Letter: Inquiring minds have a legal right to know

A couple of years ago when the original proposal for a cell tower at Rappahannock County High School was first mentioned, I took to the internet to find out how other communities have dealt with similar proposals. Without fail, these situations have been “controversial.”

The cellular industry insists that the emissions from the towers are benign. The opponents provide studies that show that serious harm is possible. And practically all agree that more study is required over a longer period of time to more accurately assess the effects of the radiation.

Throughout the United States, school districts, county buildings and even fire houses have been made off-limits to cell towers. And in Rappahannock, there is a growing concern not only about the risks of the towers but the use of private meetings by the school board, a public agency whose members are elected and answerable to the voters and taxpayers.

How many antennas are planned for the tower? What are the frequency bands the telecom companies will install? Without an open discussion of the details and a through evaluation by an expert representing the interests of the county, we are clueless as to what is transpiring.

 I was told by a member of the school board that the negotiations are private and cannot be discussed until a contract is agreed upon. It seems to me that is “a pig in a poke.”

So, I went back online and read the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which applies to every bit of public business in the commonwealth. And it turns out that the VFOIA is very specific and very strict about what can be discussed in private sessions. And negotiations in which the school board are involved which do not involve “public expenditures” are not exempt from the law. There is no public expenditure involved in this.

It appears to me that the school board is not doing its due diligence in this matter. Parents and other concerned citizens are not being informed of the details about the tower and the negotiations are taking place in private, against what I see as the specific strictures of Virginia law.

So I ask the school board, “What is the provision of the VFOIA that makes the contract or the discussion of it exempt from disclosure under the law? And what requires that it be private?”

With genuine concern, I await an answer.

Ben Jones
Washington