A City Council committee will interview six candidates for two volunteer positions on the board of San Antonio’s municipal water and sewer utility.

In a closed session Tuesday, City Council’s Governance Committee narrowed the number of applicants from 18 to six to fill two positions on the San Antonio Water System board of trustees representing the southern half and southeast quadrants of SAWS territory.

“We clearly had a very talented and capable slate of candidates to choose from,” said Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who serves on the committee along with the mayor, councilwomen Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) and Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Councilman John Courage (D9).

The City is looking to fill three SAWS board positions currently held by trustees with expired terms. SAWS board Chair Heriberto “Berto” Guerra Jr. has served since 2011, with his most recent four-year term ending in May 2018.

SAWS board members are supposed to be limited to a maximum of two four-year terms running from June 1 to May 31. In practice, they sometimes stay on past their term limits and continue serving until City Council appoints their replacements.

To replace Guerra, Mayor Ron Nirenberg tapped Jelynne LeBlanc Burley, CEO of the Center For Health Care Services and a former high-level CPS Energy and City official. City ordinances allow the mayor to choose the nominee for SAWS chair.

SAWS Vice Chair Pat Jasso and Assistant Secretary Pat Merritt currently occupy the other two seats that council members are looking to fill. Both Jasso and Merritt were originally confirmed as board members in October 2013. Merritt’s most recent term expired in May 2018, while Jasso’s expired in May 2020, according to the City.

City Council’s Governance Committee will interview the six candidates at an Aug. 3 meeting and narrow the selection down to two. Burley and the two candidates will then face a vote of the full City Council, likely on Aug. 6.

Here are the candidates Governance Committee members announced after returning to open session on Tuesday:

Fernando Reyes

Reyes owns Reyes Automotive Group, a manufacturer of interior parts for Toyota at its plant on the South Side. Other business ventures include land development, commercial real estate acquisition, and tech support, according to an application submitted to the City.

Active in several civic roles, Reyes chairs the Bexar County Community Arenas board and is a longtime board member for the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, the Bank of San Antonio, and Rey Feo Consejo.

“I believe that every San Antonio citizen deserves sustainable, affordable water services,” Reyes wrote in the application. “Given the opportunity to serve, I will help to guarantee that our water needs are met for the future. I hope to use my business background to ensure that the San Antonio Water System grows and prospers along with the city of San Antonio.”

Reyes did not return a Tuesday phone message seeking comment.

Leticia Ozuna

Ozuna is a systems engineer with Abacus Technology and former District 3 City Council member. She was appointed to City Council in 2011 and served until 2013, when she lost a bid for the elected seat to current Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3).

“It’s something I’m very interested in – how San Antonio manages water in an equitable way,” Ozuna told the Rivard Report Tuesday. “I chose to live on the Southeast Side of town and I’ve seen a lot of the inequities. I think it’s an opportunity to take care of the people of San Antonio, safeguard the resource, and make sure folks get a fair shake.”

Ozuna touted her experience with cybersecurity and keeping critical infrastructure safe from digital attacks, a focus she could add to the SAWS board.

“I think about things not just in terms of infrastructure and risk but also exposure,” Ozuna said. “What types of computer systems do we depend on, and how exposed are we?”

Edward Belmares

Before starting a management consulting firm in 2019, Edward Belmares worked as chief operating officer for KFW Engineering. Before that, he was an assistant city manager at the City of San Antonio for four years, following three years as vice president at CPS Energy.

“I have been civically engaged most of adult life and seek to continue that service in a meaningful way,” Belmares wrote in his application to the City. “I understand the San Antonio community, having worked in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors.”

Belmares also has served on the boards of the United Way of Comal County, Mission Heritage Partners, the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, and Mission Heritage Partners, among others. He did not return a phone message Tuesday seeking comment.

Robert Potts

After serving as general manager of the Edwards Aquifer Authority for three years ending in 2007, Robert Potts became CEO of the Dixon Water Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the use of sustainable grazing practices. It The Foundation owns two demonstration ranches in West and North Texas.

A former director of the Texas division of land stewardship nonprofit The Nature Conservancy, Potts was among the aquifer advocates in the late 1990s who pushed for the use of San Antonio sales tax money to protect land on the Edwards Aquifer, the city’s main water supply.

“I’m just interested in providing my background and experience in protecting the aquifer,” Potts said in a phone interview Tuesday. “The aquifer is the lifeblood of this city. It’s easy to take it for granted, but without it being healthy and functioning as it has functioned, we would be in a lot of trouble.”

Olufemi Osidele

Osidele, a consultant focusing on risk management and other technical fields, served as co-chair of a 21-member advisory committee that met for two years to help draft San Antonio’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, approved last October.

“The simple reason I am seeking this appointment is to serve the City of San Antonio in yet another capacity,” Osidele wrote in his application. “In my 16 years as a San Antonio resident and a SAWS customer, I have observed that the governance of SAWS, with its diverse demand and supply characteristics, requires a dedicated, holistic, and balanced approach to planning and operational decision-making.”

In addition to his own firm, Amojos Consulting, Osidele works for Houston-based Cimbria Consulting with a focus on the agribusiness, energy, and water sectors. Before that, he was a research engineer at Southwest Research Institute.

Osidele did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

James Smyle

As a consultant and former natural resource management specialist for the World Bank, Smyle has worked for decades around the world on sustainably managing land and water. His current consulting clients include the Asian Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Smyle currently serves on the SAWS Rate Advisory Committee, tasked with reviewing the utility’s rate structure and making recommendations. For years, he has been a voice of dissent on SAWS Vista Ridge pipeline project, though he now says “that horse left the barn, and now the issue is how do you pay for the thing.”

“I think I’ve got some skill sets that would be useful for SAWS, and I think they’re at a very important juncture in their life as an organization,” Smyle told the Rivard Report. “We’re struggling as a city to deal – even before COVID-19 – with poverty and inequality. And they’re about to get a lot of very expensive water.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.