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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Cell phone tower gets curious advocate



ST. PETERSBURG -- It was a typical public debate Thursday at City Hall about the merits of a cell phone tower -- except for one person who showed up to speak on the issue.

There were no surprises with those lining up against a proposed 150-foot cell phone tower. As usual, they were neighbors of the property, worried about how the tower would affect property values.

And most of the people lining up in favor of it were to be expected. The African Methodist Episcopal Church owned land where the tower would go, and would have been paid about $1,400 a month in rent. MetroPCS, a cell phone carrier, wanted it, too, because it would given them more coverage.

But another advocate for the tower was Eugene Webb, the division manager of the Information and Technology Services Division at the St. Petersburg Police Department. Why would the police lobby for a cell tower?

Webb said as the use of cell phones has surged, so have the chances that calls will be dropped, including those to 911 dispatchers.

"We want to make sure when they call 911, they must get through," Webb said.

Which was a fine point, Council Member Steve Kornell said, but why was the city council learning abot this now?

"If there is an issue with public safety, I'd rather have a workshop than have it come up during an appeal for a cell tower," he said, noting that in previous discussions about other cell phone towers, he had never heard this public safety argument before.

"How did you get involved to come up here?" Council Chair Leslie Curran asked Webb, who said he was asked to attend by the applicant.

"It seems like we're being a little misleading by saying that if this doesn't happen, I didn't get this cell phone tower in my neighborhood, I won't be able to make a 911 call," Curran said.

"That's not the impression I was trying to give," Webb replied.

Minutes later, the City Council rejected the requst for the tower with a 7-1 vote.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 3:41pm]


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