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City Council Must Stop SAWS Coronavirus Power Grab

The following media release was sent to San Antonio media this morning. More soon to follow:

SAWS Accountability Act PAC Representing a growing coalition of the sick and tired! PO Box 33402, San Antonio, TX 78265 • 210.807.7273

For Immediate Release                                                                                      April 7, 2020

Contact: Media Secretary, Reinette King • 210.241.2683

City Council Must Stop SAWS Coronavirus Power Grab!

San Antonio, Tuesday, April 7, 7:30am:  SAWS Chair Berto Guerra, who is nearly two years beyond his term limit, is pushing a Resolution buried as Item 33 on page 516 of the subject 539-page SAWS Board Agenda. SAWS watchdogs claim the SAWS Resolution gives “full dictatorial power” to SAWS General Manager Robert Puente, using Covid-19 as the excuse.

In August 2019, the independent San Antonio media source, Rivard Report, revealed that SAWS General Manager, Robert Puente, is being paid 3 times that of other public water utility managers in Texas and even those who manage larger and more complex systems in Los Angeles and New York City.

Vista Ridge is slated to begin on April 15 bringing unnecessary water at exorbitant rates to San Antonio before the private partner Vista Ridge LLC, controlled by Garney Construction, has secured long-term financing for the 30-year project. The SAWS Rate Advisory Committee is also on hold for two months due to the COVID-19 crisis and its Vice Chair, Joe Yakubik, cannot get the records he says he needs to do his job.

In the midst of San Antonio being hit hard by the coronavirus, SAWS watchdogs are not only crying foul, but urging San Antonio media and citizens to call the City Council and Mayor to get SAWS under control, rather than allow more violations of the public trust by SAWS.

Terry Burns, MD, a retired medical doctor and Alamo Sierra Club chair, said:

“As a doctor I find this latest Guerra and Puente maneuver in the midst of COVID-19 unconscionable. The $3.4 billion Vista Ridge Project was approved in 2014 with minimal public information, hidden in “Public Private Partnership” rules. It was signed without an independent audit. The cost of the water is 5 to 6 times what we pay for our own local water supply. And, SAWS admits about 30% of the water is beyond their capacity to use. Sierra Club believes conservation could eliminate any need for the rest of the water. The Mayor and City Council, SAWS’ bosses, wash their hands of Vista Ridge. Now the SAWS Board washes its hands of any authority over Mr. Puente. What happened to representative democracy? Who watches out for us? Surely NOT Mr. Puente!”

George Alejos of LULAC Concilio Zapatista 4383, who has long advocated for the Hispanic community, especially low-income residents, said:

“LULAC is the oldest and largest Hispanic organization in the United States. Despite our significant following in San Antonio, a majority Hispanic city and one of the poorest cities in the nation, our pleas for SAWS accountability have fallen on deaf ears. In today’s world, when people are already suffering and instability threatens us, it is unforgivable for officials to allow SAWS to give Puente this kind of unchecked power.”

Stan Mitchell, a member of the SAWS Act PAC Board, said,

“Item 33 refers to the 1992 Ordinance #75686 which, at Section 32, retained for the City Council the power to control SAWS.  It is a great irony that this founding document which empowered our City Council, is cited by the SAWS Resolution in the transfer of power from our elected Council representatives, through the unelected SAWS Board of Trustees to a single employee, SAWS General Manager, Robert Puente. Is this not an abuse of power?”

To uphold the city’s public gathering guidelines, the SAWS Board of Trustees will meet via teleconference for its April 7 meeting under this link.

The SAWS Act PAC is working to place the SAWS Accountability Act on the May 2021 local election ballot. They will be out petitioning in public as soon as it is safe to be out in public. The petition will:

►Ratchet back Puente’s pay from 3 times that of any public water CEO in Texas – nearly $600,000 annually. ►Place firm term limits on SAWS leadership, showing Chair Berto Guerra the door. ►Require City Council to rein in SAWS lobbying efforts to become the water broker of the region, financed by SAWS ratepayers. ►Open the books to the light of day with an independent performance audit of Vista Ridge.
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