Questions still surround awarding of Peak Speed contract
Monday, we gave Frisco Town Councilmember Bernie Zurbriggen this whole page and part of another to respond to a story and editorial questioning the ethics and merits of awarding a $456,000 contract to Peak Speed Communication to create high-speed Internet access across Summit County.
Zurbriggen has a dual role in the matter because of his position as chair of the Summit County Telecommunications Consortium (SCTC), a group formed by the county’s four towns and county government to deal collectively with Internet access and cable TV issues.
Zurbriggen questioned why this newspaper seems to oppose the concept of high-speed Internet access, as evidenced by our coverage of the contract.
To that, we say our strong support for the concept motivates us to question how almost half a million dollars was awarded and if a company completely intertwined with a bankrupt company can deliver.
We still are not satisfied Zurbriggen’s role in the contract award was ethical. Zurbriggen told us the town attorney said he was clean, as a “facilitator” of the eventual contract award and a contract negotiator, which we think is even worse.
Zurbriggen is a former director of the bankrupt Netbeam, and lost almost $30,000 he had invested. He is mentioned in bankruptcy papers as a person who will not recover salary still owned him. Netbeam, as we know, still exists in bankruptcy but unable to do business. Peak Speed, with the same chief executive and common ownership, was formed to act as a viable company to use Netbeam’s resources.
The argument might be that Peak Speed is a different animal, at least on paper, so Zurbriggen is absolved of conflict. We think not.
The Frisco Code of Ethics is available for all to read on the town’s Web site – http://www.townoffrisco.com.
In part, this is what it says:
“This chapter is intended to foster public trust by defining the parameters of honest government and by prohibiting the use of public office for private gain. While it is critical that board members and employees follow both the letter and spirit of this chapter, it is equally important that they strive to avoid situations that may create public perceptions of violations of this chapter. Perceptions of such violations can have the same negative impact on public trust as actual violations.”
On page 3 of the code, it cites a financial conflict of interest arising out of an elected official have “a creditor interest in an insolvent business.” Peak Speed and Netbeam are linked in too many ways, bankruptcy papers show, to rid Zurbriggen of conflict. It could even be said that Peak Speed should be upset at Zurbriggen’s presence because of the perception he might have it in for the new company. Zurbriggen certainly didn’t act that way.
Zurbriggen is very protective of his integrity and calls his intentions honest and public-spirited. We would not argue that, and after watching him work on the Frisco Town Council, it can be said he is pure in his public service.
But we contend he set himself up for this kind of scrutiny through the filter offered by the Frisco Code of Ethics.
Zurbriggen also notes the SCTC was under the gun to use the $456,000 Colorado Beanpole Project grant award, or lose it. That is why when only Qwest and Peak Speed submitted proposals, the process was not reopened to seek more bidders.
Use it or lose it is not a good reason to risk public money. If the money were purely any of the towns’ or county’s, we would bet the house a similar decision would not have occurred.
Zurbriggen maintains that he and county staff conducted due diligence on the deal. But Zurbriggen told us he did not know the Better Business Bureau “expelled” Netbeam “due to unanswered complaints concerning nondelivery of service.”
Again, the nuance that Peak Speed and Netbeam are two separate companies on paper is hardly comforting.
These are only some of the outstanding questions surrounding this deal. We will be following up.
Opinions published in this space are formulated by members of the Summit Daily News editorial board: Michael Bennett, Jim Pokrandt, Abigail Eagye, Rachel Toth, Reid Williams, Aidan Leonard, Shauna Farnell and Martha Lunsky.
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