The Nirenberg One Finger Salute is to the Governor of Texas and to San Antonio voters of all persuasions who voted overwhelmingly (over 217,000 voters at nearly 57%) last November for Prop B -- to limit city manager pay and terms. This is true, despite how you feel about the Mayor (an independent, mind you), Republican Governor Abbott, or any party. LIV
On the heels of the Governor’s veto of SAWS legislation House Bill 1806 (a SAWS water-grab switcheroo of SA’s Edwards water for Vista Ridge water) what did “Mayor Ron” do? He gave the green light for a 5% raise and $100,000 bonus to SAWS CEO, Robert Puente. Puente is now making $496,520 base pay, nearly $25,000 more than recently forced into retirement City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
Alfred E. Puente doesn’t worry about SAWS ratepayers. The same might be said for the Express-News. Their July 16th editorial claims that Puente “performed well” and that his "compensation was in line and comparatively low compared with other utility executives.”
If you were a SAWS ratepayer, wouldn’t you like to know how Puente’s pay compares to private and public sector water utility CEO’s?
LIV Advisory Board member, James Murphy, one of the top water attorneys in Texas with decades of experience in the public sector, said,
“I already know Puente’s pay is way out of line for a public water utility. But, here’s what I found with a simple google search today. Austin Water Utility Director, Greg Mezaros, who has been at the helm at AWU one year longer than Puente’s stint at SAWS, gets paid $200,200 a year, according to the Texas Tribune.”
Yes, San Antonio, we have a problem.
Short-term political memory is a big problem these days. San Antonio City Manager Sheryl Sculley was famously forced out after San Antonio voters handily passed Prop B last November. Remember, under Prop B the City Manager is to be paid no more than 10 times the lowest paid fulltime worker for the city and limited to serving 8 years. (See Props A, B and C here.)
Are lavish salaries for top executive management of public utilities proper in a city designated the most economically segregated cities in America? That’s a question that only San Antonio ratepayers and Council members can answer. Apparently, the passage of Prop B hasn’t sent a strong enough message --- yet. But, if you believe like we independent organizers do that history is determined more by what comes next, read the rest of this article and get ready for some action.
Like Mohammad Ali Wanted Joe Frazier, LIV Wants Puente and Guerra!
Puente has become legend among those who follow SAWS record for “massaging" the truth. This piece in 2014 by Politifact tries to be nice about busting the CEO for manipulation of data making false claims about its water conservation program. A few months later, the CEO reversed course on his decision to reject Vista Ridge and went full bore on ramming through Council the Vista Ridge debacle. (Watch the 17- video on our home page "I Oppose the San Antone Hose.")
Berto Guerra, SAWS Board of Trustees Chairman
What do we have against the ever warm and fuzzy, Berto Guerra? While pushing unnecessary rate increases for a massive unnecessary water project – Vista Ridge is slated to begin pumping in April 2020 – it seems obvious that Guerra is, let’s say, a bit ethically challenged. To those of us who follow the “SAWS Buzz SAW”, Guerra went to a new low when he donated $35,000 to the Vote No on Props A, B and C campaign last November without blinking an eye.
Watch Stan Mitchell and LIV's Ellen Berky get after Guerra and "pay to play" at this SAWS Trustee April meeting -- and Guerra's response.
Here’s the real kicker on Guerra. The dude and another SAWS Trustee, Patricia Merritt, were term limited in March 2018. However, there they both still sit on the SAWS Board, like beached whales, but to provide critical votes on decisions like this appalling Puente pay rip-off.
Those leading the charge for the raise and bonus (SAWS Trustees McGee, Merritt and Guerra) didn’t bother to justify their overflowing praise for Puente with even just a tad of data for which the city is paying two firms $193,000.
Please see this helpful July 3rd article by Rivard Report writer Brendan Gibbons, who apparently was able to get SAWS to send him data, but this data is not in print here either. We have asked a few Council members to make this information public.
Of course, not a word was said about the Governor’s veto of HB 1806 -- a big goose egg on Puente’s face and his poor leadership of the SAWS Lobby Team.
To be fair, the real problem for San Antonio is really Mayor 51%, Ron Nirenberg, who is like an injured animal that might attack someone trying to help him. The Vista Ridge Resolution, calling for an independent audit of “The Hose” and for accountability at SAWS, is something Nirenberg should embrace, especially in light of his very recent statement about “climate emergency”. (Be sure to read our report about the West San Antonio Chamber breakfast for more on this point.)
Does Nirenberg owe too much to those
who saved him from insurgent Greg Brockhouse?
Days before the runoff between Nirenberg and Brockhouse, Austin Mayor Steve Adler -- a leader in the quest to build out central Texas at any cost -- sent a "private letter" (on the Mayor's letterhead, mind you) to the public asking for donations for Nirenberg's tight mayoral runoff with Greg Brockhouse. Shortly thereafter, Nirenberg, and four other Council members took all of 30-minutes to cast a vote waiving $87 million in water supply impact fees to developers. It was not even mentioned by the Express-News.
Thankfully, Council Members Courage, Perry and Brockhouse voted against this SAWS travesty.
Again, to Rivard’s credit, they did this piece on the water impact fee giveaway entitled, “City Council Spares Developers Maximum Impact Fee for Vista Ridge.”
Message to Mayor Ron Nirenberg: You might advise those lobbying you that your unwillingness – so far -- to do the right thing by supporting the Vista Ridge Resolution -- could, in fact, backfire by upping the ante. Here’s how:
Fernando Centeno, a community planning practitioner (and Harvard graduate), who’s been in the trenches of San Antonio policy for 40 years, shared this insight recently with us:
“I call Vista Ridge a ‘son of Sam.’ If I could end it, I would. But it’s SAM we should want to re-write. SAM, aka the SA2020 plan, is the city’s ‘vision’, the vehicle for San Antonio’s so-called economic development agenda for decades. It’s all about business development. Public leaders are obsessed with building a metroplex here by subsidizing an aggressive built environment on a scale in which housing supply could never keep up with demand. This is how San Antonio earned the dubious distinction of being the most economically segregated city in the U.S.”
The hopeful news is that City Council members not only have the power to pass the Vista Ridge Resolution – for the audit and SAWS clean up. They can also rewrite SAM (SA2020) to address, in Centeno’s words, “socioeconomic needs rather than to widen the divide by defining success in strict and narrow terms of business.”
If you want to read the SA2020 plan, please visit the website linked below. But be aware that despite that thousands of San Antonio residents weighed-in on developing the vision, it's all about the built environment metroplex. In SA2020, according to Centeno, “San Antonio is left behind.”
We Texans -- private citizens, public officials and business – urban, suburban and rural -- are all in this together, but not if you let those feeding at the trough forget who pays the bills.
♦ What you can do
♦If you’re a SAWS ratepayer, contact the Mayor and Council, preferably by phone -- if not, email them. Ask them to:
=> Pass the Vista Ridge Resolution for a full audit of Vista Ridge and for accountability at SAWS.
=>Complain to them about Puente’s pay.
=>Ask them to replace term limited Guerra and Merritt with some independent doers and thinkers through a transparent selection process.
=>Then, ask them to help you understand the SA2020 plan and its impact on your affordability.
♦If you’re a Texan, contact Governor Greg Abbott. Ask him to step up to help push for a full audit of Vista Ridge and SAWS accountability. Call the Governor at 512-463-2000 or reach him online here.
The Council works for you, if you live in San Antonio. Some of those Council members already know this and will respond to your requests. Learn who they are and get your friends and family ready and registered to vote.
Here is the Mayor and Council Members contact information: https://www.sanantonio.gov/Council
♦ We hope to see you at a coalition meeting about the Vista Ridge Resolution on July 23 at 7 pm held at the Amalgamated Transit Workers Hall at 1901 N. Flores. Details here and please do share!
♦ We are happy to have anyone challenge or correct any statements we have made in this article, including city and SAWS officials.
You can also call LIV's San Antonio Board Member, Ellen Berky at 210-737-8421 or email us at email@example.com.