Following months-long vetting processes that concluded with City Council approvals Thursday, the San Antonio Water System and CPS Energy have a new trustee on each board.
Subsequent to contentious discussions about the two separate boards’ appointment processes, a slight majority of council members approved Marilu Reyna to SAWS’ board of trustees, while Francine Romero earned a solid majority of support to join CPS Energy’s board.
Before voting, the council engaged in a heated discussion surrounding the process for selecting trustees for SAWS and CPS Energy.
Council members Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2), Mario Bravo (D1), and Teri Castillo (D5) criticized the processes, which don’t allow all applicants — or even the finalists — to be interviewed by the full council or answer questions from residents at a public hearing.
In an effort to get more public input, McKee-Rodriguez made an unsuccessful motion to delay Romero’s appointment. Later, John Courage (D9) sought a motion to delay the vote on Reyna, hoping the full council could interview all the SAWS board finalists. That motion also failed.
Members of the public did have a say Thursday. Speakers from the Southwest Workers Union, the Sunrise Movement, and Climate Action San Antonio spoke in favor of adding to CPS Energy’s board Adelita Cantu, an associate professor at UT Health San Antonio’s school of nursing who specializes in community health, saying her background in public health makes her a strong advocate for the community.
Cantu was not a finalist. Environmentalists urged CPS Energy trustees to reconsider her at the CPS Energy’s regular board of trustees meeting last month. They met with Romero, a public administration professor and department chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio, once it was clear she was the finalist but ultimately chose to continue to support Cantu.
“I wish City Council wouldn’t just rubber-stamp a nominee,” Dee Dee Belmares, a San Antonio-based climate organizer with Public Citizen, told the San Antonio Report Thursday. Belmares said she appreciated Castillo, McKee-Rodriguez, and Bravo asking Romero difficult questions prior to the vote.
Courage, who abstained from voting on Reyna, said later he could not vote in favor of Reyna when he felt another, more qualified candidate had been in the mix.
“I think that … if all of council had an opportunity to share in those interviews and to ask questions and hear the answers, it would have been very clear to the majority of this council that there was one candidate who was most qualified for this,” Courage said, referring to environmental and natural resources consultant Jim Smyle, who was endorsed by the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance.
Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7), who said she was disappointed that Cantu wasn’t interviewed by the CPS Energy board, also shared her concerns about Reyna, including a possible conflict of interest since Reyna serves on the Port San Antonio board, which is a customer of SAWS.
Both the city and Port SA issued statements to the San Antonio Report that Reyna’s place on the Port SA board will not be a conflict of interest as long as Reyna abstains from voting on Port SA matters while on SAWS’ board.
Manny Pelaez (D8) and Phyllis Viagran (D3) spoke in favor of Reyna, a public relations professional for the nonprofit BCFS System. Viagran said Reyna’s experience in crisis communications is “what we need on the board.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Viagran, Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), Pelaez, and Clayton Perry (D10) voted for Reyna’s appointment. Bravo, McKee-Rodriguez, Sandoval, and Castillo voted no.
Castillo, in addition to voicing concerns about the process, also expressed apprehension over some of Romero’s votes when she served on the city’s Zoning Commission. Castillo, along with McKee-Rodriguez and Bravo, abstained from that vote; the remainder of the council voted to appoint Romero.
The approval of the two appointees to their respective boards comes just a day after CPS Energy’s President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams announced she will be stepping down in early 2022. Attempts to speak with Gold-Williams, who attended the council meeting, were unsuccessful; a spokeswoman said Gold-Williams needed to make other appointments.
SAWS has been seeking a new board member since Leticia Ozuna vacated her seat following her election to the San Antonio Independent School District board in June. The water utility extended its deadline twice in an effort to attract more applicants.
Shortly after the close of the SAWS application period, the city decided to extend it. Then, after interviewing five candidates, the council’s governance committee deliberated in executive session, then voted to extend the application period again. This extension allowed for Reyna and one other candidate to apply. Following a public interview by the governance committee this month, Reyna received the committee’s vote. Courage abstained from voting for Reyna at that time as well.
CPS Energy has been seeking a new trustee since July to replace outgoing board member Ed Kelley, whose final term expires on Jan. 31, 2022.
CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here. Dee Dee Belmares is a member of the San Antonio Report’s board of community advisors.