This article has been updated.

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams announced Wednesday she will leave the municipally owned utility early next year.

Gold-Williams, who was named president and CEO of the company in 2015, informed the utility’s board of trustees that she will be departing from the company in early 2022, and said “will work cooperatively with the Board of Trustees through this transition,” CPS Energy said.

Gold-Williams has been an employee with CPS Energy since 2004. CPS Energy’s board said Wednesday it will form an executive search committee to find a new president and CEO.

Her resignation follows a difficult year and a half for the utility. CPS Energy has dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, the near-collapse of the Texas grid during the February storm, and criticism for its communications during the freeze. Since then, lawsuits have been filed both by it and against it, and complaints against Gold-Williams and other executive leaders have arisen.

Gold-Williams has been battered by reports over the past several months that she has repeatedly mistreated members of her senior leadership team.

In early summer, longtime general counsel Carolyn Shellman and her top two deputies abruptly resigned. A 2020 internal complaint filed against Gold-Williams, pried loose by KSAT-TV after the utility attempted to block its release, accused the CEO of ruling with “fear and intimidation.”

KSAT also reported that on Feb. 17, while San Antonio was experiencing widespread power outages and sub-freezing temperatures, Gold-Williams and other senior CPS Energy leaders were working on a letter of support for her and management while hundreds of thousands of residents were in the dark about how long power outages would last. The power outages and lack of communications have led to multiple wrongful death lawsuits filed against the utility.

Just last week, Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell resigned in the wake of public reports of ethics violations. Gold-Williams apparently discussed the complaints with him, but then promoted him.

The utility is also in dire financial straits, thanks to the pandemic and the aftermath of the winter storm. Saddled with roughly $110 million in past-due bills and $1 billion in fuel costs from Winter Storm Uri, at least $450 million of which the utility has said is “legitimate” and so customers will end up paying.

Gold-Williams has said CPS Energy needs a rate increase of up to 10.6%.

In 2019, when the board of trustees raised her base pay to $485,850 and gave her an almost $445,000 bonus, Gold-Williams became San Antonio’s highest-paid municipal government employee. She will not receive a departure package, said Melissa Sorola, CPS Energy’s senior director of corporate communications.

Trustee Ed Kelley told the San Antonio Report that board members were not alerted ahead of time about Wednesday’s announcement, and that his first thought was that CPS Energy “doesn’t need this right now.”

“I’m not a critic of Paula,” Kelley said. “I think she’s faced some extraordinary circumstances and has done a great job on the majority of them.”

In an emailed statement to the San Antonio Report, Mayor Ron Nirenberg thanked Gold-Williams for her service and wished her the best.

“CPS Energy is dealing with a number of serious issues simultaneously,” he wrote. “The next CEO must ensure that the utility successfully navigates these challenges while ensuring the organization’s stability and addressing the ratepayers’ needs. The next CEO must have the vision required to thrive in the fast-changing energy industry environment and to pursue smart energy strategies for the future.”

City Councilman Mario Bravo (D1), who has been vocal about wanting to see a change in CPS Energy’s leadership, said Gold-Williams made the right decision to step down.

“CPS Energy is in disarray,” Bravo said. “If we don’t get it back on track right now, it will be difficult for the utility to attract new talent” as the utility has said it will need to hire a thousand new workers over the next five years. He added that he would like to see the utility’s next leader be more transparent with what changes CPS Energy has made following February’s freeze to prepare for this winter.

CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here. 

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.