The City is seeking applicants for the San Antonio Water System’s board of trustees to replace the board’s three longest-serving members.

The City is seeking to fill positions left by SAWS board Chair Heriberto “Berto” Guerra Jr., Assistant Secretary Pat Merritt, and Vice Chair Pat Jasso. The City issued a news release about the openings following multiple inquiries about the SAWS board nomination process from the Rivard Report.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the City has actually been taking applications “for several weeks now.” Seven people have submitted them so far, according to Nirenberg’s staff.

“We extended [the deadline] because apparently there wasn’t a whole lot of notification,” Nirenberg said, citing the coronavirus stay-at-home orders and a transition at the city clerk’s office as reasons for the lack of notice.

The City has now set a deadline of 5 p.m. June 25. San Antonio residents and those who live in SAWS’ service area can submit applications on the city clerk’s website.

The open nominations are for three board members with expired terms. Guerra’s and Merritt’s terms expired in May 2018, while Jasso’s expired last month. Guerra has served on the SAWS board since September 2011, according to the City. Merritt and Jasso were confirmed in October 2013.

SAWS board members are supposedly limited to a maximum of two four-year terms running from June 1 to May 31. However, that’s proven to be more of a guideline than a rule, with City Council declining to fill the three positions until now. The lack of turnover on the board has been fodder for many of SAWS’ critics over the past months.

The new trustees will oversee one of the largest municipal water and sewer utilities in the U.S. SAWS has around 1,700 employees serving 453,000 accounts.

The utility is scrambling to integrate its most ambitious and expensive water supply project, the Vista Ridge pipeline, into its system while managing a decade-long, federally mandated overhaul of its sewer lines.

Nirenberg said the City Council’s Governance Committee will review the applicants and make recommendations to be voted on by the full Council. Depending on how many applications they get, they might conduct interviews, Nirenberg said.

“I would imagine if there’s 15 to 20 folks that we bring them in to Governance and we do interviews, and we either narrow it down at that point or we come up with a shortlist,” Nirenberg said.

This round of SAWS trustee nominations is the second under Nirenberg as mayor. In 2018, Nirenberg appointed civil engineer Eduardo Parra and St. Mary’s University law school associate provost Amy Hardberger to the utility’s board and reappointed banker David McGee. The three trustees’ terms expire in 2021.

The vote over Hardberger’s nomination became contentious when then-Councilman Greg Brockhouse, Nirenberg’s opponent in the 2019 mayoral race, seized on Nirenberg’s nomination of the daughter of former Mayor Phil Hardberger, Nirenberg’s longtime political mentor. Brockhouse’s questioning of Hardberger at a meeting drew charges of gender bias of some on Council.

Nirenberg on Wednesday said he wants to see the next SAWS trustees “complement the skill set of the existing board,” as well as have “a focus on resiliency as well as how we can balance customer affordability with keeping SAWS a first-rate, financially managed utility.”

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