Thursday night, Odessans For Ethical Leadership (OEL) hosted a forum at the Odessa College Saulsbury room for Ector County Independent School District (ECISD) candidates for the upcoming May 6th, 2023 election.

The forum was hosted by OEL and was led by Angie Hurt King and was moderated by KOSA reporter Mary Kate Hamilton. Hamilton worked off a list of prepared questions and then those in attendance provided additional questions which were fielded by the candidates toward the end of the forum.

Five candidates – incumbents Donna Smith and Dennis Jones, and challengers Wayne Woodall, Bob Thayer, and John Rabenaldt – fielded questions in round robin style during the first hour of the forum and presented a variety of positions on everything from school choice to overcrowding and school finance.

Early in the forum, during a question regarding problems within ECISD, candidate Smith stated that she was going to touch on subject of bullying despite the fact “I think we are going to get a question on bullying in just a little while”.

Smith’s comment indicated that candidates had received the questions before the forum – which would be unusual for a candidate forum where protocol typically calls for the candidates to be given each question “live” and at the same time. Most voters can recall the furor sparked when Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile leaked CNN’s debate questions to Hillary Clinton ahead of a presidential candidate debate.

After the forum, Odessa Headlines asked Smith if she had received the forum questions ahead of time and she readily admitted that she had and that it “was helpful to know the questions when you only have 90 seconds to respond.”

Odessa Headlines contacted candidates Woodall, Thayer, and Jones (despite our efforts, we were unable to contact Rabenaldt) and enquired if they had received the questions ahead of the forum and all stated they had no advance information on the questions.

Early Friday morning Odessa Headlines reached out to Angie Hurt King who organized the forum for comment specifically asking whether or not any candidates were provided advance copies of the forum questions but King has not responded. Odessa Headlines also sought further comment and clarification from Smith as to how she obtained access to the questions and whether or not she knew she was the lone candidate with prior access but Smith did not respond to our request.

“If one candidate was provided the questions ahead of time and the others weren’t this really gives that one candidate an advantage. I don’t think that’s fair and it certainly isn’t ethical.” stated attendee Ned Luscombe. “For an organization with the word ethical in their name, this type of behavior doesn’t seem very ethical.”

Early voting starts Monday, April 24 and Election Day is Saturday, May 7th.