The San Antonio Water System said Monday that it was dropping legal action it filed in Travis County that SAWS had hoped would protect its bond ratings from disruptions in the wake of a petition drive seeking changes at the public water utility.

SAWS began legal proceedings last December to preemptively strike against the SAWS Accountability Act petition, which aims to put a charter amendment before voters in May that would set a pay cap and term limit for the CEO, ban lobbying from SAWS, enforce existing term limits for board members, and require independent auditing of projects that cost more than $1 billion.

SAWS said in a Monday news release that because no petitions from the SAWS Accountability Act PAC had been filed, “it is no longer necessary to pursue the action at this time.”

SAWS’ decision to drop the request for declaratory judgment upholding its current structure as it relates to bond obligations comes nearly three weeks after CPS Energy successfully obtained a similar ruling.

The water utility sought a judge’s opinion about its own structure because of the SAWS Accountability Act petitioners, said Nancy Belinsky, SAWS vice president and general counsel.

“The expedited declaratory judgment action was started because of a charter amendment petition effort that is attempting to amend SAWS bond contracts through charter amendments rather than through the amendment provisions of the contracts, creating uncertainty for bondholders and rating agencies,” Belinsky said in a statement Monday.

“SAWS has an obligation to protect and defend its rate-payers, bondholders, and the ordinances passed by the San Antonio City Council from threats which have the potential to negatively impact its continued operations.”

SAWS Accountability Act PAC spokeswoman Reinette King disagreed with Belinsky’s characterization that the petition would affect SAWS bonds. King said she suspected that SAWS dropped the case because it was not sure its outcome would have been as successful as CPS Energy’s.

“This was a purely political action on SAWS’ part to try to stop our petition,” she said of the December legal filing.

King said she and other organizers were still “actively collecting signatures” for the SAWS Accountability Act petition, though she declined to say exactly how many were needed to hit the 20,000 required by the City to put the charter amendment on the May 1 ballot.

She maintained that they still have time to finish gathering signatures and get them verified by the City. 

“There’s nowhere in writing that says we have to file by sometime in January,” King said. “We really have until February.”

The City’s petition FAQ confirms that there is no specific due date to file petition papers, but it says signatures must be verified before the election is ordered, which would take place on Feb. 12 this year.

Bexar County Elections Department Administrator Jacque Callanen said the time needed to verify petition signatures varies greatly, depending on how much information petitioners gathered from people signing and how clearly things are recorded. The Elections Department lends its equipment to City staff to check names, addresses, and signatures against petition signatures.

“There’s prep work. … It’s really hard to be a last minute item on a ballot just because of legalities,” Callanen said.

Callanen stressed that the earlier paperwork is filed, the better a petition’s chances.

“It’s one of those sticky wickets,” she said.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.