Russ Silbiger's Speech to the City Council in 2001
In October 2001, the City Council approved Dick Wanderscheid as “AFN Director.” Russ Silbiger, now on the City Council himself, made a speech to the Council, strongly cautioning against hiring Dick for the job. Since Russ' analysis has proved prescient, we are revisiting this piece of Ashland oratorical history.
It is ironic that the approval of this position is on the consent agenda. If any of you have seen the film Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky, you will know what I mean. Dick was picked as the best candidate of 4. I have little doubt, given 4 choices, Dick could be perceived as the best. Greg made it clear he was looking for simply a manager, someone to “operate the system.” Given the need for 15 years of non-stop growth that AFN will require to pay off the rising debt load, now predicted to reach almost 13 million dollars in a few years - and that is if we do well - we need more than just a manager. We need someone who understands the market, the market place and the technology. We need a leader. We are not getting one. I have to ask: Why is this Department Head position being treated so different then all the others? Paula, Lee, Keith, Mac and Scott not only have management skills, but specialized skills, education, and experience that qualify them for the position. Do you believe Dick could replace any of the other Department Heads? Department head positions are not merely management. I also note that Greg never bothered to ask the AFN advisory committee its advice on what we thought AFN needed for the person in charge.
As you know, Dick has been in charge of AFN for 5 months. We have a little bit of a track record. First the good news. Cable TV and cable modems hook-ups have proceeded at a reasonable pace, although far below the projected rate. However the high-speed customers have dried up to zero. We are (or were) budgeted for 60 this fiscal year - about 400,000 in revenue. As far as I can tell - staff won't answer - We have added zero.
Here are a few specific concerns with Dick's performance as interim director. A question that came up in the advisory committee was why we lost a couple of major deals. One of these was with the Rogue Valley Manor, worth about 130,000 per year. Staff first claimed we lost the deal because Charter made a better deal. Then Dick told the Tidings, Quote “It never materialized beyond some initial discussion.” That statement was completely false. We were on about the 12th revision of the contract, and the deal fell through because The City was in no position to fulfill the terms of the contract. How can the advisory committee evaluate AFN and future business opportunities if we are being misinformed and mislead? How can you?
I point out that the advisory committee was never shown an independent evaluation of AFN that was commissioned by Pete - at a cost of $9,000 in March. This report detailed some specific problems that needed attention. It would have been a good place for the committee to start. It was never mentioned.
Another problem still not addressed fully is inventory control. In the last year the department has seen the misappropriation of a television set, and more recently, a generator. There was also a major problem with a vendor. Somehow about 400,000 dollars worth of inventory came in the door over a period of a year was never inventoried properly or paid for. While the City did budget for an inventory control person, the fact is access to City inventory is far too easy. Two months ago, I pointed out to Dick that Hunter Communications drives in, loads up its truck and leaves without any monitoring what so ever. In fact, it is all to easy for anyone to do that. Dick responded that he knew that was a problem and needed to do something about it. Two months later, the gates are as wide open as ever.
One thing Mike asked from Utility Billing/Finance was a weekly activity report. This would include information such connects, disconnects (and reasons), levels of service etc. as It was agreed that this was very important and should be done immediately. That was about 3 months ago. It has yet to happen.
I will give Dick credit for finally listening to staff's plea to increase the sales force. He did do that. On the other hand, the staff for the underground build out was cut back, further delaying the completion of AFN. The latest estimate is we should be getting close to being finished by next June - yet another year's delay. Finishing the job should have been a top priority. We have lost revenues, credibility, and opportunities.
Dick has had 5 months to take the bull by the horns. He is still sitting in the pen. Dick could have chosen to end the misinformation that has plagued AFN since it was proposed. He chose to continue it.
You may ask why after four months you have yet to see an advisory committee report. The fact is staff is in charge of the process. Perhaps there is a good reason results have been delayed until after a department head was chosen.
Perhaps I have completely misread Dick's abilities. Perhaps he has just been waiting to see if he got the job before he started to take charge. I hope so, I really do, because from where I sit I see a department head that brings to the table virtually no business experience, no marketing experience, and no real cable, IT, or telecomm experience. Given the current financial status of AFN, that gives me little hope. The citizens of Ashland will pay dearly for the mistakes of the past, and the mistake you make here tonight.