Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report
Citing her leadership as the head of the municipally owned electric and gas utility during a time of transition, the CPS Energy board of trustees gave President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams a raise and a bonus of almost $445,000.
At its June meeting Thursday, the board approved a 3 percent raise for Gold-Williams, bringing her base salary from $471,700 to $485,850 per year. They also approved a bonus of $444,819.25 for her work in most recent fiscal year. That includes $106,036.25 deferred from the previous year as a part of a long-term incentive program.
Under the incentive program, Gold-Williams is also eligible for an additional $128,114.25 bonus in 2020 for work performed last fiscal year.
“We feel that [Gold-Williams] has performed very, very strongly in the past and particularly in the fiscal year that just ended,” said trustee Ed Kelley, a former USAA executive who heads the board’s personnel committee.
With total compensation of $930,669, Gold-Williams is San Antonio’s highest-paid municipal government employee, ahead of San Antonio Water System President and CEO Robert Puente and City Manager Erik Walsh.
The pay increase comes as CPS Energy officials prepare to make a case for raising customers’ rates. The utility is facing declining profits from selling power onto the state grid after the closure of its Deely coal-fired units. As the operator of some of the largest pollution sources in Bexar County, it also faces some pressure to avoid investing in fossil fuels in a rapidly warming climate.
“Under some pretty intense circumstances, you’ve done everything you needed to from a metrics standpoint,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a board member in his official capacity.
However, Nirenberg added that “in the environment we’re in, there’s also other standards in that there is increasing scrutiny on these types of organizations and how we compensate.”
Nirenberg likely was referring to the approval last year by voters of a proposition to limit the pay of San Antonio’s city manager to 10 times that of the lowest-paid City employee (around $300,000). Former City Manager Sheryl Sculley retired earlier this year in the wake of the vote.
All CPS Energy trustees voted to approve Gold-Williams’ pay hikes except for Janie Gonzalez, who abstained.
Gonzalez, a CEO and co-founder of local IT firm Webhead confirmed to the CPS Energy board earlier this year, said her abstention had “nothing to do with the confidence to give my opinion to support someone or not.” She said she was abstaining because she had spent only five months on the board and because of concerns over performance metrics.
Gold-Williams’ bonus was based on a review of 13 metrics by third-party management consultant ScottMadden.
“These metrics are not give-me’s,” ScottMadden partner Todd Williams told the board on Thursday. “They’re not easy.”
Metrics include customer satisfaction, injury rates, compliance with environmental laws, adherence to budget, outages, bond ratings, and power plant performance. CPS Energy’s board approves bonuses for its top officials based on how they fare each year. The process has been in place around six years, Gold-Williams said.
“These are very tough standards to meet,” Nirenberg said. “They’re set intentionally so. … They’re done because of the public wanting us to have this kind of process. And whether or not our executives meet these standards is either pass-fail on each one of those metrics.”
CPS Energy officials achieved all but two of the benchmarks, Williams said. One pertains to the rate of employee injuries on the job; the other related to the average frequency of service interruptions CPS Energy customers experienced in the utility’s 2019 fiscal year, which ended Jan. 31.
Gonzalez called this “a very objective process” but also said she’s “a little concerned about that process.”
“I think there’s an opportunity where we can improve to maybe see how we can still have those quantitative processes in place, but be able to have some measures of success that are more relatable or maybe also can be adjusted to some of the expectations our constituents have,” Gonzalez said.
Last year, the SAWS board for the first time approved similar agreements with consultants to gauge Puente’s performance. He earned $468,194.40 in 2018 and last year turned down a $96,500 bonus, calling the focus on his pay a “distraction.”
Thursday’s meeting marked the first time CPS Energy held a public comment period and live-streamed its proceedings on video. Board Chair John Steen spent about three minutes at the start of the meeting laying out ground rules for public comment that Steen developed with fellow board member Willis Mackey.
In addition to the usual private security, a San Antonio police officer and Bexar County Sheriff’s Office deputy were present at the meeting. Utility staff also posted signs warning attendees that they might be recorded on video.
The utility’s first seven public commenters were all volunteers or staff with environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Public Citizen, and the Environmental Defense Fund.
Mario Bravo, project manager for Texas energy with the Environmental Defense Fund, drew a line between climate change and the intense storms earlier this month that knocked out power to thousands of CPS Energy customers. He suggested that CPS Energy should make public the cost of dealing with those storms to better inform the local climate debate.
“If you all were to gather what that cost was … and make it public, I think it would help people who do research to understand what do storms look like today and what are they costing us?” Bravo said. “And if we have more frequent storms and more severe storms, what could that cost in the future?”