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Fibrant director takes early retirement

By Emily Ford
eford@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Fibrant will continue to grow while the city searches for a new broadband director, elected leaders said.
Mike Crowell left his post as director of the city’s fiber optic utility last week. He told the Post he has taken early retirement and is dealing with a “major medical concern.”
“Taking retirement right now and getting those concerns behind me was the best thing for me,” said Crowell, 58, who worked for the city for more than 23 years.
Crowell said his last day at work was Wednesday, and his official retirement date is Sept. 1. He said he will not return to work before his retirement becomes effective and is using vacation days.
The city announced his departure in a press release Friday evening.
Fibrant will keep growing during the transition, Mayor Susan Kluttz said.
“I’m very confident that we will continue to move forward,” she said. “We will be fine.”
Less than one year after launch, Fibrant has more than 1,200 subscribers. That’s ahead of schedule, Crowell said.
The Post has requested billing statistics for Fibrant for the past five months, which Interim City Manager Doug Paris said the city is preparing. Paris said he will speak later this week about the search process and qualifications for the new permanent broadband director.
Kluttz said she is thankful for the many years Crowell gave to Salisbury.
“He has been a very dedicated city employee and management team leader, and I’m also very grateful for all he did to implement Fibrant,” she said. “I’m going to miss him very much.”
Kluttz and Crowell traveled to Raleigh several times as the city battled cable TV and phone companies opposed to government-owned broadband systems. Fibrant competes with private industry to sell Internet, cable and phone services.
Fibrant is moving into a new phase with a concentration on marketing, Kluttz said. The city has held back on promoting the utility because officials didn’t want long wait lists for installation, she said.
“I have full confidence in Doug (Paris) and staff to find the right person,” Kluttz said.
Paris already made a wise decision in appointing Jim Behmer, director of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, to serve as acting director for broadband services, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said. Blackwell said she immediately called Behmer to thank him for stepping in during the interim.
Behmer did not return calls from the Post about his plans for Fibrant.
Blackwell said while City Council will not choose the new broadband director, she has shared with Paris some thoughts on the position.
“This is not your average city endeavor,” Blackwell said. “This is a competitive world and as for me — and I am only one person — I feel that we need someone from the private sector who understands competition and the dog-eat-dog world.”
Crowell said he would have liked to implement several new ideas, including widgets for TV. Fibrant’s IPTV technology will allow subscribers to use Facebook, Flickr and other applications through their TVs, with the addition of a keyboard.
“I want people to realize that Fibrant wasn’t something the city got into haphazardly,” he said. “We’ve worked on it for five years.”
While there were some “technical bumps” along the way, “the staff we were able to put together is one of the best staffs around, and they’ve been able to work through those difficulties,” Crowell said.
“I still think for Salisbury, Fibrant was the right thing to do,” he said. “And I think it will be huge for the city in the long run.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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