CITY TRIES TO WORK OUT DEAL WITH FOOTHILLS TO SET UP IN LOUISA
AUGUST 2, 2019 – written by WADE QUEEN
A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE LOUISA CITY COUNCIL WAS HELD ON THURSDAY AUGUST 1 AT CITY HALL STARTING AT 7 P.M. HOWEVER THE MEETING WAS DELAYED FOR JUST OVER HALF AN HOUR AS MAYOR HAROLD SLONE WAITED TO SEE IF ENOUGH COUNCIL MEMBERS SHOWED TO CONDUCT THE MEETING
Finally the meeting started just after 7:30, when a fourth member of the council showed up, making the legal limit necessary. Council members Thomas Parsons and Gary Robertson were absent from the meeting.
After the Pledge Of Allegiance and a brief Prayer from one of the council members, the council began the first of the two agendas set for the meeting,
The first agenda was a reading of slight modification of one of the tax rates from .238 to .240, and having to mandatory reading of another tax rate, even though it has stayed the same since 1983, as it has been at the maximum allowed on a decades old state law. After around ten minutes of explanation a motion vote was made by the mayor with the attending council members and the matter was tabled.
The real fun began with second, and MAIN agenda for the meeting, the grueling process involving the matter of trying to reach an agreement that would eventually let Foothills Communications offer cable, internet, and phone service to the Louisa area. In the past Louisa customers have been limited to LYCOM Comm.
This process, lasted over 90 minutes, with a steady back and forth between the reps from Foothills, consisting of Foothills CEO Ruth Conley; head foreman of field operations Patrick Fletcher, and Foothills legal representative Tom Patton.
Also attending were Steven Lycans and Jason Hardin of Lycom Communications.
During the extensive back and forth between the Foothills reps and Mayor Slone and the council members, and especially Louisa attorney Eldred “Bud” Adams, who was meticulous with the Foothills lawyer Patton and also the CEO Conley. Adams, who said last week in The lazer that “there is no such thing as an exclusive media franchise in a city”, going by every single point of every paragraph that caused concern with him. Adams asked several questions and pitched ideas and compromises to the Foothills lawyer regarding the more than two dozen plus pages of the first rough draft of the legal negotiation agreement between Foothills and city of Louisa for a franchise to operate within city limits.
Mayor Slone was also very thorough with his own questions, but pitching ideas, compromises to Foothills, as well as addressing his concerns about remaining fair to Lycom Communications and not hampering their operations and agreements with the city.
Steve Lycans said Lycom was less than a year in their (service) agreement with the city, with 3 1/2 to 4 years left in the contract. Lycans did, however, seem open to negotiating arrangements that could potentially have fairness and level playing fields for both Foothills and Lycom.
But on several occasions of the lengthy council meeting, there were tensions involving the questions by attorney Adams (and mayor Slone), with the Foothills trio, that led to several sore points by city officials with Foothills on at least 4 topics:
* Foothills flatly refusing to open an office in Louisa so that those customers who choose Foothills are those who want and prefer could pay in personal to pay their bills in person with direct contact, an idea suggested by mayor Slone. But Foothills CEO Ruth Conley counter offered the possibility of opening a “hub” where people could pay in person, via automated technology, including a possibly where people could interact via live video teleconferencing with Foothills customer reps.
CEO Conley, who stated she had been with Foothills for 23 years, started her career with the company as a customer care service operator, she said. Conley also brought up the idea that Foothills could partner with one of the banks in Louisa to let customers pay their bills at those locations, but mayor Slone, as well as council member Lisa Schaeffer, and city clerk Kathy Compton, expressed a much less favorable response to that potential move.
Ms. Conley summed up that most Foothills customers now were paying their bills either online or over the phone with customer service.
* City Attorney Adams got into another back & forth grilling with the Foothills attorney saying that the wording in one paragraph of the rough draft contract that appeared to let Foothills have the right to to take eminent domain action on a property owner, if someone wanted Foothills service, but a neighbor refused to let Foothills use and to have access to install across their property, they had absolute right to take the property away in court.
The Foothills legal rep denied that was their was such power, in their case, and Mr. Patton conceded he may have worded that segment wrong; that Foothills did not want that authority, and even if the city gave them that power, they would never use it, therefore there were no need to have such claim in the contract, and both sides agreed to change the wording in that particular paragraph.
* Mayor Slone initiated a lengthy discussion with the Foothills members about if they would be willing to provide a yearly customer service report consisting of the response of customers in Louisa who were using Foothills in regards.to their satisfaction with Foothills services.
Mayor Slone stated that this would give city officials a picture of how well customers were with Foothills, and if, say 75% of the city residents who were using their service were unhappy, the city would be able to confront Foothills to make major changes with how they were doing on satisfaction of customers, and that if no major decrease with negative service satisfaction down the future line, the city could decide to drop Foothills (or any other potential company, for example AT&T).
The Foothills reps were lukewarm do this proposition, but they did say they would still be possibly open to agree to something like that down the road in further negotiations.
* Foothills attorney Patton brought up a promise to mayor Slone that if the city were to annex new areas, Foothills would still be the same on the monetary costs for their services as with any customers they would have in the rest of Louisa. Mayor Slone recommended in a counter offer to Foothills that if that were their stance then they should agree with the commitment of not blocking any potential other competitors in any new annexed areas incorporated to Louisa. Foothills stated they would commit to that proposition
While there were those moments prickliness in the negotiating business affairs between the city council and Foothills, there were lighthearted moments and several chuckles during this long city council meeting.
No vote was taken in order to give those involved in the negotiations more time to work out the details and no date was set for another meeting.
Finally after asking any if anyone had any final questions, to which LYCOM’s Steve Lycans asked 3 or 4 input questions to mayor Slone and the rest of city council members; the mayor finally adjourned the meeting at around 9:05 P.M.
In a final follow up, during one question asked by Mayor Harold Slone to Foothills CEO Ruth Conley, about a time frame of Foothills to set up in Louisa if given the final go-ahead, and Ms. Conley’s response to Mr. Slone. Her answer was further clarified by Patrick Fletcher that even if an agreement were made between the city of Louisa and Foothills in the near future, like a couple of months from now (or early fall for that matter); it would take at a minimum of at least six months to set up the infrastructure needed to even set up to begin installing in homes and businesses in Louisa. That means in all likelihood, that if, and likely when Foothills is allowed to operate in Louisa, it will be pretty far into the year 2020.