MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — Independence and Monmouth City Councils approved on Monday, July 9, resolutions to give the Monmouth-Independence Network permission to proceed with plans to expand into Dallas.
Independence and Monmouth held their meetings at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively.
The Minet Board of Directors previously approved a resolution regarding expanding services to Dallas.
The resolution authorizes “Minet’s general manager and Minet’s attorney to negotiate and enter into an agreement to operate and manage (American Fiber Optics’) new network within the city of Dallas … so long as there is a financial benefit to Minet and Minet is not financially responsible for costs associated with the construction, operation, maintenance, repair or replacement of the network.”
According to the document, Minet’s general manager must confirm that the Monmouth and Independence city councils approve the agreement between Minet and AFO.
The Independence Council voted unanimously in favor of approving the resolution. Councilor Marilyn Morton recused herself because she is a Minet employee.
“I would like to declare a conflict of interest in this matter,” Morton said.
Though Minet is her employer, she does “not believe it would cause any financial benefit or avoid a financial detriment if I discussed or voted on this matter.”
The council returned after an executive session under ORS 192.660 (2)(f), to consider information or records that are exempt from disclosure by law, which lasted about 40 minutes.
Independence City Manager David Clyne told councilors the city strongly endorses the resolution.
“The staff report you see in front of you is modeled very heavily off the staff report for the city of Monmouth, because frankly, we see this exactly the same way,” Clyne said.
Chad Stokes, attorney for Minet, gave a brief presentation based on a Power Point that is posted on Minet’s website as well as on the websites of both cities.
“Minet will not be obligated to pay any costs associated with the operation, maintenance, repair or replacement of the new network from its own funds,” Stokes said, reading from the Power Point. “Neither Minet customers nor residents of Independence will be financially liable for the new network.”
Independence Mayor John McArdle said he thinks the project is a good opportunity and good business all the way around.
There were no councilor comments and no members of the public commented.
There were three people in the audience at the Monmouth City Council meeting who waited outside council chambers during the executive session.
Councilor Laurel Sharmer also waited outside during the executive session.
After the meeting, Sharmer said in an email that she “felt it was more important to be outside, listening to the members of the public who were asked to leave the chambers, than it was to be a part of the secret meeting that was taking place inside.”
After the executive session, Monmouth City Manager Scott McClure gave a brief staff report about the resolution.
“The original intent was for (Minet) to be able to cover all its operating costs,” McClure said.
Many things have changed since the system was first set up, he said.
“We’ve been looking for ways to generate more revenue for Minet,” McClure said. “We couldn’t do anything more really within our own footprint. So (we) kept searching and searching, Minet staff went out and did some really good work finding some folks to work with.”
He said what they have before them, in the potential agreement with AFO is a public, private partnership.
“The investor group is putting up all the money to build the system, to operate the system and then Minet is the operator is the key thing,” McClure said. “AFO builds the network, they take care of it. So they pay for maintenance costs, they get to share costs for managing if we have specific costs over in Dallas, like a new technician.”
Minet does not have any obligation on the front end to build anything, he said.
“The main thing is that we’re the contractor, or the manager,” McClure said.
Over time, Minet has the opportunity to share costs, he said.
“I think over time there’s a good chance that it’s actually going to level up the debt payments and it could even expand beyond that and actually start generating extra and Minet can go back to the old debt payments,” McClure said. “This is a darn good solution and Minet staff should be praised for doing this.”
Minet Manager Don Patton read through the Power Point that Stokes read through at the Independence Council meeting.
Before the council approved the resolution, Monmouth resident Kevin Chambers spoke.
“I am concerned that this was behind closed doors,” Chambers said. “I am concerned that AFO started in 2017. I am concerned at the lack of transparency.
He said questions he submitted should be available to the public.
“I know a lot of people expressed to me concern about this deal,” Chambers said.
The councilors did not comment.
The resolution to allow Minet to operate outside the Monmouth, Independence area passed with all councilors voting in favor, with the exception of Sharmer who abstained.