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Attorney Stacy Frank draws the anger of Hillsborough parents fighting cell towers on school grounds

TAMPA — Parents call her the enemy, point out that she has no children and say she's in bed with the wireless industry.

"The real money-maker in this money-making scheme," parent Brenda Kocher calls Stacy Frank.

Over the past two years, Frank's company has been entrusted with developing cell towers on Hillsborough public school properties. So far, Collier Enterprises II has helped erect seven of them and has negotiated agreements with cell phone providers that has generated badly needed cash for the district.

Flush with thousands of dollars in rent from the towers, principals have replaced old computers with new ones, bought printer cartridges and sent teachers and students on field trips.

But as more and more towers have gone up, Frank has become the flash point for parents who worry there's still too many unknowns about towers and their risks.

All school year long, the fears have sparked heated community meetings, the creation of an anti-cell tower parent group and calls for a moratorium on towers.

At 6 tonight, the Board of County Commissioners will likely hear some of that angst in the first of two public hearings that would tighten current rules.

Frank, an attorney, is not concerned. "We are confident that these facilities serve a public purpose, that there's no adverse health effect," she said.

Public schools are in need of finances and "anything we can do to help, I'm pleased to do," she added.

The projected revenue from Collier's towers over the next decade: $1.66 million.

• • •

Frank, 54, is Georgetown and Florida State educated, divorced, the eldest daughter of one of Tampa's well-known political families.

Her mother is Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank; her father, retired 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Richard Frank.

Their daughter got her start as a judicial clerk. She entered private practice in 1984, specializing in commercial real estate, became corporate counsel for TECO Energy in 1986, ran unsuccessfully for county judge in 1990, and then opened her own practice in 1992.

Frank said her years at TECO prepared her for the transition to wireless communication law.

At her law firm, she became the public face for McCall Communication, AT&T Wireless and Sprint. She stood before the Tampa City Council and county commissioners and advocated for towers in neighborhoods.

Frank built her first tower in 2005 at a strip center she owns on Kennedy Boulevard. She said she worked with the local homeowner association to resolve health and aesthetic concerns.

Frank doesn't live around any towers, but she says there are wireless antennas near her Palma Ceia home. She said she's never had reservations about the safety of towers in residential areas.

Frank served on city and county wireless task forces that constructed the very guidelines that now allow her to build towers in neighborhoods and on school properties.

"I had no foresight, no idea what I'd be doing 10 years later," she said.

• • •

Hillsborough had been leasing school sites on an ad hoc basis to tower companies when Frank approached officials with an idea.

"I wanted to see what their interest was in doing it in a more organized fashion," she said.

In March 2006, the district sought proposals from companies interested in managing all aspects of the district's wireless program. That included marketing school properties, lining up the carriers, legal services, permitting, maintenance, hearings — and perhaps what has turned out to be the most controversial — community outreach.

Three out of 924 prospective bidders responded: Frank, Sprint and Expert Construction Managers in Brandon. Sprint was eliminated from consideration for failing to respond properly.

In her proposal, Frank promised the district $25,000 up front once a contract was executed, 50 percent of the rental revenue and a sure-fire plan to anticipate community concerns.

She also acknowledged that she and the company she had created just seven days before the proposals were due had not entered into a contract of similar size and scope as Hillsborough's.

Still, at the time she pledged that "Collier possesses the technical expertise and communication skills necessary to address community concerns that may relate to the health implications, property value impact and construction/design of wireless facilities."

Expert guaranteed the district much of the same as Collier except for the $25,000. The other major difference between the two: Expert had been in business for five years.

The district ranked Collier first, Expert second.

• • •

The school district gives 80 percent of its share of rental revenue back to the school where a tower is based.

In 2008 the towers established by Collier generated more than $101,000. The projection for this year: more than $297,000.

Besides the seven towers already up, two more will rise by August — a 160-foot pole at Mintz Elementary in Brandon and a 99.5-foot tower at Cimino Elementary in Valrico.

Frank has identified more than 200 potential sites for towers. She doesn't envision a tower at every one of them.

"No tower gets built unless a carrier has need to add coverage to that area," Frank said.

But her bigger challenge may still be the parents who have organized against her and the towers. They are determined to keep schools from being tempted by raising money other ways.

This year, Coleman Middle School parents railed against a proposed tower at the South Tampa and persuaded the principal to give up on the idea.

Last week they made good on their promise to raise extra funds and held a golf tournament that netted nearly $19,000 for the school's track.

Carrie Grimail, a parent who plans to attend tonight's county commission meeting, said it was more than just a fundraiser.

It was proof, she said, that schools don't need cell towers to generate easy money.

Times researchers Carolyn Edds and John Martin contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (813) 269-5303.

Cell tower revenue pays for school extras

Here's a look at how some Hillsborough schools have spent money raised from having cell towers on school grounds. On average schools make more than $11,000 annually per carrier:

. Witter Elementary: classroom supplies; and admission costs, T-shirts and bus transportation for fifth-grade field trip

. Robles Elementary: student/teacher incentives such as Busch Garden field trip, lanyards, teacher appreciation luncheon, Rising Star (Turn Around) banquet for students/parents; floor burnisher; a covered court; and plan to buy two benches for the school's garden so that students will enjoy reading outside

. Oak Park Elementary: printer cartridges for classrooms

. Wimauma Elementary: deposited $7,200 in facilities account

What's next

. The Board of County Commissioners will hold two public hearings on amending its cell tower ordinance, one tonight and another on June 11. Both begin at 6 p.m. Current rules allow towers at schools without public hearings as long as several prerequisites are met. Tighter restrictions would require a special-use permit and a public hearing.

. The Tampa City Council will have a workshop on cell towers at 9 a.m. Aug. 27.

Hed goes here

Here's a look at how some Hillsborough schools have spent money raised from having cell towers on school grounds. On average schools make more than $11,000 annually per carrier:

. Witter Elementary: classroom supplies; and admission costs, T-shirts and bus transportation for fifth grade field trip

. Robles Elementary: student/teacher incentives such as Busch Garden field trip, lanyards, teacher appreciation luncheon, Rising Star (Turn Around) banquet for students/parents; floor burnisher; a covered court; and plan to buy two benches for the school's garden so that students will enjoy reading outside

. Oak Park Elementary: printer cartridges for classrooms

. Wimauma Elementary: deposited $7,200 in facilities account

What's next

. The Board of County Commissioners will hold two public hearings on amending its cell tower ordinance, one tonight and another on June 11. Both begin at 6 p.m. Current rules allow towers at schools without public hearings as long as several prerequisites are met. Tighter restrictions would require a special use permit and a public hearing.

. The Tampa City Council will have a workshop on cell towers at 9 a.m. Aug. 27.

Attorney Stacy Frank draws the anger of Hillsborough parents fighting cell towers on school grounds 05/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 12:10am]
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