Robo-calls target Cotati-Rohnert Park school board member seeking re-election
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 6:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 6:37 p.m.
A pair of automated phone calls urging voters not to vote for a Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board veteran have shaken up the race for two seats on the governing board of Sonoma County's third largest school district.
Karyn Pulley, 60, is the target of two robo-calls, each urging voters not to elect her to a fourth term Nov. 6. The first call, which went out about a week ago, cites three votes Pulley allegedly made in her last term. The second call, which surfaced Monday, cites an $18,000 benefits package she receives as a trustee.
The messages are paid for by "Parents For Better Schools," according to the calls.
"I guess I'm disappointed that an election in a small community such as this would turn to this," Pulley said. "My heart tells me that none of the candidates are behind this. That is just not their style, it's not who they are or what they represent."
Herb Williams, a veteran Santa Rosa-based political consultant, was commissioned to place the calls but did not disclose who his client is other than to state it was not one of the three candidates running against Pulley.
"It's a separate committee and not associated with any candidate," he said. "If it was a candidate doing this against another candidate, I would want the candidate to identify themselves."
"They said they only had one interest and they didn't want this candidate to be re-elected," he said. "That was their sole intent."
A group does not have to identify itself if it spends less than $1,000, according to Gloria Colter, Sonoma County's assistant registrar of voters.
"People generally do just that -- they do things just less than the threshold," she said. "It's not uncommon."
Williams said his contract is for less than $1,000.
All three other candidates denied having any part in the calls.
The first call cited three votes Pulley made in her last term, linking her with spending at Mountain Shadows Middle School after the board voted to close that campus and convert a portion of the facility to district offices; spending money on the subsequent renaming of Creekside Middle School; and a vote in September on textbook funding.
The decision to close Mountain Shadows in 2010 was expected to save the district $680,000 annually. The board faced heat when it allocated $25,000 to rename Creekside Middle School and change colors and mascots.
But Trustee Ed Gilardi, who has worked with Pulley since 2000 and has found himself on opposite ends of votes from her at times, said to single out a candidate in a school board race is unprecedented. He is also a candidate for re-election.
"I was horrified," he said. "It's extremely slimy and I think it has brought the school to a new low, which is sad. They talked about decisions that all five board members made. Singling her out on something that apparently one or two people think was a bad decision."
"I have no clue" who is behind it, said contender Jennifer Wiltermood. "I'm so not about negative things."
Mike Bowcut, another contender, said he had not heard the call or heard of it in the community.
"I'm not aware of anything that Karyn has done that would result in that type of reaction," he said.
A second robo-call surfaced this week, citing Pulley's $18,000 benefits package as reason not to vote for her.
Pulley's medical and benefits package paid for with taxpayer funds, including monthly stipend, came to $17,837 in the 2011-12 fiscal year -- comparable to those of three of the five board members.
Trustee Leff Brown's package was $17,860, Andrew Longmire's was $17,493 and Gilardi's, who dropped medical coverage partway through the year, was $6,131. Marc Orloff declined all compensation and benefits.
Pulley, who has been hobbled by foot surgery, which has limited her ability to campaign, said there is little she can do to counter the calls.
"Someone knows who did it," she said. "If that's what they have to do, that's what they have to do. Will it affect the outcome? I don't know."
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @benefield.
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