Towering objections

New York police officers call it "testalying." In L.A., it's the "liar's club." Witnesses, usually cops, provide false testimony to paint defendants as more criminal than they really are. The perjury usually works because most judges and juries believe cops tell the truth.

In Orlando city politics, testalying is so common that some city commissioners believe city employees routinely provide false or skewed data just to see how far they can push council members. One commissioner even referred to City Hall staff recommendations as "horse crap."

But the manure isn't limited to commissioner-administration infighting. Sometimes the public is affected, too.

Such was the case at the April 16 council meeting when commissioners debated whether to allow a telecommunications company to install a cell-phone antenna on the steeple of a College Park church.

The city's planning and development officials favored the installation because it felt Nextel Communications should be rewarded for camouflaging the antenna inside the steeple. They argued that it was a bonus for residents who dread the site of the ugly towers that cell-phone antennas are normally attached to.

Residents who live near the church opposed the installation in part because it circumvented the government's regulatory powers. City officials can prohibit a cell-phone tower, but not an antenna, in a residential neighborhood.

For city Commissioner Don Ammerman, the issue came down to whether the College Park United Methodist Church had planned to rebuild its steeple before Nextel asked to place an antenna on it.

Yes, said Richard Unger, the city's planning and zoning bureau chief. "The structural integrity of the steeple at this point in time is in need of repair," he said. "I don't know to what extent. In the process of repairing it, [the church] wants to put an antenna on it."

But that's not true, although it likely decided the issue. (With Ammerman's yes vote, the tower was approved.) According testimony from church pastor Aaron Ankeny, there is some corrosion or rust on the steeple. But the church had no plans, nor any bids, to rebuild it.

"It would be fair to say that had Nextel not approached you, you probably would still not be rebuilding this tower?" Irby Pugh, attorney for the residents, asked at a Nov. 2 hearing.

"That's a likely scenario, yes sir," Ankeny responded.

Unger, it must be noted, sat just several feet away from Ankeny at the time.

Maybe Unger forgot? Maybe he didn't understand Ankeny's testimony?

Tower opponents don't think so. They think Unger testalied. "We don't give him the benefit of the doubt," says Charles Petersen, one of the most vocal antenna opponents, who says another city employee prevaricated at an earlier hearing. "We feel he out-and-out lied ... . The most infuriating thing to deal with is a city official who lies to your face."