BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon City Council last week voted down a proposal from a local telecommunications company that had pledged to manage its intranet wireless network for free.
A city-appointed technology committee that studied the proposal recommended council reject it, citing state bidding laws and their current contract for those services. At its most recent meeting Thursday, Oct. 3, council adopted the committee’s recommendation.
Earlier this year, Micrologic, a Buckhannon-based internet, data, telephone and security business, approached the city to ask for permission to take over management of its intranet – i.e. the city’s private wireless network – in exchange for the right to place its webcams on city-owned buildings/infrastructure downtown.
Micrologic president Emiel “Butch” Butcher also asked that Micrologic be permitted to state publicly that it was providing free internet/intranet as a community service to the city. Public internet in Jawbone Park would have been part of the package deal, Butcher said.
In response, mayor David McCauley appointed a city technology advisory committee made up of Rich Clemens, city recorder Randy Sanders, city finance and administrative director Amberle Jenkins, Duwane Squires, public works director Jerry Arnold, city engineer Jay Hollen, Phil Loftis and Seth Hoffman.
At the Oct. 3 meeting, Jenkins read the committee’s reply to Micrologic.
In the memo, the technology committee notes the city must abide by West Virginia laws governing competitive bidding when it’s in need of products or services, and to accept Micrologic’s July 11, 2019 offer would violate the terms and conditions of the city’s contract with its current intranet network provider.
“Acceptance of the unsolicited (though commendable in its stated intent) proposal from Micrologic would violate the terms of the existing contract (which was properly put out to bid) with another local business to provide IT services to the city (including operation and management of the existing city intranet infrastructure),” Jenkins read.
Raven Rock Networks, Inc. currently manages the city’s intranet network.
In addition, in its July proposal, Micrologic had asked permission to place several webcams on city infrastructure in downtown Buckhannon. However, the technology committee noted that to give the green light to that request would upend the precedent established when MPL Corporation had previously made a similar request that the city rejected.
The memo says the city does not want to “provide … [an] unfair competitive advantage to any vendor by providing access to city-owned assets that it is not prepared to offer to all such vendors.”
“The city’s tower infrastructure is such an asset; once we permit one vendor access for collocating equipment, we would be obliged to offer it to any vendor who asks, and the utility of the asset for the city would degrade rapidly,” Jenkins read.
The committee also recommended council take no action regarding potential frequency interference unless additional information is received and verified.
“If Micrologic or any other entity operating such public frequency equipment in or near the city can demonstrate how the city’s deployment of its data network interferes with its legitimate uses, the city will cooperate with reasonable requests to switch frequencies,” Jenkins read from the statement. “Until verifiable evidence is produced showing how city data communications are negatively impacting other frequency users’ access to these public resources, the city can take no further action.”
The response notes, however, that the city appreciates Micrologic’s intent of helping to reduce networking costs for the city and enabling the city to provide additional services to municipal residents.
The technology committee also recommended that it meet on an ongoing basis to identify and remediate any security threats to the city’s private network.
Jenkins said the discussion had been fruitful.
“We really got a lot of good information out of this on how to protect the city’s data assets and [initiatives] that we want to implement through employee training and policies that aren’t very strong right now,” she said.
Sanders, another member of the committee, emphasized the importance of ongoing technology trainings for employees.
“I think the technology committee has some work to do, and I think we’re off to a really good start,” he said.
McCauley asked for a motion to adopt the committee’s statement.
“As I understand it, this letter is sort of a philosophical position that we should be taking as an entity, as the City of Buckhannon,” the mayor said. “The committee couldn’t be more solidly comprised than it is in my opinion, and a consensus has been reached by the committee that this is what we should do, and I would entertain a motion that the council adopt this position and that we hear from our committee in the future.”
Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to accept the committee’s recommendation, which was seconded by councilwoman Pam Bucklew prior to passing unanimously.
When contacted for comment this week, Butcher said it was “unfortunate” city council adopted technology committee’s recommendation.
“Our only comment would be that it’s unfortunate the City of Buckhannon feels this way,” he said Wednesday.
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