3,000 receive an unexpected awakening

  • Brooke Fisher<br>Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 11:31am

Several flocks of sheep were likely counted just after midnight on Sunday when 3,000 residents were unable to fall asleep after being awakened by an advocacy call.

The call, reminding residents of the upcoming parks and open space bond election, was sent in error at 12:30 a.m. on Monday, May 8, about a week before the May 16 election.

Members of the bond committee were startled to discover the call had been sent out at the wrong time and currently do not know whether it was due to human or computer error.

“We wanted publicity, but we didn’t want it like this,” said bond committee co-chair and treasurer Shari Winstead-Tracey, whose family was one of many that was awakened by the advocacy call. “We want to apologize to the citizens for interrupting their sleep.”

An Oregon-based company was hired by the bond committee for the reminder call, and subsequently contracted the job to Parker Group, based out of Alabama, which obtained a list of voters from King County Elections, said Winstead-Tracey.

It has not yet been determined what caused the discrepancy between the actual call time and the intended call time, which was from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Monday, May 8. The voice on the recorded message was that of Winstead-Tracey, reminding voters about the bond and leaving contact information for the bond committee.

The company contracted for the advocacy call was immediately contacted by the bond committee after the error was discovered. In a statement from Tony Parker, of Parker Group, he said it was not known what caused the time error, saying it was in no way the fault of the bond committee. The person who programmed the order was experienced, he said, and he speculated that although the mistake could have resulted from human error, he figured it was computer-generated.

“We are exploring the possibility that it was hacked or there was an electrical spike. We have our vendor exploring every possible explanation to it,” Parker said in the statement.

To help remedy the situation, an automated apology message was sent out to about 9,000 residents on Monday afternoon, although Winstead-Tracey said the committee was apprehensive to use the call service again. The original price estimate for the service was $900, but there was no charge for either the original call nor the apology call, she said. The company offered a third call, which was declined.

The bond committee, whose telephone number and e-mail were on the recorded message, received about 50 phone calls and numerous e-mails from upset residents, said Bill Clements, a member of the bond committee. The majority of calls were received on Monday morning and dwindled by afternoon.

“Some said they were not sure if they would vote for the bond, but after this they would not,” Clements said. “Others said they understand this is a mistake and they will still support the bond.”

The decision to send out an automated call was initially debated by the bond committee, Clements said.

Because of the unusual May election and the fact that they need more than 7,100 votes for the bond to pass, Winstead-Tracey said the committee opted to try an automated call. The automated message was intended to be left on answering machines during the day, she said, and therefore be unobtrusive; if someone were to pick up the phone, the line would automatically disconnect.

“We debated on whether to do a robocall because we know they annoy people,” said Winstead-Tracey, “but we wanted to give them (voters) one more gentle, unobtrusive reminder.”

Some residents assumed it was the city who had ordered the calls, said city manager Bob Olander, although by law the city can’t be involved in making advocacy calls.

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