VIA Metropolitan Transit is poised to welcome three new trustees to its board and two returning members starting this year.
The VIA board had five trustee positions open after those terms expired in 2020. City Council’s Governance Committee heard from seven applicants on Wednesday during a videoconference meeting.
The committee advanced Laura Cabanilla, Javier Paredes, and Melanie Tawil as finalists to be approved by the full council. If approved, they would serve until Dec. 31, 2022.
Tawil, CEO and co-owner of local tech company SwipeTrack Solutions and a real estate agent, said she wants to make sure that VIA’s services were accessible to all.
“My brother is now 31 and he has intellectual disabilities,” she said. “VIA is a lifeline for members of our community who have intellectual disabilities. It is their way of being independent and being able to attend their doctor’s appointments, their social activities, or even just getting around San Antonio.”
In a moment familiar to many parents during the coronavirus pandemic, Tawil also paused to answer questions from her son, who was in virtual class, during her interview with the committee. She told council members she rode the bus growing up and her father was a VIA trolley bus operator.
Cabanilla said she also relied on VIA in her youth.
“I grew up on the South Side of San Antonio and experienced first-hand the need for public transportation when I was younger and the negative implications of unreliable transportation,” she said.
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Cabanilla is the vice president of community relations and community development officer for Wells Fargo’s Central Texas region. She previously served as chief of staff to former District 1 Councilman Roger Flores and former District 3 Councilwoman Antoniette “Toni” Moorhouse.
Paredes, the third trustee finalist, works as an urban designer at local design firm Munoz and Company. He has been involved in planning future growth and development in Texas, including the Laredo and Brownsville master plans and the San Pedro Creek Culture Park project in Bexar County – experience that he said will be helpful on the board.
“If you look throughout history, transportation used to be part of City-shaping and the anchors of any great metropolis,” he said. “… Transportation should be the most democratic place of all.”
Paredes also co-owns popular restaurant Carnitas Lonja in South San Antonio with his brother Alejandro Paredes.
Also advanced for council approval were applicants Athalie Malone and Bob Comeaux, who are both returning to VIA’s board. Malone, who was appointed in 2019, represents disadvantaged riders, while Comeaux, who has served four years as a trustee, is the union representative on the board. They will both serve until Dec. 31.
Malone, who is visually impaired, said she hopes to continue bringing her perspective and experience as a rider with a disability to improve VIA’s operations.
“Before I came on board, a lot of the new designs that they have taken to use in the digital world for the customers [were] not being tested,” she said. “With me being available to them, they were able to test those for the disabled, make the changes that needed to be made, [so] that the disabled can also use all the new digital aspects that we have in VIA and I hope to continue doing that.”
Seymour Battle, vice president of accounting process optimization and information support at Valero, and Victoria Bustos, executive director of student and support services at San Antonio Independent School District, also were considered for the VIA board, but the Governance Committee ultimately did not move their applications forward to the full council.
“This was a very difficult decision because I believe if we had seven slots available today, all of you would have been extremely well-qualified representatives of VIA,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
City Council is scheduled to vote on the VIA trustee finalists on Jan. 14.
Disclosure: Laura Cabanilla is a member of the San Antonio Report’s community advisory board.