A judge temporarily halted ECUD elections. This is what it means for Ector County.

An ECUD water tower rises above the flat landscape in Ector County, TX.
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 8:31 PM CDT
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ECTOR COUNTY, Texas (KOSA) - Two members of the Ector County Utility District (ECUD) Board of Directors have filed a lawsuit against ECUD to cancel the District’s November election.

In a swift move, Judge John Shrode of the 358th District Court granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against ECUD.

The speed of the decision caught everyone involved off guard.

“It was a shock to us,” said ECUD Director Troy Walker.

Walker and Will Kappauf are both up for election. They’re also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Walker says the lawsuit is about taking a step back and re-evaluating how the District conducts business, adding ECUD isn’t prepared for an election in November.

“It’s not something ECUD was ready for,” Walker said. “It’s not something we’ve ever planned to do correctly.”

ECUD hasn’t normally had elections, conducting them sparingly over the past 20 years. Most candidates run unopposed, meaning one isn’t needed.

That’s not the case this year.

At issue within the election is its timing. To Kappauf, who is also on the board of directors, it’s about following the Texas Water Code, which specifies water district elections are to be held in May of even-numbered years.

“It’s about having the right directors in the right positions at the right time,” Kappauf said.

Judge Shrode appears to agree, at least on the surface. In his TRO on Oct. 3, he wrote, “It is therefore declared that the November 8, 2022 election for directors of the board of the Ector County Utility District (”ECUD”) is being conducted in violation of statute, that the result will be void;”.

But the timing of the lawsuit, barely a month before the election, makes the whole situation and its possible outcomes confusing.

If Judge Shrode rules for the plaintiffs at the scheduled Oct. 13 preliminary hearing, that likely means no elections until at least May 2024. It’s unclear which of the five directors would run at that time and if the directors would hold their seats in the meantime.

It’s also not clear what would happen to the two propositions on the ballot that would add new jurisdictions to the ECUD water system.

It’s these questions that concern ECUD President Tommy Ervin the most.

“Would it be the two that are up for election this November or would it be all five of us? See, that kind of mess is what we cleared up in 2016 with our bylaws,” Ervin said, referencing ECUD’s restructuring of its electoral process.

But Kappauf and Walker see the time between now and May 2024 as plenty of time to sort out the “who” and “what”, as well bringing ECUD in line with the Water Code.

“Let’s do it the way the Water Code wants us to do it, and let’s spend the next year-and-a-half getting everything squared away moving forward so we can best support the District,” Kappauf said.