Published April 29. 2013 4:00AM
Groton — Groton City's failed cable network venture has become the central issue in the mayor's race, with the challenger saying the administration withheld important information from the public while the incumbent says she bailed the city out of a bad deal.
Voters go to the polls May 6.
Republican challenger James Streeter, a town councilor and former mayor who met with the editorial board of The Day last week, said the city expanded the cable business even as it lost money, then failed to disclose those losses to the public.
Democratic incumbent Marian Galbraith, who also met with the editorial board, said she inherited a terrible situation and found a solution.
Groton borrowed $34.5 million to build the cable network, a private subsidiary of municipally owned Groton Utilities, to give residents choice and ultimately turn a profit. Then the economy went sour, Comcast fought to protect itself, and AT&T said it was moving in. The small cable company lost millions.
In December, the City Council voted to sell it, and affirmed the sale for $550,000 in January.
Galbraith, elected mayor in May 2011, was a member of the council when she found out about the company's losses after an executive session in January of that year. She said she didn't discuss the details publicly because it would have destroyed the company.
"To just say we have a failing company and no solution, you know what people would have done," she said. "They would have just walked away from the company. And we would have had nothing and we would have spent millions liquidating it."
She said it would have cost millions to take wires off poles, break contracts with suppliers, pay unemployment and sell equipment. Dismantling the company would have compounded the city's losses, she said.
But Streeter, a former city deputy mayor and city councilor, said he believes the company was sold for too little and its financial problems could have been publicly discussed without destroying its assets.
"Do I agree that Marian stopped the bleeding? Absolutely. Do I agree that it was necessary? Absolutely," he said.
But he said he would have disclosed the financial problems right after he learned about them.
"Part of the responsibilities of being the CEO is to come out and talk to your people and talk to your representatives. And the city population are the representatives," he said. "They're the owner of the company."
Streeter said that if elected, he will also seek an investigation into who knew what, and whether anything improper took place during the years the company was built. The city could then take corrective action by changing the city charter or creating ordinances, he said.
"I truly believe that there should be an independent investigation as to who, what, when, where or why and how we got into this situation," he said.
Galbraith said she finds calls for an investigation unfair.
". . . That whole thing that we were trying to keep things from people for nefarious reasons, I mean this whole bit about we need to have the attorney general come in . . .to do some investigation, like people were sitting there profiting from this, that's incredibly unfair," she said.
The city ultimately guarantees the bonds for Groton Utilities, so even though Thames Valley Communications was a private company, its losses placed city assets at risk. The cable business also could not declare bankruptcy unless the city declared bankruptcy.
"I don't think there's been a night I didn't go to sleep thinking about TVC and didn't wake up thinking about TVC," Galbraith said.
But both candidates said they want to discuss other pressing issues.
Galbraith and Streeter said they're concerned about the shrinking footprint of Pfizer. Both said they'd like to see redevelopment of Thames Street and the five corners area, where Mitchell Street, Poquonnock Road, Benham Road and Chicago Avenue meet.
Streeter said he will consider hiring a consultant to advise the city on potential viable development of Thames Street. Then he will partner with developers.
Galbraith said she will focus on business development and other issues such as caring for infrastructure and dealing with neighborhood blight.
Both also said the city and town should work together to share services, though they disagree on the details.
Galbraith said the city handles some tasks like road paving, more efficiently than the town. She said perhaps the town should consider paving the city way. She said shared services shouldn't mean the town takes everything over.
"But we have to lose this assumption that only one side does it right all the time," she said.
Streeter said the city and town duplicate services too often, like street sweeping and public-safety dispatch. He said the city police department is the only one not dispatched by the town system, for example. If the city wants its own dispatch center, it should pay for it, Streeter said.
Name: James Streeter
Biographical Info: Life long resident of Groton; Retired Forensic Examiner - State Police Forensic Lab; US Army Veteran - Vietnam Service; Former Police Officer - City of Groton; Former Chief of Investigations for General Dynamics Corporation; Author of four Groton Historical books; Owner of North East Forensics in City of Groton; Groton Utilities Distinguished Community Service Award (2005); Historic Preservation Award from National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (2009).
Family: Married to Irma (Stanley) Streeter for more than 49 years. Two grown children - Sandra and James S. Two granddaughters Megan (Streeter) Dorshimer and Michelle Streeter.
Education: Undergraduate degree in Criminal Justice; Masters Degree in Industrial Relations; Certified Para-Legal.
Civic Involvement: Founder and Co-Chairman Avery Point Lighthouse Society; Member of Groton Lions, Groton Elks and Groton Submarine Veterans Association; Board of Directors - Bill Memorial Library, Avery-Copp Museum and New London Maritime Society; Founder and President of Groton Historical Society; Chairman of City of Groton's Centennial Celebration Committee (2001-2003); Chairman of Veterans' Memorial Park Improvement Committee.
Elected/appointed offices held: Groton Town Councilor (2005 to Present); Town of Groton Mayor (2009-2011); Member of Representative Town Meeting for 12 years; Former Council and Deputy Mayor - City of Groton; Served as member and Vice Chairman for City Planning and Zoning; Member of Groton's School Facilities Initiative Task Force; Member of City of Groton's Economic Development Committee; served as member and co-chairman of City of Groton Charter Revision Committee (2002). Appointed as Historian for the Town of Groton.
Campaign Phone: 860-445-5417
Name: Marian Galbraith
Biographical Info: Former teacher and 33-year veteran of the Groton public school system, including 25 years at West Side Middle School; Treasurer of the Connecticut Teacher of the Year Council; 2002 Connecticut Teacher of the Year (one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year); Voted 2002 Woman of the Year by the Mistick River Business and Professional Women; Recipient of the Connecticut Education Association Susan B. Anthony and Prudence Crandall Awards; Recipient of the National Education Association Heroism in Education Award in 2001.
Family: Married to Ken Jones for 34 years. One son, West Cruz, age 27.
Education: Earned Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral degrees at the University of Connecticut.
Civic Involvement: President of the Groton Education Association; Served on the Board of Directors of both the Connecticut Education Association and National Education Association; Served on the Board of Directors of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards; Vice President of the Groton Education Foundation; Member of the Friends of Thames Street, Friends of the Zbierski House, Friends of Fort Griswold, Fairview-Oddfellows Development Committee, Groton Elks and Avery-Copp House Yale Steering Committee.
Elected/appointed offices held: Mayor (2011-Present); Deputy Mayor (2009 - 2011); City Councilor (2002 - 2011); Charter Revision Commission of 2001; Chairwoman of the Thames Street Review Committee, the Community Development Committee, and Ad Hoc Committee on Hiring Practices; Served on the City Council's Parks and Recreation Committee, Environment and Health Committee, Finance Committee, and Public Works Committee; Served on the Town of Groton's Groton Heights Reuse Task Force; Secretary of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments
Campaign Phone: 860-574-5762
Website: https://www.facebook.com/MayorMarianGalbraith or https://www.facebook.com/CityofGrotonDemocrats