The war of words that swirls unceasingly around Mooresville’s and Davidson’s ownership of the local cable network, MI-Connection Communications System, took another twist Friday when one of the system’s longtime critics admitted he actually works for competitor Time Warner Cable.
Andy Stevens of Troutman has spoken out against the towns’ 2007 cable purchase, posted comments on this and other local websites and started an anti-MI-Connection blog. He has described himself as a concerned citizen and an opponent of government ownership of government involvement in telecommunications. When reporters and local officials have questioned him about his employment, he has repeatedly denied working for the company.
But in an email to DavidsonNews.net on Friday, Mr. Stevens acknowledged he works for Time Warner Cable as an installer. His admission followed an encounter with MI-Connection’s general manager, who spotted Mr. Stevens at a local shopping center wearing a Time Warner Cable uniform and driving a Time Warner Cable truck.
The discovery raised concerns among MI-Connection employees and officials from the towns of Davidson and Mooresville, which own the local cable and internet system.
MI-Connection board chair John Venzon posted the information in a comment on this website Friday. He said Mr. Stevens “has been active in using our publicly available information to turn our potential customers against us and to stir up fear, uncertainty and doubt about MI-Connection while hiding his motives. He does not live in our town or service area, so he does not ‘have a dog in the fight’ unless you consider who signs his paycheck. Could I attend competitors’ regular board meetings to see what they are doing?” Mr. Venzon asked in the comment.
Mr. Venzon also noted that Mr. Stevens has used the state’s open records law, or Freedom of Information Act, to obtain copies of “every communication between the towns, the board and management. So Time Warner does in fact sit in our meetings.”
Under North Carolina Law, those records are open, and the towns have known since they bought the system in 2007 that they had to operate under public scrutiny in a way their private competitors did not. Mr. Venzon acknowledged that, but said he’s unhappy about having a Time Warner employee following the company so closely. “In corporate America, this would constitute espionage. In our situation, it is free and legal. I find it deplorable,” he wrote.
We confronted Mr. Stevens with the information Friday, and he said in an email: “Yes, it is correct that I work for TWC (Time Warner Cable). I have taken great pains to separate my employment from my criticisms. My position as a TWC employee is that of a BB I/S Tech (Installation and Service). I am not a member of TWC management nor do I report to them on matters [related to] MI-Connection, nor do I receive any special treatment as a result of my non-work related activities.”
Mr. Stevens has posted dozens of comments about MI-Connection-related issues on DavidsonNews.net and also posts anonymously on other sites, including the Mooresville Weekly, where he uses the handle “Spitfire.”
Time Warner Cable spokesman Dan Ballister confirmed that Mr. Stevens works for the company, but said he’s “doing that all on his own.”
“We can’t prevent our employees from voicing their personal opinions,” Mr. Ballister said.
Does it matter that Mr. Stevens is a Time Warner Cable employee? As editor of DavidsonNews.net, it concerns me that Mr. Stevens hasn’t acknowledged his employment when we’ve asked, or when he has commented regularly on this site about MI-Connection. In my comments Friday, I have apologized to readers who (like me) may have been misled.
Mr. Stevens is free to state his opinions about MI-Connection, and certainly can argue that his employment doesn’t affect his views. But ethically, he needs to disclose it.
Nonetheless, his employment status doesn’t change the MI-Connection story. Davidson resident Joe Hutchens was among those who discussed the issue Friday on this site.
“This is exactly the type of situation the town opened itself up for when it decided to challenge private enterprise on its own turf. I would expect there will be more of this type thing going on. It is a tough business our town has taken on, and the competitors in this industry are relentless,” Mr. Hutchens wrote.