Monday night, three empty chairs at a public forum for GISD candidates spoke volumes to the community in Galveston.
Five declared candidates were invited to the public forum at Central Middle School hosted by The Daily News and staffed by community volunteers.
Sadly, only two candidates — Dr. Matthew Hay and Johnny Smecca — embraced the spirit of public service by attending the event. The three others, citing perceived bias by the event organizers, publicly decided to avoid coming in contact with an engaged public.
The three absent candidates — Beau Rawlins and Sandra Tetley running for District 6-F and Laura Addison opposing Hay in 5-E — announced last week that they would not attend the forum because its panelists were biased and the auditorium at Central Middle School wasn’t near the contested districts.
Their absence and silence speak loudly.
Hay used a few moments of his closing statement to address the issue with the audience.
“I think all of you are owed an apology, because I think there should be five people here tonight,” Hay said. “Maybe the other candidates have better ideas than me — I don’t know — but I feel like you were cheated. And I am sorry.”
“This has been an ugly campaign, and I have done my best to stay out of it. And it’s a shame, because this should be about the kids.”
We couldn’t agree more.
While both Hay and Smecca openly fielded questions from panelists and the public, the three chairs for Rawlins, Tetley and Addison sat empty. And more importantly, the opportunity for the public to better understand and connect with Rawlins, Tetley and Addison was lost. This is an unfortunate loss for the public.
For an elected position where the ultimate goal is to serve the students, the decision to avoid the public in an exchange of ideas is sure to rightfully create pause in any voter’s mind. Both Hay and Smecca took that challenge. Rawlins, Tetley and Addison, chose to manufacture a smokescreen of reasons to avoid the public event.
There were no “gotcha” questions throughout the evening — only straightforward questions from the public. Subjects included school budgets, student achievement and transparency. Whatever drama Rawlins, Tetley and Addison were dreaming up turned out to be completely unfounded.
The forum was a discussion — civil and educational for all in attendance. Never did Hay or Smecca do anything but offer thoughtful and positive answers to the public. And afterward as the public came forward to meet and visit with the candidates, each was graceful and welcoming — exactly what an open community even should reflect.
Our only wish is that Rawlins, Tetley and Addison could have witnessed this example of democracy in action — a lesson taught in the very classrooms they wish to influence. In a campaign that should be focusing on students, the three absent candidates deserve an “F” in civics.
• Leonard Woolsey