UPDATE 6:30 p.m. Turlockers have upped the ante in their search for the source of automated phone calls targeting City Council candidate Mary Jackson. Veterinarian Rob Santos and his wife Kristen, a local author and historian, have added a $1,000 reward to match Mayor John Lazar's $1,000 for information on the "robocalls." Council candidate David Fransen, who is running fourth in the race for two seats, added $1,000 of his own, for a total reward of $3,000.
TURLOCK Mayor John Lazar called for an investigation Wednesday into the automated phone messages that targeted a City Council candidate and offered a $1,000 reward out of his pocket for information.
Three so-called "robocalls" went out to voters in the past three weeks; two of them targeted Merced College journalism instructor Mary Jackson, who was in the lead for the council's second seat by 484 votes Tuesday night.
"People are sick and tired of these dirty campaign tactics," Lazar said. "We've never had them in Turlock, at least in city politics."
The city has contacted the California Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces political campaign laws.
Lazar said there have been rumors of council members or candidates being involved with the calls, so he wants an investigation to "clear any untruth and culpability" with any of his colleagues.
And if a council member is connected to the calls?
"Then the law will deal with them," Lazar said.
In the first call, Jackson was accused of currying favor with special interest groups. The message claimed to be paid for by San Juan Capistrano-based Taxpayers for Safer Neighborhoods, but the group denied funding the call.
A second call impersonating Jackson went out Sunday. A woman with an East Coast accent urged Turlockers to vote "no" on Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage. Jackson said she did not record or pay for the message.
The third message backed candidates Amy Bublak, who is running in first place, and incumbent Kurt Vander Weide, who is in third place behind Jackson.
"We will get to the bottom of it," Jackson said. Robocalls are illegal in California unless a person introduces the call and asks for permission to play the recorded message. But robo- calls that come from call centers outside of California aren't subject to the rule.
Jackson said the negative tone of the campaign could scare people from running for local office.
"It's not fair to everyone else. We need good people to run in local races," she said.
Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2337.