Vanderbilt trustees delay decision on cell tower

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Vanderbilt Museum trustees have delayed a decision on a controversial plan to install a 140-foot cell tower on the grounds to increase revenue.

The board voted 8-7 Wednesday night to table a motion that would have sent to the Suffolk County Legislature an agreement the board crafted with Suffolk Wireless for the tower's construction.

In July, the majority of about 60 people at a meeting at the Centerport Fire House opposed the plan. For years, the Centerport museum has sought ways to generate revenue. The museum charges admission and gets funding from a variety of public and private sources.

Lance Reinheimer, interim executive director, said the cell tower agreement, a 29-year contract, would generate about $100,000 annually for the county-owned museum. Its operating budget is about $1.6 million.

"It provides steady predictable revenue," he said.

At the meeting, board president Ron Beattie said the vote to submit the agreement to the legislature would be taken on paper ballots, with only results revealed, not each member's decision. "A lot of people are members of the community and don't want to have any negative repercussions," he said.

After some members disagreed about the need for paper ballots, the board went into executive session to discuss the issue. The closed-door session violated the state's open meetings law, said Robert Freedman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government, a division of the state Department of State.

The board returned from the session, said it wouldn't do a paper ballot and then voted to table the motion. Not identifying members' votes in a paper ballot also would have violated the law, Freedman said. Beattie said his understanding was that going into executive session for that purpose was appropriate.

Reinheimer said the proposed tower would house internal antennas and, possibly, two "skinny" ones on top for public safety transmissions. The monopole would be near a secondary parking lot, about 10 feet into the woods, east of Little Neck Road.

He said the museum's budget is so low that many employees haven't received raises, some for a decade. He said about $60,000 is drawn monthly from its endowment to pay the bills; the planetarium, the museum's biggest revenue generator, is closed for renovations until late fall.

Reinheimer said the museum is considering several new sources of revenue, including negotiating with a local caterer to provide services there.

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