Two top officials at the City of San Antonio are headed to new jobs at the San Antonio Water System, according to City and SAWS officials.

Mike Frisbie, director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements department, will become SAWS’ senior vice president and chief operating officer, according to a Nov. 28 resignation letter to City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

Jose De La Cruz, formerly the chief innovation officer heading the City’s Office of Innovation, has also left for a job at SAWS, according to City officials.

As program delivery manager for SAWS’ customer service group, De La Cruz will oversee a program to begin incorporating automated water meters into SAWS’ network, said Gavino Ramos, SAWS vice president of communications.

San Antonio Chief Innovation Officer Jose De La Cruz.
San Antonio Chief Innovation Officer Jose De La Cruz will become program delivery manager for SAWS’ customer service group. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Both Frisbie and De La Cruz will now take leadership roles at the fast-growing municipally owned water and sewer utility that serves more than 1.8 million people in the San Antonio area.

In a statement, Sculley called Frisbie, who has worked for the City for 11 years, “one of the best” executives she has ever appointed during her tenure.

“His fingerprints are all over San Antonio, having delivered nearly $2 billion in capital projects through the largest voter-approved Bond programs in our City’s history,” Sculley said. “He is widely respected by so many in his industry, and San Antonio is lucky to keep his talent here.”

In his resignation letter, Frisbie said he has “mixed emotions” about leaving his current post and thanked Sculley for the “tremendous opportunity” she provided.

“I love this community and will continue to lead in its advancement in my new capacity,” Frisbie wrote.

His last day will be Dec. 14, though he said in the letter he would be available to help during the transition.

Frisbie will take over for current SAWS COO Steve Clouse, who has worked for SAWS and its predecessor for more than 30 years.

According to SAWS, Clouse started working for the City’s wastewater utility in 1985, before SAWS existed. SAWS was created in 1992 after the consolidation of formerly separate water, sewer, and recycled water utilities.

Clouse did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.

In a phone interview Wednesday, SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente said Clouse’s decades of experience and familiarity with the SAWS system will make his shoes impossible to fill completely.

“Steve’s shoes were so big that I am just buying a new pair of shoes,” Puente said. “That’s everything from his technical knowledge of the work that is done, his historical perspective of why it was done, and his ability to reason with our outside stakeholders on why it needs to get done.”

Puente said SAWS advertised for the COO position and conducted a national search, drawing close to 200 applicants. Frisbie was among those who applied, and he stood out because of his experience managing large capital projects and his familiarity with the City, Puente said.

“It’s quite unique that you look all over the world and get right what you need under your nose,” Puente said. “You mention a neighborhood or a street, and [Frisbie] immediately knows the issues with that geographic area you’re talking about.”

Ideally, Frisbie would have had more experience with water treatment, Puente said.

“Coincidentally, that’s what we are very strong in with” SAWS Vice President of Production and Treatment Jeff Haby, Puente said. Puente said Haby was another finalist for the COO position.

Puente said Clouse and Frisbie will have a “three-week overlap” to help with the transition.

Puente said De La Cruz starts his job overseeing SAWS’ automated meter program on Dec. 3. De La Cruz left his job with the City on Nov. 20, according to City Public Affairs Manager Thea Setterbo. He has worked with the City for six years – two-and-a-half as chief innovation officer, according to Assistant City Manager María Villagómez.

In a statement, Villagómez said De La Cruz was “instrumental in building our SmartSA program,” which focuses on the use of technology and data to make the city more resilient and improve residents’ quality of life.

“We appreciate Jose’s service to the City and congratulate and wish him well in his new journey ahead,” Villagómez said.

City officials confirmed that Smart City Administrator Brian Dillard is currently filling De La Cruz’s role at the Office of Innovation.

Setterbo said in an email that Sculley will appoint an interim Transportation and Capital Improvements director next week, and the City will begin a local and national search to permanently fill that position.

The City is also beginning the recruitment process to have a new chief innovation officer in place by early next year.

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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.