By John Larson
By a unanimous vote, Tacoma City Council on March 26 approved a resolution with a local telecommunications company to expand its current public-private partnership with the Click! Network. After a yearlong process, the council and the board of Tacoma Public Utilities (TPU), which owns Click, determined Rainier Connect to have the best offer.
Rainier Connect, along with Advanced Stream, have been providing Internet service using Click. Rainier Connect plans to provide cable television as well as fund upgrades to the system.
The TPU Board passed a similar resolution last week. Board member Christine Cooley said Rainier Connect will conduct job interviews with current Click employees and that the workers can unionize.
Advanced Stream CEO Mitchell Shook spoke in opposition to the deal. He said the proposal would destroy Click and runs counter to three of 12 policy goals set by the board and council – public ownership, open access and competition. “It is the absolute definition of a gift of public funds.”
Tacoma resident Tom McCarthy claimed Rainier Connect is hostile to unions. He urged the council to postpone their vote, or put it up to a public vote. McCarthy said the city charter calls for such a vote. If the council approves the deal, he told them to expect lawsuits from residents. He noted that some of the council members spoke against privatization of Click when running for office.
Several Rainier Connect employees spoke in favor of the resolution. President and CEO Brian Haynes said the company has been family-owned for five generations. “Our magic is in our people. You have seen a little sampling of that tonight,” he remarked. “I promise you, we will not let you down.”
Tacoma resident Chris Karnes, a Click customer, spoke against the deal. He said that the Rainier Connect workers testifying was “awkward and uncomfortable.” He also questioned financial information about Click provided when Bill Gaines was director of TPU. “Bill Gaines was removed from his position because of those numbers.”
TPU Director Jackie Flowers, who took the position last year, discussed Click’s operating losses. She also went over legal action taken by some TPU customers upset that power ratepayers had been subsidizing Click. Last year a court ruled in their favor. The city is appealing that decision. She stressed Click would remain a public asset under the new deal. “The city is not selling the network.”
Councilmember Ryan Mello noted that the deal would prohibit Rainier Connect from turning over its position to any company with more than a 25 percent market share. “That was probably my chief concern.”
Mayor Victoria Woodards thanked the many people who showed up to testify. “I appreciate you being here tonight and I appreciate your passion.”
She mentioned the renovations made several years ago to Cheney Stadium, which has been a publicly owned baseball stadium since it opened in 1960. The Tacoma Rainiers have a partnership with the city, with a lease that runs through 2041. “We still own it. It is still our asset.”