The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has asked CEO Burrell Ellis not to issue building permits to the DeKalb County School Board, which voted last year to install nine cell towers at schools throughout the county.
The commissioners voiced their concerns in a letter sent to Ellis on March 27.
“We all have constituents that are very concerned about the locations where the cell towers were proposed and they were coming to us on an issue that we have very little control over,” Commissioner Kathie Gannon said.
Gannon said the placement of cell towers would circumvent the county’s zoning ordinance since the DeKalb County School District would be getting revenue from T-Mobile for leasing the properties where the towers would be located.
“The board of education decision is based upon judicial precedence that property of a governmental unit in Georgia is exempt from local zoning regulations if the property is used for a governmental purpose,” the letter states.
However, since the school district would be earning revenue from leasing the properties, the commissioners said placing the cell towers would be seen as a proprietary function rather than a governmental function.
According to the letter, “a proprietary function is one that is performed for the benefit of the governmental unit rather than the public.”
“I think it’s under DeKalb County’s control and we feel that the process should be the same as any private company looking to lease land,” Gannon said.
School Board Chairman Eugene Walker disagreed with the commissioners’ claims in the letter. Although the district would receive revenue from leasing the property for the towers, Walker said, the towers would benefit residents and the school district by improving communication in those areas.
“I’m real disappointed in this letter and I don’t think they have a valid point,” Walker said. “State law does say that the school district is allowed to do what they see fit with its property.”
Walker said he thought the letter was nothing more than the commissioners trying to impose their will on the school board to please constituents.
If this was a bad thing then other metro schools wouldn’t be doing it. We’ve signed a contract, we’re not going to violate that contract,” Walker said.
The letter suggests the county take a more “active” role to protect the interests of residents, uphold adopted ordinances and recommends the DeKalb County Planning and Sustainability Department not issue any building permits for the board of education.
“It’s now up to the administrative department to review the letter and circumstances and make their own decision. The county can’t force the school board to do anything—the only thing the county can do is tell T-Mobile when they come in for a permit [that]they need to go through the correct zoning processes,” Gannon said.