This story has been updated.
A special committee led by a former councilman and San Antonio Water System board member will investigate the utility crisis that left nearly half the city without power and nearly a third without water.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report he has convened a six-member group. Reed Williams, a former pipeline and oil refinery businessman who served as District 8 councilman from 2009 to 2013, will serve as chair.
“We all need to approach it from the standpoint of finding the problem,” Williams said by phone Tuesday. “We don’t need to be scapegoating anybody; that’s not our job. We’ll just need to figure out what happened … why it happened, and what we can do to keep it from happening again.”
The group’s charge is to study and “report to the community how our emergency response operations and public utilities got in this situation and what can be done to be better prepared for the future,” Nirenberg said.
The committee includes Lisa Tatum, former assistant district attorney and president of the Texas Bar Association. Tatum has led investigations into the San Antonio Police Department’s Special Victims Unit and into claims of racism and anti-LGBTQ bias in Austin’s police department. Retired Gen. Edward A. Rice Jr., who led the Air Force’s education and training command for nearly three years, also will serve.
The committee also includes four City Council members: Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4), Ana Sandoval (D7), Manny Pelaez (D8), and Clayton Perry (D10).
The committee is meant to delve deep into how the days-long freeze affected the city, CPS Energy, and the San Antonio Water System. Nearly 400,000 lost power after the Texas grid operator implemented emergency outages to avoid a more serious catastrophe. The loss of power and other storm-related problems led to a drop in water pressure across SAWS’ system and left people scrambling to fill buckets from SAWS-run distribution centers.
SAWS CEO Robert Puente told the San Antonio Report that the utility has already begun its own review of the crisis. On Sunday, it hired Kansas City-based engineering firm Black and Veatch to help answer what Puente called “three basic questions: were you prepared, what did you do during the event, and what is going to happen next?”
“I think it’s still too early to tell,” Puente said. “Everybody is still dealing with, luckily, not the storm itself anymore, but trying to get back to normal. So we haven’t had a chance to talk to each other about what happened.”
CPS Energy officials did not immediately respond to a Tuesday request for comment.
In a phone interview Monday, Nirenberg said he will let the committee decide how to do its work and whether to meet publicly or in private with city and utility officials.
“I will leave that up to the chair,” Nirenberg said. “What’s most important here is they will have complete access and have a complete report to the public.”
Williams said he would prefer public meetings. As a SAWS board member, Williams had insisted on public meetings during SAWS’ negotiations with private companies who would go on to build its $2.8 billion Vista Ridge pipeline.
“I see no reason not to have it be a public event,” Williams said.
CPS Energy is a financial supporter of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business members, click here.