Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report
In the smoothest confirmation vote so far for a utility board member under San Antonio’s current City Council, council members on Thursday unanimously confirmed tech entrepreneur Juanita “Janie” Gonzalez to the board of CPS Energy.
CPS Energy’s board in December appointed Gonzalez out of 11 candidates they interviewed to join them in overseeing the municipally owned electric and gas utility. Gonzalez will represent CPS Energy’s southwest service quadrant, replacing 10-year board member Homer Guevara Jr.
Gonzalez, 46, is president and CEO of Webhead, the San Antonio-based IT firm she co-founded in the 1990s. Unlike the past two nominees to the boards of CPS Energy and the San Antonio Water System, Gonzalez enjoyed broad support by all on council.
The CPS Energy and SAWS boards are among the most prestigious and long-lasting appointments in San Antonio, with board members eligible to serve up to 10 years and eight years, respectively. Recent appointments to these boards have fueled conflicts over diversity and gender representation.
Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) voted last April against CPS Energy board member Willis Mackey on the grounds that only men made up the utility’s board. Before confirming Gonzalez on Thursday, Viagran said she was “happy we have a Latina and woman now on the CPS Energy board.”
Most council members focused on Gonzalez’s gender and ethnicity, business background, qualifications, and prior volunteer service. None was swayed by a letter sent Wednesday by local environmental groups arguing that CPS Energy board members have too often nominated people from the financial and business realms. Councilman Rey Saldaña (D4) indirectly referenced the letter in his comments before the vote.
“In many cases, [Gonzalez] or anyone doesn’t pass everyone’s benchmark with respect to ideology or position,” Saldaña said. “As a Latina, … it is not the first time that people have had misconceptions about who she is and what she’s capable of.”
Before the vote, several business and political leaders expressed their support for Gonzalez, including BB&T bank executive and former City Councilman Juan F. Solis III, Live Oak Mayor Mary Dennis, MEDWheels President and CEO Jane Gonzalez, and Beldon Chairman Michael Beldon.
“It really is the American dream,” said Beldon, who leads a roofing and remodeling company and served with Janie Gonzalez on the Alamo Colleges Foundation board. “Southside girl goes to college, does well, builds a company, becomes a really active member of the community, does a lot of really good things, and now has an opportunity to serve on a really important board.”
Gonzalez did not have the support of the environmental groups who have been saying CPS Energy needs to abandon coal and natural gas by 2030. The City’s recent draft climate plan states that shutting down all of CPS Energy fossil fuel plants by 2050 is necessary to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord that council members signed onto in 2017.
The letter from the Climate Action SA coalition, signed by members of the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, criticized several of CPS Energy’s recent decisions, including the selection of Gonzalez.
“CPS Energy will have to make significant changes to allow our utility to be competitive in the future,” the letter states. “That won’t happen by appointing more like-minded people to their board. The board desperately needs members who will question the assumptions of senior CPS Energy staff and embrace new solutions in an industry that is rapidly changing. The next five to ten years will be critical to move CPS Energy away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.”
Councilman Clayton Perry (D9) lambasted the letter in his comments before the vote.
“It just goes to show you that you can’t please everybody all the time,” Perry said. “There’s groups and organizations that don’t have the forethought and the expertise to know what it takes to be a member of a board like this and provide that strategic leadership and direction for a large agency.”
After her confirmation, Gonzalez told the Rivard Report that she believes CPS Energy needs to continue the transition to clean energy.
“I do think we need to make those decisions over time; we can’t do it overnight,” Gonzalez said. “But I do believe, as an individual speaking as myself, that we need to move in that direction. As a new elected trustee, I’m going to make sure that we get the data, we see how we can do it, and that we are committed to getting it done.”
Gonzalez talked about her recent visit to a CPS Energy customer service event, where she spoke with people interested in CPS Energy’s home weatherization program, bill assistance programs, and rebates. She said she hopes to learn more about these services and how to improve them.
“They were so grateful that CPS [Energy] was out there in the community, but what I also learned was that there’s a big need in our community,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a lot of individuals that are struggling to make ends meet.”