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Walker Sticks to Position on Cell Phone Tower Issue

DeKalb County Board of Education Chairman Gene Walker defended this week the school system's plans to build revenue-generating cell phone towers on several school sites in the North Druid Hills-Briarcliff area.

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.

From an article published Wednesday in Neighbor Newspapers:

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 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 , 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.

Colleen Ghilardi April 13, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Yes, the school board should halt cell phone tower construction plans, at the commissioners' request. There are zoning requirements for a reason, and the school board should not be exempt from those zoning requirements. Walker's comments are arrogant and 'disrespectful'.
Tom Doolittle April 13, 2012 at 02:57 AM
This is the kind of "policy" and profiteering that many people were concerned about when Walker ran for School Board while simultaneously Chair of the Development Authority. If that had stood, schools would be flea markets by now--with the fleas getting tax abatements.
Kierstin Ann April 13, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Whats disrespectful is the whopping 20% drop in my property value once the tower is build....and the fact that there was ZERO notice...for the BoE's wonderful project.
Cheryl Miller April 13, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Another issue that should concern voters is how Paul Womack and the School System's Facilities Director Steve Donahue disucssed the 6- month "due diligence" period that T-mobile would have to get proper permits in response to Board Member Pam Speaks' inquiry about whether or not other communities would have a chance to voice their objections if they had not yet learned about the plans. Clearly, her vote and probably others on the board were influenced by the indication that the public would still have a chance to provide input. That turned out to be false as the board is attempting to avoid the normal process so they can avoid the public as well as the commissioners. What experience or knowledge do they have in this area that should make parents or residents feel safe knowing that the school board is now superior to the commissioners over zoning and permitting issues? If these towers are not stopped, there is a very dangerous can of worms that might be opened. Can't get a permit? Structure not up to code or not suitable for a particular zoning area? Just see the school board, they'll approve anything for the right price, under the table, of course!
Cheryl Miller April 13, 2012 at 04:16 PM
FYI, the extended deadline on their due diligence periods is, by our calculations, July 11, 2012. At that point they either must file for the permits or back out of the deal because they have big money due at that point per their contract with the school system. T-mobile, of course, wrote an "out clause" for themselves, but the boad wasn't bright enough to suggest one might be a good idea for them as well. If the permits are approved, the schools are locked in for 30 years, but this board will get nearly half the total revenue up front. By the time a future board determines the deal was a bad one, they will only be let out if they agree to pay the remainder left on the lease! We can end up owing T-mobile in the end on this deal which was supposedly supposed to bring in "much needed revenue" for the schools. Why is the money so needed? Because of bad business deals like this one being carved out by a board run amuck with disregard to their main goal - educating children, not helping out a German-based failing cellular company that has stated publically that it wants out of the U.S.

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