The issues surrounding Orem’s buildout, or lack thereof, of the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency, or UTOPIA, has been a topic of many robust discussions for more than a decade.
Orem City Council’s work session Tuesday night was no exception.
Last month, the council had a discussion about the pros and cons of building out UTOPIA. One option would be to pay off the original bond while looking for other sources of high speed internet and continuing the buildout at its current rate. The second option would be to take out a $25 million bond to accelerate UTOPIA’s fiber optic network buildout to the whole city in a shorter time span, likely three to five years. The bond would potentially be reduced by residents signing onto the system. The final option would be for the city to remain with UTOPIA and not look for other high speed internet options.
It was a lengthy discussion with many disagreements. In the end, a majority of the council voted to hire Y2 Analytics to conduct a survey with residents on UTOPIA and the bond.
In the meantime, a number of people wrote editorials, letters and comments on social media sharing opinions on the potential bond, such as city councilman Sam Lentz.
During Tuesday’s work session, there was 30 minutes dedicated to the topic. A heated discussion ensued and it was cut to 15 minutes.
During those 15 minutes, Mayor Richard Brunst and Lentz shared some verbal fisticuffs. Lentz and other council members believe the mayor turned his back on the council and influenced the Daily Herald editorial board to write an editorial. In doing so, he potentially undermined the residents’ survey, for which the city paid for.
Brunst initially apologized, but Lentz and Councilman Tom Macdonald felt it was too late and not sincere.
“I cannot stand by listening to you lie in a public forum,” Lentz said to Brunst.
Brunst said to just leave as it is, but Lentz said he would not leave it.
“This is not a forum to have a fight,” Brunst said. “We should leave our emotions at the door.”
Brunst said that any time the city backs a bond, it’s backing the bond and interest. In the case of the proposed $25 million bond, it would add about $17 million in interest, pledging about $42 million total, he said.
City councilman Tom Macdonald, who obviously was not happy with Brunst said, “I am offended you went to a public forum. I could care less about the bond or the survey. I think you and Sam went rogue on us.”
Lentz, fed up with what he believes is unethical practices by the mayor, took his concerns to Facebook after the Daily Herald editorial was published as a venue to speak out.
Macdonald said he felt the council was not acting the way the residents of Orem would want them to, referring to the internal bickering.
Lentz believed Brunst’s actions are not only unethical, but perhaps illegal. A handful of times Lentz called Brunst a liar over how he portrayed the bond.
“I believe you need to publicly disclaim what you said,” Lentz told Brunst.
Councilman Mark Seastrand weighed in on the issue.
“The council asked Y2 Analytics to gauge citizens through a survey,” Seastrand said. “My concern is the [mayor’s] actions meant to undermine the response to the survey. I don’t know now to what extent we can trust the survey.”
Following that comment, Brunst closed down the discussion and moved on to other agenda issues.
There was no attempt to complete the discussion.
It appears another discussion will be held, but will most likely be taken to a more private setting where Brunst, Lentz and others may have a complete discussion.
If a discussion is held behind closed doors with more than three members of the council, it must be noticed to the public, according to Utah law. If not, there could be violation of closed door meeting and freedom of information laws.