403 West Odessans sign petition, group calls for commissioner help with ECUD

Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 6:33 PM CST
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ODESSA, Texas (KOSA) - West Odessans are putting a long-standing feud with the Ector County Utility District in the hands of the Ector County Commissioners’ Court.

During this morning’s commissioners’ court meeting, West Odessans made public comments filled with pleas for assistance and oversight over ECUD.

They believe the utility district has violated water, government and open meeting codes.

Well, residents want a clean slate. They want enforcement for allegations of irresponsible spending and a lack of transparency, plus more diversity. They think all board members should be replaced.

“We just don’t know where to start and this is the best we knew what to do,” said Shirley Jo Kelley, a West Odessa resident.

Earlier this week, a new board member was appointed just days after the board voted to table the selection. That happened after a previous meeting barred some locals from entering.

MORE: ECUD appoints new board member, county judge to contact AG

Those actions prompted a petition signed by 403 residents stating they are unhappy with ECUD. That’s why citizens like Jennifer Woodall are calling for help.

“Issue after issue arises, where the ECUD board is not operating lawfully, and so it’s time for this to change,” Woodall said. “They’ve got to step in. Somebody has got to help us because we need the water district and we want them to operate lawfully. And we want them to be successful so that West Odessans can get the water that they need.”

Citizens say there have been many appointments to the board without election. Former ECUD President Tommy Ervin says there were many years where multiple candidates didn’t run.

“Whenever you don’t have anybody to contest board members that’s up for election, you just don’t have an election. You don’t need to,” Ervin said.

Locals also brought up issues of holding the next board election in November, when officials say it should be held in May. One resident also pointed out a lack of diversity on the ECUD board.

MORE: ECUD: Presidency to remain vacant, residents barred entry

“Reason being is that the entire ECUD board does not in any way reflect our entire county population, because look at everyone in this courtroom,” said Sylvia Garcia as she motioned behind her. “The diversity is here.”

The relationship between locals and the board is one filled with mistrust. One board member, Troy Walker, understands there are many issues and he wants to see those with concerns step up in the next election.

“I’ll help you hang your signs, I’m good with it. Let’s do it. If you’ve got a better idea, a better way to do it, let’s do it. Don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with a solution and we’ll run with it.”

Today’s complaints were not an agenda item, but ECUD concerns are expected to be discussed in the next commissioner meeting.

“I think we have to visit with attorneys and look and see what they suggest,” said Commissioner Mike Gardner,  whose precinct covers much of West Odessa.

Understanding how to mitigate issues within the board is a puzzle in itself. That’s according to the Ector County Judge Dustin Fawcett, who has said he’s seeking an attorney general opinion, which can take months. Today, he said he’s looking for short-term solutions.

“The problem is this is a very challenging sphere. There’s no clear cut way in which, who is in charge of these things,” Fawcett said. “It is a political subdivision of the state, but it was created by us. And so what level of involvement does the commissioners’ court have?”

Residents say the dysfunction is at the expense of residents desperate for water.

“Most people don’t even realize how serious it is out there,” Kelley said. “They don’t realize that these people are having to haul water in.”

Since this was not an agenda item, the commissioner’s court will have to wait until a future meeting to formally discuss solutions.