Consultant hire good outlay for Groton City

David Collins' April 21 commentary, "Groton paid publicist $63,000, had it wrong from his headline to last line.

First, the City of Groton never spent one cent on a publicist, the municipally owned Groton Utilities did. At the time Groton Utilities initially engaged the services of Duby McDowell Communications, the city was facing a potential downgrade in its bond rating, a downgrade that was due, in part, to the performance of Thames Valley Communications, a Groton Utilities subsidiary.

At that time, Groton Utilities was working towards a transaction to sell TVC, and the Groton Utilities Commission requested communications support, since it knew that the sale of TVC would rightly raise many questions.

It is important to remember that Groton Utilities is a business. When businesses are faced with this kind of circumstance, they often make a considerable effort to communicate with their various constituencies about the unfolding events. Large companies usually have full-time public relations departments; small organizations like Groton Utilities often rely on the services of professional communications consultants. This is exactly what we did when we engaged Duby McDowell's firm - we sought help to articulate a large amount of complex information in a short period of time, not "spin" the story as Mr. Collins asserts. We felt a profound obligation to as clearly and quickly as possible inform our publics - from employees to customers to residents - about this evolving situation.

When a transaction was reached, many of TVC's customers were not clear if their service would continue; employees were afraid for their livelihoods, and residents wanted to know the whole story. While I continued to work closely with the Groton Utilities Commission to finalize the sale of TVC, we needed assistance in sharing with the public a vast amount of complex information.

As a former reporter, Duby McDowell advised the mayor and me, as a first step, to meet with Day Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere so the newspaper could obtain the information it needed. Ms. McDowell was present for that meeting, so it's hard to understand why Mr. Collins is so surprised and indignant.

Ms. McDowell and her staff helped us prepare information for use by our customer care representatives in communicating with TVC's customers to reassure them about the continuation of their continuing cable and Internet service.

Most importantly for our citizens, Ms McDowell and her colleagues assisted the mayor and me in preparing for the public hearing and for residents' questions. As a former reporter, she was able to anticipate the types of questions that people were likely to ask. Her assistance led us to gather the appropriate information and be better prepared to quickly respond with answers the public needed.

Yes, Duby McDowell Communications did write press releases for Groton Utilities, but they did not put words in my mouth, or in the mayor's mouth.

Finally, Mr. Collins' last assertion is that the City of Groton sank tens of millions of dollars into a money-losing business; this is nothing but a cheap shot that is unfair to the City of Groton voters. The vast majority of the funds invested were used for equipment and facilities required to bring cable and Internet service to TVC's territory. The voters authorized the bonds required for the investment in TVC because they had reason to believe that the company was a venture that would benefit GU and its customers by creating choice in the local broadband market, ultimately both lowering consumer costs and generating positive income. That it did not is due to a number of factors, primarily the weak economy, the demands of rapidly changing technology, and extremely stiff competition. These circumstances have plagued many other municipally-owned cable and telecommunications ventures. City voters should not be blamed for this result any more than any other business owner whose company failed to prosper during an economic downturn.

TVC was a subsidiary of Groton Utilities, and Groton Utilities will pay its debt. It's the right thing to do, just as selling the business was the right thing to do. City taxes have not been used, and will not be used, to pay for TVC.

Paul Yatcko is director of utilities for the City of Groton.

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