When I moved two miles and one ZIP code across Santa Rosa last year, AT&T wouldn't let me take my phone number with me. It was an inconvenience at the time, but this fall I'm discovering what may be a silver lining:

I haven't received a single robo-call this election season.

Somebody somewhere must believe these calls work, because they seem to be growing in popularity. While I haven't had to listen to a single political recording this year, I'm told by friends that they're constantly answering their phones only to be greeted by a digital voice talking about Measure Q, a city council race or some other election issue.

I've always considered these calls an annoyance. If you want me to consider your issue or your candidate, knock on my door or call me to talk about it — don't send me a tape recording.

But there are times when robo-calls are beyond annoying. There are times when they are dishonest, underhanded, sneaky and just plain wrong.

That appears to be the case in the race for two seats on the Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board, where voters have been hearing two robo-calls aimed specifically at incumbent board member Karyn Pulley.

I don't know Pulley, and I am not a close follower of the Cotati-Rohnert Park schools (though I should disclose that my son is a new teacher in that district). So I won't comment on the issues of the election, but I do have something to say about the recorded calls that were described in today's paper by staff writer Kerry Benefield:


That's right, these calls stink on multiple levels. First of all, they represent the worst kind of politics. Instead of telling voters why they should vote for someone or something, they specifically attack Pulley, who has served on the school board for 12 years.

"They said they only had one interest and they didn't want this candidate to be re-elected — that was their sole intent," said political consultant Herb Williams, who was hired to do the robo-call ads.

It's bad enough that this type of negative campaigning is part of a local school board election. But to make a bad situation worse, the people responsible for the ads are hiding behind rules that don't require them to disclose who they are or what they represent. Williams said his contract is for less than $1,000, the threshold at which "Parents for Better Schools" would have to reveal who's behind the negative campaigning.

For her part, Pulley told Benefield that she's "disappointed" that this type of campaign is happening in the school district, but she doesn't believe any of the other three candidates in the race are behind the calls. Williams also said none of the other candidates is his client.

"That is just not their style," Pulley said. "It's not who they are or what they represent."

Voters should hope not. When school board elections start heading the mud-slinging way of presidential politics — or even city council politics in some of our communities — it is a very sad day.

"I was horrified," said board member Ed Gilardi, who is also up for re-election but was not targeted by the calls. "It's extremely slimy and I think it has brought the school to a new low."

Are the people behind "Parents for Better Schools" proud of themselves? If so, they should take ownership of this campaign tactic. Their children should know how much they care about education.

<i>Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.</i>