Leader Blues

Saturday, February 23, 2008

TOP STORY > >Phone calls irk Sherwood

Leader staff writer

“It’s like someone’s piping negativity into our city,” Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman said Friday afternoon after being bombarded by calls about a telemarketing survey.

“I got the first call about 11:30 this morning, and residents have been calling since, and they are very upset,” she said.

The survey company, identified as ARM Services, asks residents their opinion on the city condemning the golf course property and emphasizes that the final cost of the takeover could be millions of dollars.

Then, Hillman said, the marketers quickly start asking questions about the annexation of Gravel Ridge, which Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents will vote on March 11. “And all the questions are very negative about Sherwood, or about the cost of this or that,” she said.

“Our people are real upset by this blitz and this has to be costing somebody a lot of money,” she added. “We may be divided over the golf course issue, but I can tell the city is united in wanting Gravel Ridge and these calls aren’t coming from anyone here in the city,” she said.

“I don’t know whose idea this is, but negative campaigning usually backfires, and this will too,” Hillman said.

Hillman even called Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim to see if he could shed any light on the calls. He knew said he knew nothing about it.

“We certainly have not authorized or paid for any kind of polling or survey. I’m as interested in finding out what’s going on as Mayor Hillman,” Swaim said.

Jacksonville voted Feb. 5 to an-nex Gravel Ridge. If the Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters say no to bringing Gravel Ridge into Sherwood, then Jacksonville gets the community.

If the Sherwood and Gravel Ridge residents say yes, then another election is set for April 1, when just Gravel Ridge residents will vote for either Sherwood or Jacksonville as the city that gets them.

Alderman Butch Davis was one of the many Sherwood residents to be called Friday. “The first question was about the golf course,” he said. “They asked, ‘Did you know that the golf course could end up costing more than $9 million? With that in mind, do you think the mayor and city council are spending your money wisely?’

“Naturally, I said yes,” Davis said, “but I have no idea where they got that figure. Nothing that high has ever been discussed.”

He said then questions turned toward annexation, and again the cost to the city of Sherwood.

“I asked the lady where I could see the results of the survey, but she didn’t know,” Davis said. He added that a neighbor, who was also called, was told by the telemarketer that the group was in Oklahoma.

“But they gave him a different company name than they gave me,” Davis said.

“It’s really kind of underhanded,” Davis said about the survey.

“One of our residents started asking the telemarketer questions and was told that an Ann Garrett was behind the survey,” Hillman said.

There is an Ann Garrett living in Jacksonville, but a call to the residence got her husband Paul who said her wife was at her manufacturing job in Cabot and was not a political activist.

“Now had you asked for me,” Paul Garrett said, “I do get involved on political issues, but I don’t know nothing about this and can guarantee that my wife doesn’t either.”

A call to the company’s toll-free number provided by Sherwood residents who had it show up on their caller-ID system produced a recording stating that the company had called conducting a marketing-research survey and was not trying to sell anything.

The recording said the firm was open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday Central time and to leave a message. There was a short pause, but after a short delay, it came back on and said no one was there to take a message and then disconnected.