Meeting with Paul Womack at Briarlake Elementary School
Womack = Paul Womack, elected again in 2008, having served for twelve years in the 1970s, currently District 4 Rep - School Board Vice Chair / Acting Chair During July 11 board meeting in which a contract was agreed to that will put cell towers at 9 public schools in DeKalb County. Womack is the district representative for 5 schools on the original list of 12: Lakeside, Briarlake, Brockett, Jolly and Princeton.
Interesting to note that this meeting was assembled on short notice within about two days time and 22 people attended, many of whom were not actually invited and the meeting hosts were unsure how they even found out about it. The meeting that was held in May regarding T-mobile’s proposal that Mr. Womack mentions in the transcript below, was supposedly highly publicized and every attempt was made to let the community know about it. That meeting had only 3 attendees from Briarlake. (The Lakeside meeting was held at the same time one mile away.) The Brockett meeting had 5.
Womack: You can use [the money from T-Mobile] for improvements, things for the school, room parties, things like that. It’s up the community how you’re going to spend that $25,000. There has been no location so far. They have looked at a couple of sites, but I have been assured by T-Mobile that the community will be able to say yeah or nay as to the actual placement. Questions?
F1: The literature from the World Health Organization from December, 2010, mentioning the RF that comes from cell phones as inconclusive regarding damage as well as the RF from cell phone towers. Five months later they came out with a major study that’s conclusive that long-term usage of cell phones can be (damaging). There’s also a study due out in 2013 about cell phone towers and exposure to those. Shouldn’t we consider waiting until…
Womack: (Steps on speaker) The contract has already been signed. That’s a given. Uh, you get more radiation from your microwave than you do..
F1: But that’s not constant exposure.
Womack: I understand, but when you use this, that’s your choice. That will not be your choice. (chatter) Excuse me, one at a time, please. One at a time. Uh, I can’t say that that study is right or wrong, but I know that the federal government says that it cannot be taken into consideration. But there is no concrete, proven fact. I haven’t seen that study, but I will ask the administration to look at it. I will get an answer.
F2: Will you take a look at this study of dairy cows in Germany? It shows a verifiable link between the RF emissions and the cow’s behavior. They were aborting their calves, not producing enough milk, and when they were removed from that range, everything went to normal.
Womack: Ok. Now you had a comment back there.
F2: Well, my point is, if this is such a controversial issue, why are we taking the risk with our children? Aren’t we supposed to protect children?
Womack: Your name is…
F2: (Answers) I’m just concerned that we are thinking “oh we’re going to get all this money, so that makes it ok”.
Womack: No. It doesn’t. We held a seminar here. We advertised it for a month. Put it on the website. The community was told, but everybody said, “oh it was the end of school, we didn’t have time”. We had about ten people that showed up for that presentation from T-Mobile. And I only heard one question during that presentation that was anywhere in voicing a concern. And the community over at Medlock voiced major concern and we took it off of the contract. But their voice was not from the safety, they were mad because Medlock had been closed. They didn’t want any encroachment. We’ve tried to follow what communities wanted and very frankly, I’ve only had 4 or 5 questions out of this community as to whether it was safe, why did you do it. If the community does not speak up, I can only support or not support what I’m hearing.
F3: I have a comment. Many people didn’t come, because they didn’t know. Now that people know, I understand that this took place in the summer.
Womack: There was a presentation on May 3.
F3: There was a presentation but it didn’t discuss cell towers on this property.
F4: You’re right here in my neighborhood, in my backyard. I didn’t know anything about this. I’ve spoken with several of my neighbors and nobody knew anything about it. Nobody let our neighborhood know anything about any possibility of there being any cell phone towers right in our backyard. It’s the first time we’ve known about it right after your vote.
Womack: I’m sorry.
M1: Well it looks like now, it’s a done deal
Womack: It is a done deal.
F4: Unless there’s a protect order.
Womack: That won’t happen cause the county has come to us to ask how we did it cause they want to do it too. (arguing ensues)
F4: If you did it before we had a chance to know about it that was
Womack: It was on television before the vote, on all of the stations.
F4: What stations?
Womack: The television stations ma’am. It was out in the public. I can only do what I hear, not what I’m hearing after the fact.
F4: Well, if we didn’t know before the fact, then what could we say before the fact?
F5: I could find nothing online.
Womack: Well, it was on our site. It was publicized through… We had sent notices to uh, I don’t know what to tell you on that.
F5: During the vote on July 11, during the meeting it was brought to your attention that the community was not aware of this. I am very involved in the schools and I was not aware of this.
Womack: I don't know what to tell you.
F5: I do know that you pushed the vote through.
F5: You opted. Your name in the meeting minutes opted to push the vote through.
F5: And you say that the contract is now signed, but we’re saying that we didn’t know. You’re telling us we did, but I’m telling you that no, I did not.
Womack: Well, I don’t know how to get it out anymore than we tried. I don’t have the resources personally to do this. We asked the administration to post it on the site. I do know that we got it out the best we could. And I don’t care what issue it comes to a community, part is going to have it and part is not.
M2: I realize that, but at the same time, the procedures that have been used at least since the Roosevelt administration, whenever we have an issue of public necessity, vs the rights of private citizens affected by that alleged necessity, is that we have a period of adequate notice – sufficient to get the message to the members of the community that are affected. I’m just saying that if all you did was notify the PTA and you’re planning on putting a 150’ cell phone tower that’s 50 feet from my property line? And it’s my property value that’s going to be affected, then you need to notify me and other members of the community that are affected. I back up to the playground of this establishment.
Womack: One of your neighbors, I discussed it with him because he, uh, came. And I asked him, “what’s your interest?” And I said, “are you concerned?” and he said, “Oh, no. no.” He said, “I’ve put cell towers up all over the country. Now you may know who I’m talking about, somebody right around here. I live, not quite as close as you are. I don’t know what to tell you. I didn’t know why you didn’t know it because we tried to get the message out.
F6: Well, I’m right next door. We have a neighborhood alert. We have a newsletter. We have an email alert for the neighborhood. Nobody in our neighborhood knows about it and we are immediately next door. My property line is exactly next to the property line of this school. Nobody in my neighborhood knew anything about it. Not a thing.
Womack: Well, I don’t know what to say to you. We tried to get it out.
M2: Did you put signs up? I mean, did you put any signs?
Womack: No, no we did not. We did not. No.
F6: So, one meeting and that’s it? You had like one meeting and pushed it through? Is that what happened? I mean that’s what it sounds…
Womack: Well, actually, yes, I would say that is the fact of the matter, yes.
F6: That doesn’t seem right.
M3: I’d like to try to suggest a rationale for why what happened did happen. We are at a time when our county is looking for sources of revenue to keep the schools open, not have to cut services while politically it’s the wrong time to be raising taxes and here was a chance to get a hold of a cool, free half a million bucks and if we went and got this thing done without making a lot of noise, it was gonna happen and the county and the school board was willing to take the risk that there wouldn’t be a couple of lawyers living next door that might somehow find their way there might be a rite of notice and run down to the courthouse. And that’s what happened.
Womack: Well, let me, let me respond to the taxes. The school board does not raise taxes… since 2000. Ah, I was chairmen of the Budget Committee we cut 104 million dollars out of the budget. A lot of it was in the area that most people were concerned about. And that was in staff. And we got rid of a lot of things that we shouldn’t have. That we know of. This year the administration was pushing through another budget and I was able to stop it. I’m vice chair. And we cut another 15 million. We are not going into the classroom. We have increased the number of students. But we have, I think, as good of a fiscal record as any school system, probably better than most. We did not do what the county did - raise property taxes, what? 28 percent? We didn’t do that. But you know, I don’t really buy that the community did not know because Medlock and a couple of areas around the county found out. They had to have knowledge because they came to the board and said, “No.” And the board said, “Ok.” We listen you. But nobody came to, from this community and said “no.”
F7: I am new to Decatur, and I met a parent from Medlock. And, I knew nothing about the cell towers at the school before I met her and she described to me a wooing relationship with T-mobile. That they came several times and tried to tell them how good it would be, and this was before the school closed, how good it would be for the community, how, ah, they could make it look like a water tower and not like a cell tower, that it could have their mascot painted on it, and so they, in the process of wooing the community alienated the community. And that’s what I understood from this parent.
Womack: Well, that could very well be true. Yes sir?
M4: Just curious, I’m sorry. I was a little late. You may have discussed it earlier. If it is not a good decision for the three schools that you pulled off the list, and I saw this in a report I recently read and the person in that article quoted a board member as saying if they heard anything at all, then how does the logic follow through that it is a good idea for the other schools?
Womack: The, the, uh, answer to that, maybe, maybe. It was that the community came forth and said we just don’t want it. That was, that was before the vote, sir.
F5: But, you can change the vote, right? You can bring it back up?
Womack: No, no. The contracts have been signed. I’m sorry.
F5: Well, don’t you think if other schools were had a quite a lengthier notice because of T-mobile and.. and we didn’t have any interaction with the school so we didn’t have any notice.
Womack: I can’t answer that. I can’t give you an honest answer about that. If I said “yes” it would be a lie, if I said “no” it would be a lie.
F5: Well, just personally, I’m just amazed that those other schools were that together and were there at that meeting. And were, you know, in the…
Womack: They voiced it to their, their, their local boards
F5: And so, in this report of that meeting, you know, there’s all this stuff about how this school and that school went to the community and this school doesn‘t want it … and it says that cell phone towers especially near developing children could be a danger. Is there a provision in this 15-year contract if there is something in there that is damaging to children? Is there some sort of break off?
Womack: I don’t know about that. If you would make just a little note for me and I will try to get you an answer.
Womack: But, I can assure you, just as one board member, if this thing proves to be detrimental, and not, uh, an eyesore, if this were detrimental to kids the board would move to break the contract.
(mumbled talking in background)
So, everything we’ve seen so far and I’ve told you the FC - the Federal Communications Act says health cannot be … it is updated… look, I can’t give you the answer. Look either you are in FAVOR of this, or you are not. Yes sir?
M5: Then I have a question. If this is a private company and it’s not a question of public perception. And if a private company can go buy private property somewhere.
Womack: Yes sir.
M5: And it wasn’t a matter of money as you said so there in your speech a while ago, then what was so seductive about this particular proposal that you had to go for it and after there are three major objections and sneak it through as you did.
Womack: We did NOT sneak it through, sir. That’s your definition. We did not sneak it through at all. The seductive part is we have poor cell service in here. Over at Lakeside. Over at Lakeside. There is no police. There’s no fire. There is no cell service across from Briarcliff almost all the way down to Clairemont and back down a great degree down… (unintelligible name of a road). And in the school last year they had a young lady that had a seizure. And that community wants a cell phone.
F7: They don’t have a land line?
Womack: They did, uh, it happened outside. And it took them something like 10 minutes to get from where they were inside because they were trying to take care of her and the seizure she had.
(His cell phone started beeping. - which was a little amusing since he was just making the point about no cell service in the area)
Excuse me. (He reaches into pocket, takes out phone and turns it off.)
M6: Can, can you generally explain the electromagnetic spectrum and tell us why 120 towers isn’t sufficient for coverage?
Womack: No sir, I can’t.
M6: Because it doesn’t make any sense to have more.
Womack: You have a cell tower right down here at, uh, at uh, Oak Grove and Lavista.
M6: Here you can have the addresses. I’ll give this to, you can have the addresses of where all the towers are at.
Womack: I’ve seen that. And, I know we’ve got a lot of cells in here. But the cells - break out.
Womack: Sir, that’s a technical question and I’m not prepared and I will not discuss it and I am not talking about it.
M6: But, you made the decision to put the tower in. Without knowing? That doesn’t make any sense to me.
Womack: That doesn’t have anything to do with…
M6: (Angry) It has everything to do with our children!
Womack: We have very limited cell service in this area.
M6: Do you want me to tell you why it is that way?
M6: Because they’ve jumbled the airwaves with all the towers in. You’ve got asymmetrical lines and you’ve got symmetrical lines. Asymmetrical are for residential areas, meaning we take in…
Womack: You’re the expert, sir. I’m not …
M6: Well then I should have made the decision! And I would have said No! Because, to me, 120 is pretty sufficient!
Womack: Okay, sir, you’ve made your point.
M6: Thank you. Appreciate it.
F8: … (unintelligible - lots of talking going on in background)… and when did the school system start making decisions about cell phone coverage?
Womack: This started, I guess, last, um, about mid-last year, well, I guess.. And we, uh, discussed it in a couple of board meetings best I can remember… lightly, not heavy, but lightly. And we said, “We have to go to the community.” And, we did that as best we could. I’m sorry we did not contact your association.
F8: Well, I would like to know where did you go?
Womack: Well, Maam’ I can’t… I can’t answer that. I’m not gonna go knock on your door and say, “Hey, we gonna put..
F8: I’m not asking you for that, but what I am asking is that you go to the neighborhood that is immediately next door and give us some kind of notice.
M7: Mr. Womack, you could have done what’s standard for zoning issues, which is that..
Womack: Post a notice out here?
M7: You could have put up a large sign that everybody notices …
Womack: Look, we relied on our website. I’m sorry we didn’t do our job as well as we should. But, let me tell you something, whether you like what I’m going to tell you or not, I really don’t care…
(more mumbling from audience)
F9: That’s the problem!
Womack: That is not the problem.
F9: That IS the problem!
Womack: Ma’am, when you set in my seat and you’re pulled as many ways as I’ve been pulled since I came back on this board, you would run from this job.
F9: (Angry) That was your choice! That’s not my problem. I did not force you to do that!
Womack: I understand, Ma’am. And I’m not debate that with you. You’ve got your life… I’m not, because I paid to get this job and the community asked me to do it. Now…
F9: Then don’t complain!
Womack: It is the most important job there is in the state. The school board. Because it’s charged with educating the future leaders of this country. If we fall down, the community falls down. I’m sorry that you did not get the notice that you wanted.
F9: No notice.
Womack: I said I am sorry you didn’t get it! I’m not going to play on the words. Yes, ma’am?
F10: Um, I’m not going to say if it is right or wrong because it sounds like it’s already a done deal and really there is no sense arguing over it at this point unless you’re going to bring it to court. From that vantage point, my question really comes to you is that if this was about money for the cell towers, is there any sort of written information as far as how much Briarlake is going to get for it?
F10: And that’s it? Out of that $250…
F11: $450 (others also chime in with $450,000)
Womack: $450. Now if they put another cell phone, uh, carrier up there, you get an additional $25.
M8: But, by law, don’t they have to fill the other 120? Don’t they have to co-locate? Or do you not know the laws on that either?
Womack: Sir, I don’t know the answer. You’re an expert in the math and things..
M8: Yeah, I am, and I will be more than happy to tell ya… you’re skirting the law!
F11: That’s right!
Womack: You need to talk to our people. I’ll be glad to open that door for you.
M8: Oh yeah, I’d appreciate that. Thanks.