Thursday, June 27, 2013

CityWest offers up a rumour rebuttal at City Council session

Senior members of the CityWest team made the trek down Third Avenue on Monday evening, providing another update on the city owned communications company.  But for those looking for a cheque in their hands, Monday would be a disappointing night.

CityWest's CEO Don Holkestad, fronted the three man group and did all of the talking as part of the twelve minute review of recent events with CityWest. It provided for a bit of history, a bit of forward thinking and a desire to combat the ever popular world of what Mr. Holkestad called Prince Rumour, as the CEO looked to counter some of the currently popular discussion points around the community when it comes to CityWest.

Included in the CEO's twelve minute presentation was a section completely devoted to addressing a number of rumours about the company in the community. (38:30 --40:30 on the video archive).

On that theme, Mr. Holkestad used his visual presentation to its fullest, with Rumour  and Fact screens popping up as part of the review, that as he then explained how in the CityWest view, those community concerns, or rumours as CityWest might say, were misguided.

The presentation appears to be much the same that CityWest provided to the Chamber of Commerce last week, when Mr. Holkestad updated the city's business community.

Monday night was also the second time this year that the City's communications company appeared at City Council addressing what it called misinformation, picking up where they left off when they last held a session on April 24th.

Towards that theme of review, part of the presentation was a Rumours v Fact slide show that Mr. Holkestad provided for Council, the key points for CityWest were:
Rumour: 20 Million write down, CityWest lost value

Fact: 20 Million dollar write down was just an adjustment for accounting and banking purposes only. CityWest has grown in value due to investments in our cable portfolio. 

Rumour: The City of Prince Rupert subsidizes CityWest

Fact: The City of Prince Rupert does not and has not subsidized CityWest, according to Mr. Holkestad it never has. No City taxes flow to CityWest they are completely self funded. $60 million in dividend distribution to the City since inception. Since 2005 CityWest has contributed the following to the community: $25 million in  wages and benefits, $6.5 million in taxes, dividends and debt repayment to the City. $164,000 in local donations. Plus millions in local purchasing.

Rumour: City West is getting out of the wireless business  

Fact: CityWest has met with all of the major providers and detailed business plans were developed. In the end there was not enough value to move ahead. CityWest continues to look at other options and has a consultant working on this issue.

Rumour: Citizens of Prince Rupert pay for network upgrades outside of Prince Rupert.

Fact: Citizens of Prince Rupert do not pay for those upgrades. CityWest finances these upgrades internally or through bank debt. E.g. the purchase of Monarch Cable was financed through bank debt.

Rumour: Areas outside of Rupert are getting newer technology than Prince Rupert.

Fact: All new builds will be Fibre to the home as it is the newest technology. Fibre is another technology that CityWest uses to connect our customers. We can offer our customers all services on our current technology and continue to drive fibre deeper into the network as the need arises.

It was apparently a rather enthralled group of Council members taking in the update, so impressed by the audio visual review that during the course of the presentation, all of the CityWest talking points went unchallenged.

Nothing it seems struck council as worthy of review, expansion or clarification.  Council members did not inquire as to how the CityWest points were compiled, nor did anyone ask what resources CityWest had used for their answers and the discussion points they had provided.

Much like the last time CityWest appeared at Council in April, the session came to an end with yet another very short question period. With only one of the six members of Council in attendance asking a question, and even that, an inquiry from Councillor Thorkelson on dividends seemed rather half hearted.

As for an answer to her question, the CityWest CEO offered up a bit of deflection, advising that while the company strives to provide a return, it has any number of challenges from day to day, calling the work that they have to do a balancing act.

In the end, there was no indication as to when, or even if,  a dividend would soon be provided to the City.

And with that one gentle question, without follow up,  that was that.

No other Council member apparently could think of anything to talk about.

This despite their apparent anger of not too long ago, when CityWest declared that there would be no pre budget dividend this year to cushion the financial challenges that the city faces.

Following that April announcement, many of this council expressed their shock and surprise at the surprise development.

Then again, if you never ask any questions, it's not hard to understand why you would be shocked and/or surprised.

Even though they were provided with a heads up by staff last week that the CityWest execs were returning to council chambers, they apparently had nothing prepared for Monday, or following the presentation found nothing of interest, to put forward to the three executives at the table.

It's not as if our Council members are shy, given the time and opportunity they do like to talk. Though in many instances they tend to get sidetracked with lengthy reviews of things far removed from the Civic overview.

It's instructive to make note that while the Council couldn't seemingly devote more than one and one half minutes of inquiry to the company that they are owners of, later on in the Monday council session, on a topic of the fishery, the Mayor and Councillor Thorkelson regaled the chamber with a seven minute review of fishery issues and their thoughts on the season ahead.

Which while no doubt helpful for those that may have an interest in the fishery or enjoy fish tales around a campfire, sort of highlights the disconnect that this council seems to find itself engaged in of late, especially on issues of importance to their own bottom line.

Surely Council may have noticed that CityWest is constantly a topic of discussion not only in Council Chambers, but in the community as a whole. In fact, if the CEO of a company has to address rumours twice in one week, it's safe to say that the company is the subject of much interest.

Yet when they had the opportunity to seek out further information from the CEO, CFO and Marketing Director, all but one member took a pass. Even Councillor Thorkelson, normally on many issues the most engaged member of this council, couldn't find much else to discuss at the end of it all.

From the City's Council archives, you can review the CityWest talking points from the 36 minute to forty six minute  thirty second mark of the video archive,

The follow up question, such as it was, takes up less than the remaining one and half minutes and that includes the Mayor's thanks to CityWest for their update.

Considering Council's rather lukewarm interest in their presentation, it's probably no wonder that the information flow to the public seems rather limited from the City owned communication company.

Monday provided for all appearances the visual of a group just sitting through yet another lecture, with Council members barely engaged, let alone offering up a follow up on any number of potential items of concern. And judging by that lack of participation by Council members, little in the way of interest in oversight of one of the City's largest investments.

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