The public forum for candidates to the Galveston Independent School District board of trustees will happen Monday, although not exactly as envisioned.
Envisioned was an event during which all five candidates vying for two volunteer posts on a community board would introduce themselves, answer some questions and talk a bit about their platforms. Simple enough, we thought.
What we’ll have instead Monday is two candidates and three empty seats.
The Daily News on Oct. 12 invited the five candidates. Matthew Hay, the incumbent running for District 5-E, and Johnny Smecca, who’s running for the open 6-F seat, responded shortly thereafter that they would attend.
The others — Sandra Tetley, Laura Addison and Beau Rawlins — didn’t. So, we called several times over several days for confirmation.
Tuesday, we received a reply, which also appears on this page. We encourage everyone interested in these races, and the future of GISD, to read it carefully. It’s an amazing document for what it reveals about the general worldview of the candidates and their particular attitudes toward the school district and the larger community.
The basic implication is the newspaper, in collusion with others, including the school district, was attempting to lure them into a “biased event.”
The reply mostly speaks for itself, but some points require comment.
• The three apparently saw a hostile conspiracy because they couldn’t recall when the paper had previously sponsored a forum for school board candidates. The paper has sponsored many candidate forums in the past all over the county. One in 2012 for city council candidates is relevant because it was held at Ball High School and candidate Rawlins participated. He was running for mayor.
We decided to hold this forum because there are some real races this time. That’s frequently not the case in school board elections, which is why we hadn’t done one recently. It’s that simple.
• Superintendent Kelli Moulton did an “about-face” by “offering” the use of a district building. Moulton didn’t offer us anything. We sought a venue in which to hold the event. We asked for Ball High, which we had used before. It wasn’t available. We rented Central Middle School because it has an auditorium and was available.
Comparing this event to a homecoming parade is a false comparison. The parade is a school-sponsored event, the forum isn’t.
• The three imply there’s something sinister about holding the event at Central Middle School. There’s not, of course. It has an auditorium and was available. A better question is why not Central? It has been a frequent topic of discussion among the candidates. The notion that any district facility in Galveston is so far flung as to indicate a conspiracy is ridiculous.
• The panelists are “unequivocally biased.” Bias is a tricky thing to prove or disprove, but we doubt any of the three are all that deeply invested in this election. Even if they were, the forum is designed to avoid ambush questions. Most of the questions are to be submitted to all the candidates on Friday, giving them almost three days for review. Some questions are to be collected in writing from the public the night of the event. All the candidates are expected to answer all the questions. There’s little room for bias to work.
More importantly, though, a candidate for public office should be able answer questions posed by someone with a bias. It’s an entry-level skill for political candidates.
What the reply says to us is these three candidates would rather not meet the public and would rather campaign through social media. That’s their right, of course, but it’s our right to note this: You can run a campaign on Facebook, but you can’t run a school district on Facebook. Sooner or later, a school board trustee is going to have to deal with biased, even openly hostile, members of the public in the public forum. How well or badly a candidate can do that is absolutely relevant.
• Michael A. Smith