Gene Walker, the DeKalb County Board of Education's chairman and District 9 representative, defended this week the school system's plans to build revenue-generating cell phone towers on several school sites across the county, including the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area.
Meanwhile, Board of Education Chair Eugene Walker expressed his dismay at the commissioners’ handling of and take on the issue.
Commissioners overstepped their bounds and are being disrespectful of the school board, he said.
“We’re not circumventing anything,” Walker added. “We’re operating on the authority we have.
“And, clearly, we have different opinions about the possible effect of cell towers … we’re responsible for the safety and well-being of our youth, not just their education, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
Walker is referring, of course, to the letter the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners wrote late last month to county CEO Burrell Ellis, demanding the county deny construction permits for the towers to T-Mobile, the company with which the school system has contracted. The commissioners said they believe T-Mobile and the school system are trying to circumvent a state law that says government property is exempt from local property zoning regulations if the land is being used for a governmental purpose.
The crux of the dispute is whether the construction of cell phone towers – which would otherwise be illegal in these largely residential areas – serve a governmental purpose or a proprietary purpose. The school system, which wants the money T-Mobile will pay them to keep the towers on school property, claims it's following the law. The commissioners say otherwise.
So far, the school system doesn't seem to be budging on the issue. I had a brief conversation with Shawn Blassingill, a senior development manager at T-Mobile, who said he was surprised by and disappointed in the commissioners' letter but said T-Mobile continues to move forward with its plans. Subsequent calls to Blassingill have not been returned, however.
As of late last month, T-Mobile had yet to submit any permit requests to the county. In the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area, plans were approved to construct towers at Lakeside High, Briarlake Elementary and Margaret Harris Comprehensive schools.
What do you think about Walker's comments? Should the school board and the school system halt its cell phone tower construction plans at the commissioners' request? Tell us in the comments section below.