A recall election in Lebanon, Ohio, this week may break the
political logjam preventing that community from building a municipally owned
Voters will be asked to decide whether to replace City
Councilwoman Mary Ann Cole with former Councilman John McComb, who supports the
construction of a $4.7 million network capable of competing for the city's 3,000
If Cole is ousted, the makeup of the council would shift
from 4-3 against the network to 4-3 in favor, since McComb has said publicly that he will
vote to fund the project that city officials voted unanimously in August to authorize.
Since then, however, the project has fallen victim to
political infighting, culminating in opponents launching a bid to fire city manager
Richard Hayward, one of the architects behind the plan to build a city-owned network.
That plan is being undermined by People for a Brighter
Future, a citizen's group that set out to unseat Cole after she changed her position
on the issue.
"That's certainly part of it," McComb said,
noting that opponents were ignoring an informal survey that revealed that 86 percent of
Lebanon residents favored building a network that could compete with Time Warner Cable.
Cole was singled out because the other three members
opposing the project are new to the council. Ohio law states that an elected official
cannot be recalled in his or her first year.
If Cole survives the recall vote, the telecommunications
project will go before the voters in November.
Time Warner spokeswoman Jennifer Mooney said the MSO has
steered clear of the recall election, limiting itself to educating council members about
the company's investment in the community. It has also gone about upgrading the local
network and communicating with subscribers about new services that are available.
Meanwhile, the MSO remains at odds with the city's
director of telecommunications, alleging that he has refused to turn over public documents
detailing plans for the proposed network.
Jim Baldwin, who heads the Lebanon telecommunications
office, argued that the requested documents have not been created yet, in order to prevent
Time Warner from gaining a competitive advantage.
"I haven't done anything wrong," Baldwin
said. "The documents do not exist."
Baldwin said Time Warner is trying to characterize the
telecommunications project as a potential failure that could result in taxes being levied
to subsidize the network.
The proposed network would offer cable service for $20.98
per month, including franchise fees, compared with Time Warner's rate of $36.60,
which does not include franchise fees.
However, Baldwin said, the purpose behind the project is to
protect the city's customer base for municipal electrical service. With the Ohio
electrical market set to be deregulated in 2002, Lebanon must bundle new services with its
electrical offering or face losing customers to nearby communities like Cincinnati and
"The fact that somebody might pay less for ESPN is
swell, but it's not the reason why we're doing this," Baldwin said.