SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente attends a board meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.
SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente listens to presentations during the SAWS board meeting. Photo by Scott Ball.

The San Antonio Water System board awarded President and CEO Robert Puente an $82,571 bonus on Tuesday for delivering on several key initiatives and goals for the public utility in 2015.

Puente received a 3% base salary increase, or $12,369, effective Monday, Aug. 1 and will receive a 5% increase, or $21,233, effective Jan. 2, 2017. Between his performance bonus and base pay this year, Puente will take home $507,238.

Before the board voted to approve the performance award and salary adjustment, which was approved in bulk with several items on the day’s agenda, Puente’s salary was $412,298 for this year. Salary increases will bring his base pay up to $445,899 in 2017, not including potential bonuses.

Both in a letter sent to the board and during remarks made before the meeting adjourned into a closed, executive session, Board Chairman Berto Guerra listed several of the utility’s key moments in 2015 that he attributed directly to Puente’s leadership. Those included the expansion of water supply projects, advancement of leak detections and meter reading, dealings with state legislation, the successful response to widespread meter reading errors, and unanimous City Council approval of increased water rates and rate structure in November which went to support the federally-mandated sewer line replacement program and the Vista Ridge water pipeline project.

“You have a special set of skills that helps you bridge the gap between private sector companies and public sector regulators, all the while keeping your staff engaged at the highest level,” Guerra said.

Puente, a private attorney, was first appointed CEO in May 2008 after serving for more than 15 years in the Texas House of Representatives.

“You were able to carry our staff through this trying time of uncertainty with the Vista Ridge project,” Guerra told Puente. “You were at the helm and you held steady and you gave our team and our board confidence that we were doing the right thing.”

(Read More: SAWS Board Approves Garney Takeover of Vista Ridge Project)

Some activists would argue that the estimated $3.4 billion Vista Ridge project, which will pump 16.3 million gallons of water 142 miles from the Carrizo Aquifer in Burleson County to San Antonio by the year 2020, puts an unfair and expensive burden of water insecurity on to communities in Burleson and the surrounding counties. The project received unanimous support from City Council in October 2014, and despite red flags thrown up by environmentalists and researchers, Vista Ridge is still widely supported by City and community leadership.

“I know that publicly setting your salary is a difficult thing that most people do not have to do,” Guerra said. “But I am proud to publicly acknowledge your hard work.”

Several public executives and utility CEOs have, as part of their contracts, annual bonuses and raises based on performance. Earlier this year, City Council approved a renewal of City Manager Sheryl Sculley’s three-year contract that includes a $425,000 base salary. Each year, she’ll receive a $25,000 salary increase and be eligible for up to $100,000 in performance pay.

(Read More: Council Approves City Manager’s Contract by 8-3 Vote)

CPS Energy’s new President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams’ starting salary is $415,000 for 2016 and details of her contract and bonus scale will be worked out by the public utility’s board. After five years, her predecessor Doyle Beneby worked up to a $500,000 base salary and was able to earn as much as 50% more in incentive compensation.

“I feel honored,” Puente said, who credited SAWS staff and leadership – those who “work in the trenches,” respond to emergencies, answer customer phone calls, and serve on the board.

He saw it as an additional compliment that the board put the agenda item on the consent agenda and was, therefore, passed without formal discussion on Tuesday.

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Top image: SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente listens to presentations during the SAWS board meeting. File photo by Scott Ball. 

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org