After an hour-long interview process and only 10 minutes of deliberation in executive session, the San Antonio City Council’s Governance Committee unanimously selected David McGee, president and CEO of the regional offices of Amegy Bank of Texas, to fill the San Antonio Water System (SAWS) board of trustees seat left vacant by retired energy executive and former City Councilmember Reed Williams earlier this year.
Williams, who formerly held the District 8 seat, recently moved from San Antonio to Burnet. He is a candidate in the 2016 Republican primary as a Republican for the state Senate seat in District 24 vacant after the retirement of Sen. Troy Fraser.
McGee’s nomination will come before City Council consideration on Thursday, Sept. 3. The other applicant for the position, retired local business owner and Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance (GEAA) board member Steve Hixon, said he will attend that meeting to again make his case for the job.
“We are not going to give up,” Hixon said after the vote.
The SAWS board is tasked with making the tough decisions involving its rate structure and increases, impact fees, million- and billion-dollar water acquisition projects, conservation policies, Edwards Aquifer/recharge zone protection, drought restrictions, wastewater treatment, and more.
The board currently consists of Chairman Heriberto “Berto” Guerra, Louis E. Rowe, Pat Merritt, Pat Jasso, Ernesto Arrellano Jr., and Mayor Ivy Taylor (ex officio).
McGee and Hixon represented two very different choices for the Governance Committee. While they agreed on the importance of a sustainable water future that balances the opportunities and challenges of growth, their backgrounds give them different perspectives that would guide their service on the public utility’s board.
Each applicant was given five minutes to introduce himself to the Governance Committee and outline his priorities if he were to win appointment to the SAWS board by City Council. Committee and Council members Ron Nirenberg (D8), Rebecca Viagran (D3), Joe Krier (D9), and Mike Gallagher (D10) then asked questions that both McGee and Hixon took turns answering.
McGee has worked as a commercial banker for his entire professional career and has served on numerous boards, including his recent stint as the chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, United Way of San Antonio, YMCA of Greater San Antonio, Cancer Therapy and Research Center, and San Antonio Economic Development Foundation. He also served on the City’s Charter Review Commission.
McGee told committee members that his background in banking included extensive experience with regulatory agencies, financial management, and answering to shareholders. In SAWS’ case, as a public utility, its shareholders are the City and the ratepayers.
“I would bring that same approach of discipline and transparency to SAWS,” he said. “San Antonio should be as conservative as possible when it comes to water and its financial efficiency.”
Hixon cited his experience as a business owner and familiarity with water and land use issues through his work on the boards of environmental organizations, including the Green Spaces Alliance of South Texas, GEAA, and the National Parks Conservation Association.
“I’ve had the luxury to be involved with environmental issues the past 13 years and I want to protect our water supply. … He’s more tied into the business community,” Hixon said of McGee. “The financial issues are very important, but number one – the real issue we need to think about – is sustaining water supply.”
The biggest difference between the candidates came in their comments about the 30-year, $3.4 billion Vista Ridge water pipeline project and impact fees. While McGee said SAWS should take a measured, “light” approach to implementing new or higher impact fees, Hixon said he felt strongly that development – especially over the Edwards Aquifer and its recharge zone – should be limited with the use of varying “degrees of impact fees depending on how dense (a) development is going to be.”
“It’s very difficult on our community to do that one knee-jerk approach,” McGee said in response to Hixon.
McGee continues to be an advocate for the Vista Ridge project, but he said he wouldn’t shy away from holding the project’s development partner Abengoa‘s “feet to the fire at every single stage.”
Hixon was more specific in his criticism, citing recent reports that the water technology firm’s “B2” credit rating is at risk.
“Vista Ridge is a 99% good deal,” Hixon said.
Both applicants praise the proposed tiered rate structure aimed at promoting more water conservation, especially among high-end users.
The new rate structure, SAWS officials say, will broaden the price distinction between low- and high-use commercial customers, and permit sewer/wastewater fees to reflect actual use. The city’s most water-conscious users would see their monthly bills decline. The SAWS board and then City Council will vote on the new structure this fall.
*Featured/top image: David McGee answers questions during the Governance Committee meeting. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
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