Groton certifies petition opposing council vote to sell cable company

Groton - The impact of a petition calling for a repeal of a City Council vote authorizing the sale of Thames Valley Communications remains an unknown.

The petition was filed Wednesday and certified by City Clerk Debbie Patrick on Thursday. She said the petition contained the necessary 20 signatures, as mandated by City Charter.

City Mayor Marian Galbraith said the petition is in the hands of the city's attorney for interpretation of the City Charter and what should be done next. The City Charter does allow for a referendum vote in certain matters, but Galbraith declined to speculate on that possibility.

"We want to make sure we are doing everything correctly," she said.

Petitioners have called for a repeal of a Nov. 19 vote by the City Council that authorized sale of the municipally owned cable, phone and Internet provider, a subsidiary of Groton Utilities, for $150,000. A final vote on the sale to CTP Investors LLC, a private investment management firm, is still scheduled for Dec. 17.

The petition was filed on the day before new charter revisions, approved by voters at referendum in November, took effect. Under the newly implemented revisions, a petition would have needed 5 percent of the registered voters from the last election, substantially more than the 35 signatures that were verified on the petition.

Residents called for a repeal of the vote in light of what resident Jay Dempsey said was revelations about TVC's $27.5 million debt and operating losses of more than $2 million a year since 2004.

Dempsey said not enough about the sale, negotiated behind closed doors, or the operation of the company was known to residents who are now second-guessing the council's decision.

"We need a cooling-off period - more time to make an informed decision," Dempsey said.

Dempsey said he would prefer to have TVC's financial records and assets made public and allow time for the possibility of a better deal for the city. Residents voted in favor of the city bonding money to establish the company, but he said frustration has arisen because of the lack of general information about the operation of TVC.

Galbraith said she is concerned delays will jeopardize the sale. Transfer of ownership is scheduled for Jan. 1.

"The longer we delay, the more money we are putting into it," Galbraith said.

She said that she is also concerned about the nearly two dozen TVC employees, who would have likely lost their jobs had the council decided to liquidate TVC instead of selling it.

"It's not in the best interests of the city, the employees or the company to prolong this," she said. "We don't want to be forced into liquidation. It is the least desirable thing that could happen."

She said the labor costs alone to tear down miles of cable are likely to offset any salvage value. In addition, Galbraith said liquidation would cost jobs and a chance for the new company to continue the service.

g.smith@theday.com

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