The top executive of San Antonio’s mental health authority is Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s pick to chair the board of the San Antonio Water System.

In an exclusive interview with the Rivard Report, Nirenberg announced his selection of Jelynne LeBlanc Burley, also a former top executive for the City and CPS Energy, to lead the board of the municipally owned water and sewer utility.

If confirmed, Burley would fill the role left by current SAWS board chair Heriberto “Berto” Guerra Jr., who has chaired the board since 2011.

“Jelynne has an enormous wealth of experience, managerial expertise over large organizations including utilities and government institutions,” Nirenberg said. “She’s been a great collaborator over the course of my tenure in City Hall, and I’ve known her to be a model public servant even before my time in politics.”

Burley, 60, rose through the City ranks to become a deputy city manager of planning and development before shifting her career to CPS Energy, the City’s other municipally owned utility, where she oversaw divisions in charge of electricity and gas delivery, customer service, and the utility’s relationship with the military.

“I was an employee with the City of San Antonio for 24 years, so I was actually there when SAWS became SAWS,” Burley told the Rivard Report on Monday. The City formed SAWS in 1992 out of three different entities in charge of water, sewer, and recycled water services. Burley’s role as deputy city manager meant she served as a liaison for both utilities.

“I know both organizations really well,” Burley said. “I know the challenges with affordability, customer service, with overall infrastructure coordination and development in the city. So I know that landscape pretty intimately.”

In 2017, she left CPS Energy to serve in her current role as president and CEO of the Center For Health Care Services, Bexar County’s mental health authority. The organization provides crisis care, programs for people with disabilities, substance abuse treatment, and other services.

Burley also is a director on the board of publicly traded energy storage and pipeline company NuStar Energy, headquartered in San Antonio. She’s also vice chair of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas and last year was president of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators.

Burley, and other contenders for the volunteer SAWS board seats, are set to go before City Council’s Governance Committee on Tuesday. Aside from the mayor, councilwomen Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Ana Sandoval (D7) serve on the committee, along with Councilman John Courage (D9).

That committee also must narrow down a list of 18 applicants to fill two other SAWS board positions, representing the southern half and southeast quadrant of the utility’s territory. SAWS trustees Pat Jasso and Pat Merritt currently hold the southern and southeastern positions, respectively.

Nirenberg said he hopes the committee can narrow the selection down to around three people per sector to interview at the committee’s Aug. 3 meeting. City ordinances allow the mayor to nominate the SAWS chair outright.

Burley and the two nominees that emerge from the selection process then will need to be confirmed via a full City Council vote, which Nirenberg said likely will be Aug. 6.

Nirenberg said on Monday that he has been working to bring Burley on as SAWS chair since March, months before the City’s official announcement earlier this month that it was seeking applicants for the SAWS board.

Nirenberg said he met Burley in 2011, when she was a guest speaker while he was participating in the Leadership San Antonio program. He described her as “someone who can manage staffs, manage public expectation, but also have a grasp of all the different constituencies and their concerns.”

Burley, 60, is a Louisiana native who moved to San Antonio 40 years ago to attend Trinity University. She said the community “has been very gracious” in allowing her to serve in so many different roles.

“At this point in my career, I still have a desire to serve this community,” she said.

Here is the list of applicants for the southern half and southeast quadrant of SAWS’ territory, according to the mayor’s office. Because the two areas overlap, some applicants can be considered for either position.

  • Ernesto Arrellano, business support analyst at USAA, former SAWS board member (southern half).
  • Christopher Ashcraft, University of Texas at San Antonio interim chief of staff to the president, former South Texas Energy and Economic Roundtable president (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Edward Belmares, former assistant city manager and CPS Energy vice president (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Celeste A. Brown, advocacy manager for public charter school provider KIPP Texas, former aide for former Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2) (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Beatrice Carreon, Re/MAX Unlimited real estate broker (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Branden Dross, CPS Energy community relations advocate (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Homer Guevara, Jr., Northwest Vista College professor, former CPS Energy board member (southern half).
  • James W. Hollis, senior managing counsel for Circle K Stores (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Dr. Lillian Martin Jones, San Antonio Zoning Commission member and retired physician (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Francisco Laborde, CEO of accounting firm Laborde and Associates (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Olufemi Osidele, project management consultant and managing partner of Amojos Consulting, co-chair of Climate Action and Adaptation Plan Steering committee (southern half).
  • Leticia Ozuna, systems engineer with Abacus Technology, former District 3 City Council member (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Robert Potts, president CEO of the regenerative agriculture nonprofit Dixon Water Foundation (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Jesus Rendon, principal cyber software engineer with defense contractor Northrop Grumman (southern half).
  • Fernando Reyes, owner of Reyes Automotive Group (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Herlinda Sifuentes, operations director of nonprofit Hispanics Inspiring Student’s Performance and Achievement (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • James Smyle, natural resource management consultant, SAWS Rate Advisory Committee member (southern half, southeast quadrant).
  • Scott Stallbaum, management consultant with Wilson Parumel and Co. (southern half, southeast quadrant).

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