance and operations, but not with OCCN, this demand of the loan was a backhanded way of dealing with these issues and a toxic way of interacting with OI volunteers in all initiatives, including OCCN and O-NET. 

Two weeks ago, the town posted on its website and in the paper a full-page press release, that shows in August 2017, the $14 million loan to OICRD was refinanced to a 25-year amortization. That suggests this was done by mayor Judy Dahl and her council before the election in October 2017. This is totally misleading. That restructuring occurred on Nov. 14, 2017 by the newly-elected council, with the bylaws all signed by mayor Michael Muzychka and CAO Michael Merritt on motions made and passed by council on that date. After no default of any payments by OI, this same council reversed their decision and demanded payment in full on May 22, 2020. To shift the responsibility for acceptance of this restructuring to a previous council is misleading information.

Dozens of you have expressed your displeasure and frustration to me and other members of our volunteer committees one-on-one and at social engagements. I encourage citizens to express their concerns and stand up for transparency, integrity, and accountability. Consider posting on social media or writing letters to the editor, wherever you stand on this discussion. Effective democracy requires that voices be heard.

If anyone wants links to the pages and articles I’ve referred to, please contact me at  stirlingmc@oldsnet.ca

Stirling McLeod,

Olds