Odessa businessman and grassroots activist Chris Wray was recently appointed to serve alongside seven other community members on Ector County Independent School District’s tax oversight committee. Days later he was removed from the committee under dubious circumstances.
Wray, a local insurance agent, first got involved in politics in 2017 when he helped launch a petition to recall an Odessa city councilmember. Although the petition failed to gain the number of signatures needed for a recall, he proceeded to help launch a second petition that not only surpassed the minimum signature requirement but ultimately led to a ballot initiative that restructured Odessa City Council by adding two additional voting members.
The petition effort brought together hundreds of residents eager to bring more accountability to their city government. But it also brought its fair share of enemies, primarily local Democrats who threatened to sue over allegations that adding an at-large member to city council was discriminatory.
In recent years, the local school district has been defeated in their attempted to pass tax initiatives or bonds, a sign of strong distrust in the community with school officials.
With the passage of a tax ratification election on the November ballot, Ector County ISD’s Interim Superintendent Jim Nelson appointed eight members of the community to a budget advisory council in order to build confidence with taxpayers that the money would be spent properly.
Nelson appointed Wray to the council on November 9, news that was welcomed by local taxpayers. That was until unknown persons orchestrated an attack on Wray, using a political meme shared on social media as a sort of justification. The meme in question poked fun at CNN reporter Jim Acosta after it was announced President Donald Trump ordered a suspension of Acosta’s White House press pass. The meme, part of a popular series on social media, read, “Now Jim’s gotta do the news from Acosta street,” with a picture of a man in a sombrero laughing.
Wray did not create the meme, he only shared it.
Less than 24 hours after posting the picture, Wray received an email from Nelson. The interim superintendent stated his disapproval of the post, and told Wray he was being removed from the district’s oversight committee.
“As you may know, over 77% of our students are Hispanic,” the email stated. “Two members of the advisory council are Hispanic. I am sure they would find this offensive, as do I.” Nelson noted he was first alerted of the post by Odessa American, which had received a screenshot of it from an anonymous source.
It’s unclear what was “offensive” about the post.
News of Wray’s removal from the committee caused hundreds of comments across social media, with residents in near-unison defense of Wray. Many decried the accusations as a gross and intentional distortion, citing possible political motivation behind the incident, given Wray’s background.
Activists pointed out the political leanings of some of the actors involved, including Nelson’s financial contributions to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential elections.
Wray posted on Facebook saying he would never share anything with his friends that would be viewed as inappropriate. He feels the meme he shared is funny, making light of a tense political situation, and didn’t see it as harmful to anyone.
Locals who know Wray have strongly defended his character, and are demanding he be reinstated. Nelson has said he has no plans to replace Wray; rather, he has decided to eliminate the council position altogether.