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Editorial: Voters should watch Salisbury City Council candidates’ Fibrant ideas

It’s critical that voters pay attention to Salisbury City Council candidates’ ideas related to Fibrant.

Those ideas — if financially feasible and beneficial for the city’s residents — could be transformational for Salisbury. If candidates are unsure what to do or implement bad ideas, Salisbury will continue its slow march to pay off a mountain of debt without taking advantage of its world-class fiber network.

Voters got a glimpse at some of those ideas during Monday’s Salisbury City Council forum at Catawba College. All 13 candidates attended, and one of the many questions required candidates to state what they would do with Fibrant.

In their responses, candidates showed their knowledge, or lack thereof, about the service. Their answers should be critical information to Salisbury’s voters because of the strain Fibrant puts on the city’s finances. It has required a transfer of roughly $3 million per year from the city’s general fund.

So, how do this year’s candidates stack up? What do they plan to do with Fibrant?

Candidate P.J. Ricks had our answer.

“Most of us don’t know what to do with Fibrant because we’ve not been made privy to what’s been going on,” Ricks said.

Including incumbents, few candidates seem to know enough about the service to make informed decisions. Most candidates on Monday provided an answer that indicated they’re unsure about the true state of the service.

“I don’t want to talk anymore about Fibrant because it’s a really complex issue,” candidate Al Heggins joked in her final statement.

Joking or not, candidates shouldn’t shy away from Fibrant because it’s complex. Its effect on the city’s finances is too large to ignore.

Answering Monday’s question, Heggins said she wants to examine how the service is run. It should be run like a business, she said.

Meanwhile, Ricks said Salisbury needs to market the service better and secure schools, more businesses and the hospital as customers. In some cases, the city may need to lower its prices to provide low-income residents with the service.

Here’s a sampling of how other candidates responded to Monday’s question:

• Councilman David Post recommended bringing in a private partner, redefining what success means and giving low-income areas the service for free or low cost.

• Candidate Leda Belk said the council doesn’t have the expertise or time to focus on Fibrant and should bring in professional help.

• Candidate John Struzick said more transparency is needed.

• Mayor Karen Alexander talked about work performed by a citizen advisory board and said attorneys are working on an agreement. She said secrecy is required by law.

• Councilman Brian Miller said finding a private company to manage the service is the best option.

• Candidate Todd Paris said voters should elect him so he can get minutes of recent, closed-to-the-public meetings. Answering an earlier question, he suggested privatizing Fibrant.

• Candidate Ryan Evans said Salisbury shouldn’t sell Fibrant. Instead, the city should examine how it can make Fibrant work, Evans said.

• Candidate Kenny Hardin said he wants to call in state and federal officials to conduct a forensic audit and hold a public meeting about its findings.

• Candidate Tamara Sheffield said the city should focus on internet services instead of TV and phone services. If more people subscribe, Fibrant will be better off, Sheffield said.

• Candidate Rodney Queen said more transparency is needed and he would examine the financial state of Fibrant if elected.

• Candidate Latasha Wilks said the city should try to refinance its debt again and use savings to pay for other city operations, such as the police department.



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