Mayoral candidates agree iProvo must be saved

Election » Five say the city is tethered to the troubled fiber-optics network.
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One thing most of the candidates running for mayor agree on: iProvo is too important to fail, even if it means bailing out the company that bought it.

"The thing we have to understand is, we're invested in [Veracity Networks'] success," said mayoral candidate Don Allphin. The others -- state Rep. Stephen D. Clark, Ammon S. Cunningham, John Curtis and Neil Mitchell -- also said ensuring the city is not again saddled with the network is more important than arguing about whether the city should have even built the network or took the risk of selling it while holding its debt.

A sixth candidate, Andrew Thompson, did not respond to repeated requests for comment by press time.

The six look to replace Mayor Lewis K. Billings, who chose not to seek a fourth term in office. But it is one Billings' legacies -- iProvo -- that's a key issue in the election.

The city sold the troubled fiber-optic network to Broadweave Networks in 2008 in a deal in which Broadweave would take over the payments on the city's $39.6 million bond. Since November, Broadweave has had the city draw on its $6 million surety deposit to make its bond payments in a bid to build up cash to pay for growth.

In August, Veracity Communications merged with Broadweave, becoming Veracity Networks.

The company's leaders, Drew Peterson and David Moon, have asked the city to restructure the payment schedule to allow the company to cut back on its payments for 18 months while it strengthens its coffers. It later would pay extra money over a seven-year period and reimburse the city with interest.

Provo would draw on its Energy Department's reserves to make up the shortfall in bond payments -- $1.4 million.

Allphin, chairman of the Lakeview North neighborhood and a real estate agent/professional bass fisherman, said the city would have to accept the proposal, since the alternative is too costly: Taking back the network and paying off the bond itself.

When the city ran iProvo, it had to subsidize the network with about $2 million annually from Energy Department funds. Part of the problem was the city was restricted by law from providing an actual telecommunications service and had to rely on individual service providers to market the system.

Clark said he was concerned about last year's iProvo sale since Broadweave did not have what he believed was enough financial backing to buy it. But since the deal was done, the city has no choice but to move ahead and make sure Veracity succeeds -- as long as it learns from the mistakes.

"If I were sitting at the table," Clark said, "I would want to be sure we have some security in this arrangement."

Cunningham, a Brigham Young University student and paralegal, said the Veracity issue is a question of when and how Provo wants to pay for it. He said the Veracity merger is the better option.

"From the beginning," Cunningham added, "I have said the best way to address the issue is for some company to buy out iProvo or Broadweave."

Curtis, chief operating officer of Action Target, said iProvo was a mistake when it was created, and the city made another error by holding the bond when Broadweave acquired the network.

"It's a no-win situation," Curtis said. "We don't want to take iProvo back, but we don't want to loan them more money." The best option, Curtis said, is for Veracity to successfully run the network.

Mitchell, a salesman with Sarah Lee, said iProvo was a "debacle" when it was under city control, but the merger of Broadweave and Veracity is a good move for the network's customers.

"If [restructuring Veracity's payments] will help long-term growth and get them out of the mess, it is a good idea," Mitchell said. He also wants to see Veracity set up a channel covering school sports to make the service more attractive to Provo customers.

Of the candidates running, Clark, Cunningham, Curtis and Mitchell have run for office before. Clark is a four-term member of the Utah House, while Cunningham made an unsuccessful bid for the Utah Board of Education.

Curtis made unsuccessful bids for the Utah Senate and to replace Rep. Jeff Alexander, while Mitchell once ran for the Provo School Board and applied to replace Councilman George O. Stewart.

Allphin, who considers his lack of political experience a plus, said he also would focus on economic development, find a solution for parking in residential neighborhoods near Brigham Young University and resolve the dispute over excavating in Rock Canyon.

Clark said he would try to foster a better relationship between the mayor's office and the City Council. He also would work to develop a student housing, transportation and retail corridor in the city, as well as beautify Provo's multiple entrances.

Cunningham wants to see the city turn the south State Street corridor into a mixed-development area, preserve open space and foster walkable communities. He also wants the city to create a 311 phone system for non-emergency calls.

Curtis sees economic development and job creation as important issues. Curtis also would work for a solution to the Rock Canyon controversy that preserves the canyon while respecting the property rights of Richard Davis, who wants to excavate rock from the canyon.

Mitchell would like to see the city encourage more upscale houses to keep families who are outgrowing starter homes from leaving Provo. He also would work to make the city a more attractive place for businesses.

Primary looms

A Sept. 15 primary will narrow the field of Provo mayoral hopefuls to two.