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Telemarketer calls causing confusion

Solicitations not for sheriff's department, but for scholarship fund

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published Aug. 28, 2007, 9:38 a.m.)

Residents' phones were ringing in Walworth County and that had the sheriff's department's dispatch lines lighting up, too.

Over summer, the Walworth County Deputy Sheriff's Association, a labor organization representing Walworth County's deputies, used telemarketers for its annual fund-drive, which ended recently.

The money raised goes to the organization, not the sheriff's department. The confusion from the calls has led to complaints to the department, Sheriff David Graves said.

"You're not talking to a deputy sheriff," when money is solicited, Graves said. "The money is not coming back to this department. It's real confusing to people."

Graves said his dispatchers and administrative staff had received "numerous" complaints that the telemarketers were rude and were implying that they were deputies. Graves did not have a number, but said his staff fielded several calls per day the last couple months.

"I don't know how these telemarketers are representing themselves. They may not be saying they are sheriff's deputies, but they are making an inference," Graves said. "It's confusing to people and it's upsetting people."

The telemarketers are with a private company hired by the association. It is used because of the success in obtaining donations for the association's scholarship fund, said Deputy Bob Wierenga, association president.

"Telemarketing is not something people enjoy and we understand that," Wierenga said. "In spite of that, we did fairly well."

In time, the scholarship fund should become self-sustaining and the calls should stop, Wierenga said.

The association is in its third year of a five-year contract with the telemarketing company, National Public Advertising Associates out of Chicago, Wierenga said.

Wierenga has heard of very few complaints and was surprised about the Graves' stance on the calls.

"I know hundreds of people who received calls from this firm who have donated," Wierenga said. "I question each on whether or not they are led to believe a sheriff (employee) was calling them and they said, 'no.'"

Wierenga said he discourages the telemarketers from coming off as sounding like deputies, but can understand how it might be confusing. The callers are persistent.

"When I'm made aware of those kinds of situations I immediately call the owner of the company and tell them that this has to stop," Wierenga said.

Graves says he is not against the fund-raising efforts, but said the association should be clearer.

"I just wish the telemarketers that are working for the deputy sheriff's association would explain themselves better so the public can make an informed decision on whether they want to donate or not," Graves said.

Wierenga said the calls will start again next summer. He hopes to have some of the differences cleared up by then.

"We have huge support from the community both business-wise and residential-wise," Wierenga said. "The complaints the sheriff is talking about are minimal compared to the thousands of calls that are made during the course of this campaign. By in large, we get more positive comments of support than we do negative.

"Every single complaint bothers me. I'd like to not see it happen. I'll make every effort to try and make it complaint-free."


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