A lawsuit over the cell tower denied by the Covington City Council last month isn’t something the city can likely win, Mayor Ronnie Johnston said. That’s why he changed his vote at Monday’s council meeting to break a tie and approve a shorter version of the tower than originally requested.
The tower, planned for 6163 Monticello Road, was originally planned to be 199 feet tall. Its owners, TowerCom V LLC, offered a compromise height of 169 feet last month, which the company’s attorney said would impact the AT&T and T-Mobile service adversely, but not overly so. But the council, with Johnston siding with members Michael Whatley, Chris Smith and Keith Dalton, voted to turn it down outright. Johnston only votes to break 3-3 ties.
The problem, Johnston said, is TowerCom filed a lawsuit earlier Monday. The city has already paid $6,000 in legal fees during the tower discussion, and city attorneys during an executive session Monday basically told the council it couldn’t win a lawsuit, Johnston said. Bills would have risen to at least $20,000, and probably in a losing effort as cities almost never beat cell tower companies in court.
“I’ve been advised this is a battle we cannot win,” Johnston said, after siding with council members Janet Goodman, Hawnethia Williams and Ocie Franklin to break another tie and this time approve the tower.
“We won something” with the tower’s shorter height, he said, “and we’re moving forward.”
Whatley, for his part, explained that his vote against the tower both times was part of a pledge he made to “stand behind our constituents on this thing.” Neighboring residents didn’t want it, so he wouldn’t vote for it. But he admitted that his decision flies in the face of another commitment he made – “to be prudent with the city’s money.”
Johnston said he hopes Monday’s re-vote will convince TowerCom to waive its lawsuit against the city.
TowerCom’s attorneys have refused to comment on the case.