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2008 robocalls still under investigation

Illegal campaign calls create City Council strife

POSTED December 4, 2010 12:01 a.m.

While the City of Turlock prepares to seat a new council following the Nov. 2 election, the investigation into the party or parties responsible for the illegal “robocalls” placed during the 2008 City Council election continues. The repercussions of the investigation also continue to sow discord between council members.

Current City Council member and then-candidate Mary Jackson filed a Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) complaint and filed suit with the Civil Superior Court of Stanislaus County against as many as 100 unknown persons who were responsible for the automated telephone calls that defamed her in October and November 2008.

While the FPPC findings have not been released, the civil lawsuit was dismissed in February.

“We went as far as we could,” Jackson said about the civil suit.

Jackson said she could not comment about the FPPC investigation, as it is still ongoing.

Out of the seven Turlock City Council candidates in 2008, only Amy Bublak and Kurt Vander Weide have confirmed being contacted by the FPPC in connection with the robocalls investigation — aside from Jackson herself. The Journal was unable to contact candidate Jim Sarnowsky.

“The FPPC contacted me and I complied,” Vander Weide said. “There’s nothing to find in my records. It’s a witch hunt.”

Councilman Ted Howze said — as did Councilman Kurt Spycher and Mayor John Lazar — that he was not contacted by the FPPC regarding the robocall investigation. Howze said that during the past two years Jackson has accused him, Bublak and Spycher of being responsible for the illegal automated calls, creating a hostile work environment.

“It has been an absolute living nightmare working with this woman during her barrage of legal threats and lawsuits through the years,” Howze said. “Mary has abused the court system against her council colleagues, and yet she claims civility and that she follows the Code of Conduct.”

Bublak and her 2008 campaign staff were contacted by the FPPC about the robocalls. The FPPC requested detailed campaign records from Jan. 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009. Bublak said that she is tired of the rumors that her campaign was behind the robocalls.

“I am highly concerned that a seated council member would file a query on another council member,” Bublak said. “I want my name cleared in public, as it was smeared in public.”

During the 2008 election, various citizens of Turlock reported receiving three different robocalls.  The first call, claiming Jackson was a special interest candidate, was said to be paid for by Orange County-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods. The second message, also saying it was from “Taxpayers for Safe Neighborhoods,” endorsed Council member and then-candidate Amy Bublak and then Vice Mayor  and candidate Kurt Vander Weide, stating they were the only candidates with the support of local public safety officials.

Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods denied funding the first call, while Taxpayers for Safe Neighborhoods is not a registered organization with the FPPC, the state body that enforces campaign laws.

The final message, sent to Turlock homes just three days before the election, claimed to be from Jackson herself, asking for Turlockers to vote no on Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The robocall, said to be from “Friends of Mary Jackson,” was recorded by a woman with a Brooklyn accent who was not the Jackson running for Turlock office.

Jackson has stated that her campaign had nothing to do with the calls.

“I am anxiously waiting for the investigation to be finished,” she said.

At least one other council member is also looking forward to the end of the robocalls investigation.

“I would like to have this resolved so we can focus on the concerns of Turlock,” Bublak said.

To contact Kristina Hacker, e-mail khacker@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2004.

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