The San Antonio Water System Board of Trustees nominates Port San Antonio board member, Marilu Reyna to represent the southeast quadrant of the San Antonio Water System's service territory.
San Antonio Water System trustees meet in January 2020. City Council's Governance Committee on Monday nominated Port San Antonio board member Marilu Reyna to represent the southeast quadrant of the utility's service territory. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A City Council committee has tapped Marilu Reyna, a public relations professional and Port San Antonio board member, to represent the southeast quadrant of the San Antonio Water System’s service territory.

Reyna was among the two additional applicants City Council’s Governance Committee considered Monday after extending the deadline to apply for the seat left by former SAWS trustee Leticia Ozuna. The other was Erik Elizondo, an account representative at Milford Cos., whom the committee didn’t interview because he didn’t attend its meeting Monday.

Following deliberation in a closed session, the committee voted to nominate Reyna, an executive vice president for public affairs and communications for San Antonio-based nonprofit Baptist Child and Family Services. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Councilwomen Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) and Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), and Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) voted in favor, with Councilman John Courage (D9) abstaining.

Committee members didn’t address why they had chosen Reyna over six other candidates, with Nirenberg saying only that “this is a huge responsibility, particularly this time, and we had a number of very qualified candidates.”

In an interview during open session ahead of the vote, Reyna spoke of her work to shape online reputations and “manage the media,” including at the detention center for migrant youths that BCFS System operates in Carrizo Springs. Reyna, who attended St. Mary’s University, also spoke of her deep roots and family connections in southeastern San Antonio.

“I like to build partnerships,” Reyna said. “I’m a good listener; I listen to all sides.”

Reyna, who was reappointed in August to a city bond advisory group, joined the Port San Antonio board in February 2020. The public development entity is an important player in the local economy, and the companies located at its Southside campus are among SAWS’ large commercial and industrial users. The SAWS board this month proposed a 10% rate increase for chilled water consumers, including Port SA customers such as Chromalloy and the Air Force.

In an interview ahead of the vote, Garcia said she had asked City Attorney Andy Segovia’s office if Reyna could serve on both boards without a conflict of interest. The city’s attorneys are “OK with it,” said Garcia, who made the motion to nominate Reyna.

Marilu Reyna, a public relations professional, is up for a vote to represent the San Antonio Water System's southeast quadrant.
Marilu Reyna, a public relations professional, is up for a vote to represent the San Antonio Water System’s southeast quadrant. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

City Council will likely vote on Reyna Oct. 21, Nirenberg said at the meeting. If approved, Reyna will hold the seat that represents the southeastern quadrant of the SAWS service area for a term that would end May 21, 2022.

Among the SAWS board’s most important tasks is vetting changes to water and sewer rates before they go to City Council for final approval. Asked by Pelaez what she would need to see from SAWS staff to earn her vote on any future increases, Reyna said she would want to see “bragging points” about the services SAWS provides, packaged with “all the data” about why an increase is needed.

“You probably pay twice as much, three times as much for your cable bill,” Reyna said. “Is it as important as water? So why wouldn’t we want to brag about some of those things that SAWS does?”

Reyna also told Pelaez she had not heard of the approximately $1.4 billion in work SAWS agreed in 2013 to undertake to fix its undersized and leaky sewage network. Sewer improvements as part of the 10-year consent decree with federal regulators have been a significant driver of SAWS’ rate increases from 2015 to 2020.

Each of SAWS’ quadrants — northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest — is represented by a board member who must live in that area. An additional overlay makes up another two quadrants, with one trustee each representing the north and south halves of the city. The mayor acts as an ex officio member of the board.

Last month, after interviewing five other SAWS trustee candidates, the governance committee decided to extend the deadline for the application to Oct. 1. Nirenberg said the decision to extend the deadline came after the committee’s five members were unable to reach a consensus on one candidate.

It was the second time officials extended the deadline since Ozuna left the SAWS board in June after her election to the San Antonio Independent School District board.

Candidates interviewed for the role included:

  • Sandi Wolff: director of strategic relations and membership for the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, resides in City Council District 2
  • Lawrence “Ren” Waung: exhibition designer and curator, resides in City Council District 3
  • Kristi Garza Villanueva: president and CEO of Tru-Matrix Contracting Services, resides in City Council District 2 
  • James “Jim” Smyle: environment and natural resources consultant, resides in City Council District 1
  • Brenda Pacheco: teacher, resides in City Council District 3

Courage said he abstained from the vote Monday because he preferred another candidate. He declined to specify who.

“I really felt like there was a person who would have been a much better addition to that board than the other committee members felt,” Courage said. “I just believed I really couldn’t vote for somebody if I felt there was someone else who should have been in that position.”

The selection of SAWS board members has proven contentious in recent years, with ethnic tensions in play during the last SAWS board appointment in September 2020.

City Council was divided on whether Robert Potts, a white resident of the southern SAWS sector with an environmental science background, could better represent that community than Fernando Reyes, a Hispanic auto manufacturing executive who lived in the Dominion, a Northside gated community.

Both Potts and Reyes ended up withdrawing, and the City Council confirmed small-business owner Ed Belmares, a former city and CPS Energy official, to the board. 

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Lindsey Carnett

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.

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Brendan Gibbons

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