Crank calls

Oct 27, 2004 at 12:00 am

As if there wasn’t enough ill will between those in favor of and those opposed to Proposal E — the controversial ballot initiative that dictates how Detroit Public Schools will be run — now it seems that a telemarketing scam has widened the rift, leaving each camp even more suspicious of the other.

Telemarketers, posing as members of the Detroit Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), called city residents earlier this month, claiming that the NAACP supports Prop E and urged them to vote in favor of it, says Llenda Jackson-Leslie, spokesperson for the Just Say No! Coalition, which opposes the proposal.

The NAACP is in fact part of the Just Say No! Coalition and has been very vocal about its opposition to Prop E. So, when telemarketers placed the calls, it didn’t take long for some Detroiters to figure out that they were being punk’d.

Jackson-Leslie says the NAACP got complaints from some of its own members about the calls. We “believe they called registered voters and coincidentally called NAACP members,” she says. “We heard from a couple dozen people.”

In a written statement issued last week, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit Branch NAACP president and co-chair of the Just Say No! Coalition, accused Prop E supporters of being behind the telemarketing ploy. Anthony said the two sides “can disagree without being deceptive or dishonest, and without undermining the intelligence and goodwill of Detroiters with trickery in an effort to win votes.”

But Bob Berg, spokesman for Vote for Kids, a coalition of Prop E supporters, denies that the group was responsible. “No one from Vote for Kids had anything to do with that,” Berg says. He contends that the Just Say No! Coalition is simply trying to distract voters with the accusations. “They don’t want to talk about the old [school] board and can’t defend what they want to bring back so they change the subject,” Berg says. He also claims that Prop E opponents know they’re losing and are resorting to wild accusations. “It’s also kind of typical when you’re at the end of a campaign and the one side is on the losing end and they just start swinging wildly,” Berg says.

If voters approve Prop E, they’ll vote next year, with residents selecting nine school board members, who will each represent specific districts; four members would serve two-year terms, five members would serve four-year terms, starting in 2006. Under this plan, the mayor would nominate a CEO to run the district; final approval would rest with the board. The board would have limited fiduciary oversight — including budget approval, annual audits and review of contracts exceeding $250,000 — and would need the mayor’s approval to fire the CEO. Changing the new structure would require state legislation.

A “no” vote on Prop E will result in a fully empowered board that’s answerable only to voters. An elected 11-member, two-year board would hire a superintendent, set policy and curriculum, oversee budgets, contracts, labor relations and day-to-day operations.

Community leaders are deeply divided on the issue.

Prop E supporters are accused of wanting to use the school budget and bond money for political paybacks through contracts. Those who oppose the initiative are accused of being entrenched in the mire of Detroit school politics and ignoring the needs of the children.

Now, fingers are being pointed over who is responsible for the telemarketing scam. It’s anyone’s guess whether Prop E will pass or not. But one thing is certain. It will take more than a few friendly phone calls to reunite this deeply divided community.

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