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SAWS CEO Robert Puente is WAY Overpaid

SAWS CEO Robert Puente is WAY Overpaid! James Murphy, leading water attorney and LIV Advisor (pictured here) told you this when Puente’s lavish pay and bonus hit the news on July 2.

The good news is that it’s finally in print other than on this blog.

According to the Rivard Report, Robert Puente is, by far, the highest paid public water utility CEO in the USA at $496,520 annual salary. Counting his $100,000 yearly bonuses, he is paid nearly three times more than any of the public water utility CEOs in the Texas Triangle. We have confirmed that Houston, Dallas and Austin do not offer bonuses.

This graph, published in the Rivard Report on August 4, says it all.

Robert Puente’s pay is a big outlier on this graph, prepared by the Rivard Report

We told you in our last newsletter article entitled, “The Nirenberg One Finger Salute” Puente’s 5% raise and $100K bonus was passed unanimously on July 2 by the SAWS Board of Trustees. But, we question if two of five of those voting members should not have been allowed to vote. SAWS Chair Berto Guerra’s term ended in May 2018, rendering him term-limited and ineligible for re-appointment. SAWS Trustee Patricia Merritt’s first term also ended in May 2018 with no reappointment as of July 2 of this year.

The City is also paying two consultant firms $193,000 to evaluate the CEO’s performance, but leaving ratepayers in the dark about what they are paying for.

The same day (August 4) the Rivard Report printed their damning article, Mayor Ron Nirenberg was also in the Rivard calling for an end to bonuses. Mind you, this was after lauding Puente and the raise and bonus in a letter to the SAWS Board on July 2.

On August 9, the plot thickened. In an Express News piece entitled, “San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg calls for an end to bonuses for utility chiefs,” were these quotes from Nirenberg and Puente:

Nirenberg is quoted stating, “Pay incentives for high executive performance should be ‘baked into’ utility executives’ contracts.” Then, Puente is quoted, “If I’m ending up whole, why would I complain about that?”

James Murphy, Esq., one of the state’s top water lawyers, said:

“We are fortunate that Governor Abbott vetoed HB 1806. It would have allowed SAWS to hide the true cost of Vista Ridge by selling less costly Edwards Aquifer water to Kendall County and requiring SAWS ratepayers to replace it with Vista Ridge water, which is far more expensive — like 5 to 6 times more than wholesale Edwards water.  Puente’s ridiculous compensation package is clearly abusive. But this has Vista Ridge written all over it. The Mayor and Council must now pass the Vista Ridge Resolution and enforce strict oversight of this PUBLIC utility, including its executive management.” See more, “Governor Turns The Hose (Vista Ridge) on SAWS, Vetoes HB 1806.

Ellen Berky, LIV-SA Interim Board Member circulated the Governor’s June 15 veto proclamation of key SAWS legislation — House Bill 1806 on Friday, August 9, at the West San Antonio Chamber of Commerce “State of Water” forum where Mr. Puente was speaking. Berky said,

“Only in San Antonio do we reward public utility executives with raises and bonuses right after the utility’s pet legislation is vetoed by the Governor.”

Meanwhile, SAWS is in overdrive for the April 2020 plan to start pumping the most expensive water in Texas uphill to Northern Bexar County via a 142-mile long pipeline – Vista Ridge.

Are you paying attention yet?

Live in San Antonio? Here’s what you can do:

  1.  Ask your council member to pass the Vista Ridge Resolution for a full audit of Vista Ridge and to rein in SAWS. (Find your Council member and Mayor here.) Or call 210.207.7040.

  2.  Urge the Mayor to cut Puente’s pay down to size, in line with other water CEO’s in Austin, Houston, and Dallas-Ft. Worth. Actually, feel free to suggest that Puente be shown the door.

  3.  Ask your Council member to explain to the public why Puente is being paid so much and based on what metrics in his evaluation – make all this PUBLIC!

  4.  A coalition in San Antonio are holding regular meetings. Go to our contact page, call our main number at 512.213.4511 or call LIV-SA’s Ellen Berky at 210.737.8421.

Live anywhere in Texas? Do this!

  1.  Call the Governor’s hotline at 512.463.2000. Leave a message asking him to use his power to push for a full review of Vista Ridge and to NOT “California my water”. That is, no mass conveyance of groundwater for new real estate development in areas without local supply.

  2.  Call your state legislators (House and Senate) and urge action to protect our water and our future. Find your legislators here.

  3.  Contact us here at LIV as we make plans to be coming to your area soon!  Go to our contact section

All of y’all! Join LIV or donate some time or money. Independents are the problem solvers. This is a big problem for everyone in Texas.

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