Sunday, September 4, 2011

Minutes from the Briarlake ES community meeting on cell towers

[August 31] concerned citizens met at the invitation of School Board Member Paul Womack to discuss the issue of cell phone towers on DeKalb School properties, specifically at Briarlake ES. Attendance was in excess of 22 individuals including both PTA co-presidents, other PTA board members, parents, neighbors, teachers, employees of the CDC, Mr. Womack and later, Ms. Edler also of the School Board.

The premise of the meeting was to discuss site location on the school campus, however, it quickly turned to vocalization of concerns that the DCSS had entered into a contract without adequate notice and without support of the community.

Mr. Womack began by giving specifics of the background of the project and an idea of the appearance. The proposed cell tower will be 150’ tall topped with a 4’ lightening antennae. It will be contained within a 60x60 foot site including a 8x12 utility building. He did not mention the required 20 foot easement needed to access the site. T-mobile has stated that they will work with each location to ascertain acceptable placement of the tower. Note that the tower would exceed the height of local mature trees by 50-60 feet.
(View an example at Mercer University by clicking here.)

Steve Donahue is the county employee handling the relationship with T-mobile. He was unable to be present at the meeting.

The lease agreement contains a provision to give each school $25k upon installation and the remainder of the money goes to the school system. Mr. Womack was asked how this was determined in light of a Cobb county T-mobile lease example giving 60% to the school itself and 40% to the district. He stated that it was how the contract was set up by T-mobile.
(Click here for a pdf of the contract.)

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On the subject of notification, a copy of the original flyer was presented to Womack. This flyer does not include text indicating that cell towers would be erected at Briarlake or any school. Mr. Womack agreed that this information was not conveyed in the flyer. See attached file. This flyer was not distributed to the community at large. No zoning or public sign notices were issued.

Testimony was given that Medlock parents were “wooed” by T-mobile in advance of county notification. It was stated that this could have been the reason for those communities’ ability to take early action. They were reacting to information given by T-mobile itself rather than being subject to the transmission of information by the county.

Faced with many testimonials from families stating that they would leave the system in avoidance of the risks associated with the immediate proximity of a cell tower at the school, Mr. Womack stated that he was sorry. He stated that the contract is signed and a done deal. It is in fact waiting for permitting in the District Commissioners’ offices.

On the topic of safety studies, many new studies were cited by those in attendance. Mr. Womack was given a copy of a study in Germany showing the detrimental effect on dairy cows.
(Click here to read the study by a German pharmaceutical institute.)

Mr. Womack stated that he had not previously been given any information that there was a danger with the cell towers. He went on to say that he and the board would definitely look at (pulling out of/altering) the contract if significant data showed a risk.

A suggestion was made to use some of the lease money to protect the school in some way, perhaps a metal shield on the roof. It was agreed that the money would be insufficient to do so. It was also suggested that the county provide Health Waivers to parents of attending students in light of possible future lawsuits from radiation exposure.

When asked why the board would enter into such an arrangement with T-mobile, Womack stated that he “did it for the coverage, not the money.” Mr. Womack is an AT+T customer that does not have adequate coverage at his home.

In conclusion, Mr. Womack agreed that there was insufficient notification to those in attendance. He agreed to revisit the issue with the school board and report back to Briarlake’s PTA with his findings.

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Addendum: Here is an article about a school system that proposed the same plan, but acquiesced to the community and canceled the project.

Proposed Playground Cell Tower Nixed By Effective Public Education Campaign In North Idaho

UPDATE:  For those of you who take the current evidence of the safety of these towers at face value, I thought I'd share some old ads -- highlighting the old thinking that people believed fully at the time:

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47 comments:

Kim Gokce said...

I pray that the comment from Mr. Womack that it was "for the coverage " is inaccurate. I am one of the most forgiving critics of DCSS and I cannot for the life of me find a justification for this initiative.

How does "coverage" translate into educational improvements for DeKalb? We have fallen so far down a rabbit hole ...

Cerebration said...

Kim! You added the gadgets to "like" and "share"! Thanks!! Like us and share everyone!

Kim Gokce said...

Well, that is for posts - now I'm working on comment reactions so stay tuned :)

Cerebration said...

You're the best, Kim!

Cerebration said...

And yes, Womack said it's about the coverage... I have a feeling the lawyers told them not to say it was "for the money"...

Personally - I think it has been a huge distraction -- especially while they were supposed to be diligently searching for a superintendent.

Additionally - it forced several neighborhood associations to spend a LOT of time and money fighting the cell tower in their neighborhood. The Medlock neighbors were well organized and consulted a lawyer - and they got what they wanted. Pity the neighborhoods that are not as organized - or don't have the time or money... As always, with DCSS, the squeaky wheels are quickly greased and then the board does what they want to everyone else.

Kim Gokce said...

You're the best! :)

Not finding a way to provide the rating features to comments without abandoning completely the blogger comment component or hacking up the blogger template - not sure either is a good idea. I'll experiment and get back to you as a low priority.

As for the T-Mobile towers, yes, it is more clear evidence of how decisions and priorities are managed. In my opinion, it is also evidence of how far from the reservation our Board has wandered. At the very least, I would appreciate the illusion that this was anything other than a fund-raising effort.

What's wrong with fund-raising? Absolutely nothing - as long as it is tied to specific educational and youth development programs. What programs will be supported with the revenue from this initiative? The general funding needs of the County system is a really, really bad answer.

Kim Gokce said...

Just out of morbid curiosity, does anyone know what the obligation of all parties are when the time comes to remove the towers? Or, just in the event of good old-fashioned bankruptcy?

Anonymous said...

Will someone please explain why is there so much hysteria over cell towers? The "health" claims are bogus, so please don't waste your time with that.

Do we just need another windmill to tilt at? Looking for a way to act out?

Can someone explain what the specific problems are without resorting to junk science?

teacher said...

In my humble opinion, the board once again did little research of their own before making this decision. They relied on the company and what they said and took it as the end all be all. The problem that DCSS has so many lawsuits is because of actions like this. No one thinks beyond the forest and the trees. I bet that no one even thought about what happens at the end of the contract. This entire measure came up so quickly and appears to a done deal from the start. I frankly don't care about cell phone coverage, the safety of our children and lowering the number of lawsuits DCSS pays is my priority. I'm tired of the adults in charge not thinking and doing their research. Our board members are paid money for this job (not much, but they aren't doing it out of the kindness of their hearts like in other parts of the country), so quick, thoughtless decisions should not be tolerated by the public.

teacher said...

@ anon I have learned that when the company wanting to sell you xyz (in our case cell phone towers at our schools) says that there aren't any risks and that their scientists have found no risks, that one needs to dig deeper and look at other scientists findings.

I am not sure if there are risks or not, but for the little bit of money that the district is going to receive and the possibility of lawsuits that would probably result in much more money than the district will ever receive from the cell phone company down the line, if risks are ever found and the children's health is compromised doesn't seem like a risk worth taking.

Hearing Womack say that he didn't know the cell phones were dangerous is infuriating to me. He didn't do his due diligence and look it up. It's easy to do research with the internet, so there are no excuses.

Anonymous said...

@teacher

You're right. If enough people tell you that there are no risks one should always dig until they find one. There is always a conspiracy.

I am very concerned about the cell towers' use of dihydrogen monoxide. There are so many dangers associated with DHMO and yet the school board accepts its widespread use without question. I say we dig and find out why DHMO dangers are covered up.

dundevil said...

@Anonymous 12:09 PM

That DHMO really is dangerous stuff!! The best way to handle it is to add a good dose of bourbon or scotch. That kills the taste.

When this matter first came up, there was a heated discussion on this blog. I recall watching the BOE meeting. Three schools were pretty well-organized and asked for exemptions from having the cell towers from the original 12 "selected". The exemptions were granted.

Ms Edler made a confused motion to abandon the whole project and not have any towers built. Dr Walker further confused her, or was probably telling her in code to shut up, by saying that his constituents actually wanted the towers. No reason was given. The motion to construct towers at the nine remaining schools was then passed.

Dr. Walker's constituents will now be $25,000 richer. Maybe they will hold a big barbecue. I wonder who is going to be in charge of administering the money received from renting the cell tower sites? Maybe it will be part of a slush fund for goodies for the administration.

Womack defies rational description. This seems like a personal matter to him in that he wanted better coverage for his cell phone. Unbelievable! Why didn't he switch to Verizon? He really is a bit past its expiration date relative to his work on the BOE.

As to possible lawsuits, only time will tell. Maybe some single mother of four will be claiming that she was made sterile and prevented from having number five, because she was waiting under a tower for some of her children to come out of school. Or some parent will blame the radiation from the cell tower as the reason as to why his/her child did not make the gifted program.

Anonymous said...

The one and only responsibility of the school system is to educate children. It should not care one way or the other about cell coverage.

Cerebration said...

Couple of things: The American Cancer Society says "most scientists agree that cell phone antennas or towers are unlikely to cause cancer." Not exactly a strong statement, IMHO.

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/cellular-phone-towers

Conversely, a German study done in 1998 by the Institute of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmacy of the Veterinary School of Hanover (Germany) found that dairy cows were effected by their proximity to cell phone tower sites.

http://www.wwmatter.org/pdfs/study-effects.pdf

AND -

It is provable that cell towers lower property values of the homes within sight range. Something we can't take much more of in DeKalb.

Question: Why is it that it's against zoning regs to build a commercial cell tower, yet schools and churches are exempt?

Cerebration said...

ps -- We're good with the social network icons Kim -- no need for any more -- and THANKS!

Cerebration said...

Good points about potential lawsuits Dundevil... enjoy your Scotch and DHMO!

fedupindcss said...

Getting past the health and property value issues for a moment, I think the bigger issue here (for blog purposes) is how the Board took T-Mobile's construction of the contract at face value (according to Womack), something Cobb County obviously didn't do. The phone company is getting a huge benefit out of this, and the school system is getting relatively little. The Board cannot negotiate contracts effectively, from the lowest (this) to the highest(superintendent hires).

It also appears that based on the description the footprint of this tower will be quite large. Briarlake doesn't have that much land to begin with. Where will it come from? The playground? Parking? Future classroom space? How nice.

Finally, it is very, very likely that more than a few of the neighbors have no idea that there is a tower going up in their backyard. If they don't have kids at the school, they may not have gotten the word. Imagine their surprise when it appears.

Anon said...

Neighborhoods are slowly catching on and there may be legal action based on lack of notice... if the county had decent legal counsel, they would do things better. Once upon a time, smoking cigarettes was considered a fine thing to do and there weren't any health risks associated with it. These towers are going onto properties with 3 and 4 and 5 year olds who spend 7 and 8 hours a day there and grow from tiny bodies into teen bodies. Seems like it wouldn't be worth the risk. I also wonder about the idea of a board, elected for 4 year terms, entereding into a 30 year lease....

Kim Gokce said...

I stand by my position of a few months ago - it makes much more sense to lease to oil drilling companies than telecom companies. If we truly want to maximize the profit on public assets for no particular educational benefit, then it is oil rigs I want, not cell towers. They have a lower height and a higher profit margin.

I'm calling my Board reps this week to demand they consider offers from drillers. If we can't get ROI on investing in education, perhaps they're right to look into new business lines.

MedlockMama said...

Medlock residents "wooed" by T-Mobile prior to release of info by the county - this made me laugh! My recollection (as one such resident) is that the flyer included in this post came home from school with our kids and we residents started talking about it - remember, this was not long after the votes to close Medlock, so this was (and still is) a community sensitized to DCSS business.

Anonymous said...

Are they really putting the tower at the corner of Briarcliff and Oakgrove? Why not back off the street? Unbelievable!!!!

Anonymous said...

Did any Board members vote against this?

Anonymous said...

Edler and Jester voted against this I believe. Edler wanted to slow the process down cause she didn't think there had been enough discussion and she had serious reservations about the financial arrangements. Jester believed that schools and communities should have to opt in rather than ask to opt out.

Both were systemically ignored by the rest of the board. (Actually I can't swear how SCW voted.)

Anonymous said...

Then there is this good news about two of our county commissioners behaving badly...

http://www.atlantaunfiltered.com/2011/08/09/campaign-finance-panel-fines-dekalb-commissioners-sutton-watson/

Anon said...

And when you go to the story about the good news of our county commisssioners, you can read a story about Mark Elgart and his 6 figure salary. If only he was "scaring the pants off school systems" as the article suggests - seems DCSS has a pass in that dept. http://www.atlantaunfiltered.com/2011/04/11/mark-elgart-accreditation-boogeyman-355024/

Cerebration said...

DeKalb County Commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton failed to disclose more than $101,000 in contributions to her campaigns in 2006 and 2008. For that, she agreed Friday to pay a $2,500 fine.

Seems worth it to me...

And on the topic of Elgart. Didn't DCSS just pay SACS over $75,000 in annual "dues"? So, where would be his motivation in derailing that gravy train?

Anon said...

How do you spell corrupt? Broken?

Anonymous said...

From Atlanta Unfiltered

"Mark Elgart, when not scaring the pants off of local school boards, draws a paycheck of more than $350,000 from his Alpharetta-based non-profit, Advance Education Inc.
Elgart collected base pay of $284,400 in fiscal year 2009, plus deferred compensation of $58,125 and benefits. Tax records show four other senior staffers also earned $150,000 or more that year."

Here's their income tax return:

http://www.atlantaunfiltered.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/advance-education-inc-2009.pdf

sayno2celltowers@yahoo.com said...

Want to know what two full years of rental income at 9 schools in DeKalb County will buy? Well, let's see... it's not quite enough to cover the expense of asking for another SPLOST vote. http://www.scribd.com/doc/64012630/2011-08-23-Cost-for-SPLOST-vote-DeKalb-county-ga

If anyone has not yet signed, please do so (annoymous is okay) www.thepetitionsite.com/1/get.the.cell.out.atl

Anonymous said...

FYI, Womack stated he has AT&T. The tower is T-mobile. Does he know something about the merger that he should not be admitting here?

Anonymous said...

I doubt Womack had even heard that the Feds are not thrilled with the merger. He doesn't seem well to me.

What is disconcerting is that there were only 22 people at this meeting. Where is the outrage?

Is it outrage by proxy -- that doesn't work, or are more parents just ok with the idea of the tower (or do they actually want it there)?

It is very strange that in a community that can be engaged, the attendance was so low.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone even know if Womack even notified the district that he was holding this meeting? The fact that the district employee who is responsible for negotiations with T-Mobile could not be in attendance tells me that Womack is going renegade again. What are his responsibilities as a board member? Creating policy and hiring/firing a superintendent. That's all. Womack should never have "hosted" this meeting without someone there who could speak for the district and for what is actually happening. The fact that he voted for it because he doesn't have coverage speaks volumes.

DeKalb Mom said...

Donna Edler was also with us at the meeting at Briarlake. She followed up with an email to ask people to give her money to pay off her campaign debts because she is going to support Briarlake in its efforts to get rid of the towers. How about not making a fool of yourself by walking out of the superintendent discussions, Donna?

Anonymous said...

@ Sayno The SPLOST vote budget calls for "personal" services of $250,000 or so.

Shouldn't that be "personnel". But maybe the person who wrote the budget is going to get all of the money After all, this is DeKalb County.

Why is Decatur and Atlanta a part of the SPLOST 4 vote budget?

Anyhow.. vote NO on SPLOST 4

Ella Smith said...

These announcements happened so fast. I barely knew about them.

I suspect the board did not want the community to know. It was apparent that a few wanted the towers. How much donations to their campaign will be made when they run next year. This will be interesting.

This came up several years ago and the school superintendent stopped it in its tracks. This is about coverage for the neighborhood. However, it has nothing to do with educating our students.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely Vote No to Splost.

There are parts of Atlanta (and all of Decatur) that are in DeKalb. State law requires that the SPLOST referendums be held on the same day to keep costs down. (One election vs many.)

The votes cast in Decatur and Atlanta/DeKalb don't impact the outcome of our SPLOST only theirs.

Anonymous said...

The bulk of scientific evidence shows that cell phone tower radiation to be on the same level of threat as eating dill pickles. No wonder the new math has more emphasis on probability because clearlymost people who worrry about cnancer from cell phone towers don't understand the odds. Maybe if they and their children gave up cell phones we wouldn't have the problem.

BhutrasGolly said...

I gues this means that if I eat too many Big Macs and stand by a cell phone tower I am doubling my risk?

Anonymous said...

I think interest is so low because most people aren't worried about them even after reading the research. It is disingenuous to claim people don't realize the potential danger. I know I did my homework and found that cell phones, microwaves, wireless networking equipment and other things put off thousands of times more EMFs than these towers. Not to mention, most research still shows no risk from these towers despite the fact you can always find anomalies in any area. At least one study cited made it clear that the results it showed were at odds with the bulk of the research done on cell phone towers. When Lakeside had the meeting about this in May, lots of people knew about it and chose not to go. The few people that did show up were all in favor of them. Last time I looked at the petition circulating, it had gained 25 signatures over three days. Doesn't seem like a hot button issue to me especially since we all know these neighborhoods can mobilize quickly over something they care about.

fedupindcss said...

As I said above, for me the issue of safety isn't even at the top (heck, the BOE lets our kids stay all day in schools that are barely safe to begin with). I am upset about the sweet deal that T-Mobile/AT&T got out of the BOE, apparently without even having to try. They needed the school land, and our "caretakers" just handed it over to them for a song. THAT should be the big issue. That, and having a 150 foot tower hanging over your neighborhood. Glad I don't live right next to the school.

Cerebration said...

I recall several years ago, one of the cell companies tried to build a tower behind the shopping center at the corner of Lavista and Oak Grove. The neighbors went ballistic - and stopped it. Surprised Womack wasn't aware of that story.

sayno2celltowers@yahoo.com said...

Anoyn 6:35 PM, this meeting was not hosted by Womack. It started as a PTA board meeting where they asked Womack to come to discuss logistics of the cell tower and inquire about how they could oppose the action at the zoning level (since this was mentioned at the July board meeting just prior to the vote). As word spread about the meeting in a short time frame, more people showed up. Isn't it interesting that 22 people were able to attend a meeting that they were not even invited to attend, yet they had only 3 attend the T-mobile meeting in May that everyone was supposedly invited to attend?

Anoyn September 6, 2011 10:10 AM - how exactly is it that you claim at Lakeside "lots of people knew about the meetings." Were you informed in some way that the rest of the schools were not?? How did you find out about it? And, what exactly were you told were the benefits of the cell towers, or did you not ask about that? It is one thing to not be concerned about them causing harm, which would be your opinion as research is not conclusive, but how can you say that the fact that property values will decline would not be a concern? The loss of revenue for the school based on property tax might be worth showing up to discuss. What about the fact that there is no regulations to cover the combined RF radiation levels, only the levels of each tower. Lakeside has 139 towers in a four mile radius. Does anyone worry what long term exposure to unknown, unregulated levels of radiation might be doing to you or your children? There is no research in this area. What about children at the nearby elementary school? No research has been done on children and their exposure to round the clock radiation... are you concerned about that?

To say that most people knew and were not concerned is very odd considering how the other schools and communities have felt on the subject. Can you enlighten us as to what information you were given before these meetings that we must have somehow missed out on? Or perhaps what benefits you were promisd that they didn't promise to give anyone else?

sayno2celltowers@yahoo.com said...

Confidence is good but over confidence always sinks the ship.

Anon said...

@ saynoto..
Before you get over confident, the reason "lots of people" at Lakeside may have known "about the meetings" is because the school system sent out an announcement to all principals. Ask your principal why it wasn't shared with the parents.
From: ROBERT G. MOSELEY II Thursday, April 28, 2011 1:56:06 PM
Subject: Cell Tower Proposal Community Meetings
To: Bulletin Principal All
Cc: RAMONA TYSON ALICE A. THOMPSON Area Asst. Supt. Myra Y. Burden
STEVEN E. DONAHUE Area Coordinators AAS Adm. Asst.
Attachments: Cell Tower Community Meetings.doc 32K

Anonymous said...

People in my neighborhood discussed it on more than one occasion in May before and after the meeting - in person and on the online neighborhood group. I feel pretty confident that many of the people in the Lakeside district were aware it was happening but chose not to act (probably because cell service is non-existent for most carriers at Lakeside currently). I can't remember how I first heard of it but I want to say in a newsletter from Henderson Middle. Of course, cell towers may have unknown risks but the EMF output of so many things in our schools and homes (cell phones, cable boxes, routers and computers, for instance) put out more dangerous levels yet we all have them in our home running 24 hours a day in much closer proximity to us and our children than a cell tower will be. The property value argument is a better one if property values really decrease that much from cell towers. These towers are everywhere so I'm not sure how big the impact actually is. Since they are ubiquitous, it would be difficult to buy a home without being in sight of one if you wish to have cell service in your house. The best argument I've heard is that DCSS didn't make a lucrative enough deal when agreeing to the tower placement. I could agree with that.

Anonymous said...

I heard on a talk show the other night that farmers in the Sonoma Valley in California were encountering lower crop yields because of the disappearance of bees. Some of the farmers blame the disappearance on the electromagnetic radiation from cell towers. Probably only an urban legend, but I haven't seen very many bees around in DeKalb County lately

Anonymous said...

As a parent, resident of a Briarlake elementary surrounding neighborhood and tax abiding citizen, I'm shocked at Womack's lack of effort in notifying the community prior to approving construction of a cell tower on Briarlake elementary property. It's amazing to find that Womack resides within my subdivision and thus is well aware of the civic association to whom he could have very easily disseminated the information concerning the cell tower but so conveniently avoided doing so. In addition to possible health risks, not yet discovered, potential loss to property values is of imminent concern. I'm very frustrated, as it seems a personal agenda appears to be the defining factor behind the under the rug approval.