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Greenfield, Mass. In Legal Fight Over Municipal Wi-Fi Network

August 31, 2017

In a July column, Industry Leaders Magazine editor Carrie Ann asked why every city can’t have a municipal broadband network like Chattanooga, Tenn.’s. Greenfield, Mass. is finding out the answer to that question the hard way. Town officials have accused the “quasi-public” electricity provider that’s in charge of the city’s public Wi-Fi network of fiscal and other types of mismanagement. 

The town council last year approved $5 million for Greenfield Community Energy and Technology (GCET) to build a municipal wireless system. (As MassLive explains, GCET is a quasi-public “municipal light plant” that, under state law, may provide electricity and natural gas.) This summer, the council voted to subpoena documents and written communications between GCET and town officials. The council also wants access to GCET financial records and, according to the Greenfield Recorder, has  “subpoenaed the mayor, treasurer-collector and town accountant to testify under oath during its next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 20.”

Greenfield Town Council President Isaac Mass also wants the state auditor to investigate GCET. The council is worried about “GCET procurement procedures; mismanagement of funds; fear by town employees of retaliation by the mayor; salary disputes involving GCET’s director; and the organization’s financial stability.”

MassLive also says that under the Greenfield charter, “[T]he council may investigate the conduct and performance of any town agency.” Council Member Karen Renaud explained this encompasses the town’s interactions with GCET. She said, “[W]e have every right to do this because there are town employees involved …” Renaud also noted that the “startup money is still our money, and there are town employees involved in this.”

For its part, GCET is considering a lawsuit against the “the town, the mayor, auditor and treasurer for unauthorized deductions from GCET’s bank account.”

As this blog has reported, other municipal broadband networks have suffered similar scandals and management questions.

That’s why not every city can – or should – have a taxpayer-financed network.

P.S. In her column, editor Carrie Ann failed to mention the cost of Chattanooga’s municipal network (about half a billion dollars) or the fact that the city received more than $100 million from federal taxpayers to finance it’s system. As researchers at New York Law School and the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies have noted, that’s also why few cities can have what Chattanooga does.