Sunday, October 30, 2011
PTA President Admits Prior Knowledge of Cell Tower Proposal
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Lithonia, GA: Monday, Oct. 24, 2011:
Words were exchanged in anger, tempers flared and PTA President Evelyn Cunningham, wife of school board representative Jesse “Jay” Cunningham, admitted she had been aware of talks with the DeKalb County School System (DCSS) regarding the cell tower proposal for more than a year. She offered no explanation about why the subject was not announced to the parents or community until May, just a month before the school board was scheduled to vote.
Cunningham approached the group of approximately 12 - 14 people who had gathered outside the entrance to Martin Luther King, Jr. High School around 11 am. Monday, Oct 24, to inspect the location where they recently learned a T-mobile cell tower will reside for the next 30 years, thanks to the school board’s approval to lease its property, along with eight other school properties, in exchange for about $400 a month which will be deposited into the county’s general fund. The deal also includes a one-time payment of $25,000 that will also be deposited into the general fund, but those funds will be “directed” by the PTA or a School Booster Club that the school wishes to support.
While the group was assembled outside the school, a spokesperson for the local non-profit group “Get the Cell Out - Atlanta” was also being interviewed by a reporter from WXIA-TV for a story related to SPLOST IV. That story has not yet aired. As the group was disassembling and preparing to return to their vehicles or walk back to their nearby homes, Ms. Cunningham approached them and demanded to know their names and what had been reported to the news media. After several minutes, the group convinced the PTA officer to calm down and discuss her concerns rationally, which is when she admitted to having known about the cell towers for more than a year. When asked if she received the information from her husband, she replied that it was her understanding that lots of people in the PTA were aware of the proposal and it was not specific to anything her husband told her directly.
The DeKalb County Board of Education Administrative Rule O.C.G.A. 20-2-1160 requires: "… public forums from time to time, especially when dealing with controversial issues or matters of deep community concern, to receive input from citizens on policy issues, the educational program, and school administration."
The DCSS official position on the subject of public notification has been that public meetings were held at each of the schools once carrier T-mobile had been selected. Critics claim the flyer sent home with children was vague and did not convey the message that the meeting was to discuss the intent to place cell towers on the school property.
DeKalb County zoning laws specific to the permitting of cell towers has language that prohibit cell phone or cell tower companies from constructing towers, which emit low levels of RF radiation 24 hours a day, within close proximity of residential neighborhoods unless there are no other suitable alternatives. T-mobile representatives stated during the school meetings in May that the schools were selected because they were the “easiest” choice for them to pursue, not the last alternative as required by the county.
T-mobile also reported in the community meetings, according to one parent who attended the meeting at Brockett Elementary in Tucker, that they did not want to build their towers in neighborhoods where they are not wanted. The community members and neighborhood associations near Martin Luther King, Jr. High School have stated that they have been shut out of the process completely, only learning recently that a 150’ tower with a base size of 60’ x 60’ has been approved by the school board.”
At the July 11 board meeting, Jay Cunningham spoke out on the cell tower issue, stating that the community was in favor. In an interview with a reporter from the Crossroads newspaper in July, Cunningham said “Everybody has their view,” adding that he only had one call opposing the proposal. “Everybody had no problem with it. I didn’t hear anything negative from the community.” Read more: CrossRoadsNews - Cell Towers Going to Schools
“It is very disappointing and makes you wonder if you can trust anyone in this school system,” stated one of the people who witnessed the altercation between the PTA President and the community members who say they would like some answers.
“We have fought things like this before,” said one man from a neighborhood right next door to the school. “This is the first time something like this has happened where they plan to allow zoning for something and we do not hear about it until it is too late.”
Update: At a subsequent meeting held Oct. 25, Jay Cunningham admitted that the community surrounding MLK High School did not get adequate notice and agreed to take their concerns back to the other board members. After being well prepared and well armed with information and questions about the cell tower issue, the community was able to collectively prove their points and give Mr. Cunningham no choice but to back down from his earlier claims that the community was in favor of a tower. He said he would ask for a reconsideration of the vote in light of the new information. This meeting has gone the same route as the meeting between Paul Womack and Briarlake, and all involved are still hoping for a reconsideration. They must move quickly, however, as the 30 day period following the permit application has expired and they will now be working against the clock to stop any signs of construction. T-mobile should have the permits all in place no later than the end of January. And, their substandard towers can be built overnight and brought up to code later as a result of their claim to exemption from DeKalb County's zoning laws. This is one of the legal issues that might be contested.
To read our post on a similar meeting held at Briarlake ES, with board rep Paul Womack, click here.