Robocalls give added stir to issue on district utility tax
WESTWOOD, Feb 01, 2013 (The Daily Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Some voters in the Fairview school district are angry about robocalls they say are propaganda disguised as polls.
The calls purport to be polls about the 3 percent utility tax opponents are trying to defeat, but are actually attempts at discouraging people from voting against it, opponents say.
"Under the guise of taking a poll, they are saying things like 'are you aware that if the utility tax is not passed, your child may have to be driven long distances to other county schools,'" said Joe Weis, a member of the committee spearheading the anti-tax campaign.
The committee Weis heads is collecting signatures -- for the second time -- on a petition to take the tax before voters. The school board enacted the tax in December but state law enables voters to rescind it via a special election if enough of them sign the petitions.
The committee already submitted one petition with enough signatures to trigger the election but the school board sued, claiming the petitions were improperly worded. The committee agreed at a court hearing to repeat the petition process using wording suggested by the judge.
Weis said he had listened only to a part of one of the calls captured on his answering machine, and based on the telephone number, it appeared to have been placed from Atlanta, Ga.
The calls apparently started coming Tuesday and several Westwood residents have called him since then complaining they have received the calls as well, he said.
Those residents described calls resembling a marketing technique called push polling, designed more to sway public opinion than to gauge it.
Fairview Superintendent Bill Musick said he knew nothing about the calls and that they had not been initiated from his office. He said he did not know whether any school board members had taken the action. "I can't speak for the school board," he said.
The board did not discuss or authorize any polls at its most recent meeting on Monday.
District finance director Ernie Sharp said he had not seen any bills or other evidence that the district is paying for a poll.
School board chairman John Burke refused to confirm or deny whether board members had initiated the calls. "We, as a board, are assessing the support for continuing operations of our school system through a 3 percent utilities tax," he said.
The tax would be collected on gas, water, electric, sewer, telephone, satellite, and cable bills. The board has said it wants to use the proceeds for a major overhaul of the high school and addition of a middle-school wing.
Previous boards tried to enact similar measures in 2005 and 2007; both of them were rejected by voters.
Weis said the committee has collected almost as many signatures as it needs but will continue its drive. "We want to make sure we have plenty more than we need," he said.
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