We feel that a recent letter to The Daily Leader does not present a true picture of the negotiations between CSpire and the Mayor and Board of Aldermen.
First, we have always supported CSpire and others that provide services to our citizens. We presently have lease agreements with them to mount antennas on the “smoke stack” for their communications system. Even as this letter is being written, CSpire is installing their high-speed internet cable throughout the business districts of Brookhaven, complying with our municipal building codes and permitting process and paying applicable fees. We are proud that CSpire is a homegrown corporation with a national reputation for quality service. However, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen have the responsibility to deliberate in the best interest of the people of Brookhaven today and in the future. We did just that in this case.
We wholeheartedly agree that visionary leadership is critical to the success of any municipality. We do have a vision for Brookhaven; our concerns are predicated on our vision for Brookhaven’s future growth and development. CSpire presented to us a franchise agreement that allowed their company to “erect, install, construct, operate, maintain, repair, replace, expand, and reconstruct its telecommunications system in any “Public Way” in the city. During our meetings with CSpire representatives, the Board voiced the following concerns:
- Special Exceptions. “Public Way” is defined in CSpire’s contract as “the surface of and the space above and below, any public street, highway, bridge, alley, sidewalk, easement, or other public right of way, including without limitation, public utility easements, dedicated utility strips, or rights of way dedicated for compatible uses held by the city in the service area.” The Mayor and Board of Alderman have a duty to regulate how utilities and telecommunications will be constructed and maintained along our “Public Way.” In the history of the city, we have never delegated our statutory duty to any vendor. Their agreement exempted them from any of our city ordinances, permitting fees of any kind, requirements, and codes. Allowing one company to bypass these building codes and fees creates a special exception for the benefit of CSpire and to the detriment of the City of Brookhaven. This significant competitive advantage would be unfair to all other franchises, utility companies, and residential or commercial builders; similar companies would be entitled to the same treatment, thereby gutting the future viability or our building code and related ordinances and creating a construction nightmare.
- Long Contract Term. CSpire’s contract would allow for up to a 45-year term during which CSpire would have the right to have unrestricted access to the “Public Way” throughout the entire city. We could not accept an agreement that could remain in effect until 2059, thereby limiting future boards’ duty to act in the best interest of future generations as set forth in the Mississippi Code. State law provides for a maximum term of 25 years for a franchise. Their contract term was nearly twice as long as the state allows.
- No Obligation to Every Citizen. The proposed franchise stated that they “were under no obligation to build facilities to cover the entire city” and they would have sole right to determine “when and where to construct its facilities” and determination of what services to provide. Presently, utilities and franchise such as cable are required to provide services to the entire city. An unrestricted grant of access to all “Public Ways” for a potential term of 45 years should obligate CSpire to deliver services to the entire city. Anything less would be unacceptable, an abdication of our duty to serve every citizen. CSpire’s terms granted them unilateral authority and discretion to decide when and where to provide high speed internet services without any input from the City of Brookhaven.
We agree that Milton Whitworth had a vision when he signed an agreement with the railroad awarding them land to lay track and build rail yards in Brookhaven, but Mr. Whitworth had another vision – that the railroad would act in their best interest over the interest of the people of Brookhaven. Whitworth protected Brookhaven’s interests. Passenger service was critical to Brookhaven, and as consideration for the land awarded to the railroad, he secured a right of reverter stating that if passenger service were ever terminated in Brookhaven, all the land would be returned to Brookhaven. Today, passenger service is still maintained at our multimodal facility constructed by the City of Brookhaven.
Vision was also an important factor concerning the Mississippi School for the Arts. City fathers, wary of shifting political support and legislative whim, requested and received another reverter stating that in the event the State of Mississippi should close or move this school, the state would be required to place another educational facility on the campus or all the lands, buildings, and improvements would be returned to the City of Brookhaven. Despite several attempts to move the school, the reverter protects the city.
Visionary leadership does not sponsor growth at any cost; in many instances it has the duty to say no if an opportunity runs contrary to the best interest of the future of our city. It requires a firm grasp on grown opportunities. It requires deliberation and discussion. We did not suddenly decline to sign the agreement as stated in the letter. At least three personal meetings, teleconferences, and discussions by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen at regular meetings focused on amending the agreement. After hearing our concerns, CSpire’s representative advised us that their franchise agreement was not subject to amendment or changes and that the city would have to accept the terms as written.
We are obligated to make sound decisions in the best interest of the entire city. We did just that.
Joe C. Cox, Mayor
Michael Jinks, City Clerk
Karen Sullivan, Alderman at Large
Randy Belcher, Alderman Ward 1
Terry L. Bates, Alderman Ward 2
Mrs. Mary H. Wilson, Alderwoman Ward 3
Shirley O. Estes, Alderman Ward 4
Fletcher Grice, Alderman Ward 5
David Phillips, Alderman Ward 6