Juanita "Janie" Gonzalez, the latest pick to serve on the board of CPS Energy, said she knows firsthand the struggles that some of the utility's customers are going through.
"I also know what it is to be poor and struggling to pay the bills," Gonzalez, president and CEO of IT firm Webhead, said in a phone interview Saturday in which she discussed her background and interest in serving on the board of the municipally owned electric and gas utility.
"My mom was one of those that always waited in line while we were growing up to ask for an extension or assistance," Gonzalez said. "The population in San Antonio is very, very diverse, and there's a lot who have means and there's a lot who don't have means."
At a special meeting Friday, CPS Energy's board voted to confirm Gonzalez as their nominee to represent the utility's southwest quadrant. If confirmed by San Antonio City Council, she would replace trustee Homer Guevara Jr., who's final term ends Jan. 31.
Guevara, who headed the two-person applicant search committee, along with board Chair John Steen, cited Gonzalez's "business acumen, her involvement in the community, her knowledge about things such as cybersecurity, IT, good fiscal responsibility" as reasons for her selection.
Gonzalez, 46, launched Webhead at age 21. She said her experience with the company has given her the chance to work with many different industries, but she always remains focused on the end user.
"Technology is a tool, [but] people are the ones we need to always keep in mind whenever we're building anything," Gonzalez said.
If confirmed, Gonzalez, who grew up on the South Side, said her first priority would be to "canvass and learn the district that I represent because it's very diverse."
City Council is set to vote on Gonzalez's confirmation in January, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a CPS Energy board member in his official capacity.
Gonzalez’s nomination comes eight months after a contentious City Council vote on CPS Energy’s previous board nominee, Willis Mackey. Council members Rebecca Viagran (D3), Shirley Gonzales (D5), and Greg Brockhouse (D6) voted no on confirming Mackey.
Viagran and Gonzales had cited the all-male makeup of the board as reasons for their no votes. Brockhouse focused on what he said were flaws in the utility’s method of advertising the position and interviewing candidates.
The heightened scrutiny over its last appointee could be what led CPS Energy to put more effort into advertising the latest position when the search began in July. It bought ads in multiple news outlets, held information sessions for prospective applicants, and in September extended the deadline to apply by a few weeks.
“We took a look at diversity,” Guevara said when asked about the concerns over gender representation on the board.
“We understand gender representation, racial composition," he continued. "If you take a look at the historical situation with boards and commissions here in San Antonio, we’re becoming more diverse.”
Women have served on the CPS Energy board in the past, including then-Mayor Ivy Taylor in her official capacity and former City Finance Director Nora Chavez, who represented its northeast quadrant. Chavez left the board in 2016 after moving out of the quadrant and was replaced by Steen.
Guevara, a politics and government professor at Northwest Vista College, said he plans to stay involved in public life, serving on committees with the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, among others.
Guevara said his favorite part of serving on the board nearly 10 years has been helping to expand the programs offered to residents struggling to make ends meet. Examples include CPS Energy's Casa Verde weatherization program to help lower-income customers cut energy costs.
“Obviously, we wanted to keep this running as a good businesses entity, but at the same time the empathy the utility shows to those in need has been one of my top priorities, especially with the quadrant that I represent,” Guevara said.
Here are the other 16 applicants CPS Energy received for the position, according to a report shared by the utility's staff:
Fredy Alberto, 37, director of financial management and comptroller, Department of the Air Force
George Anglin, 38, specialist with Toyota Manufacturing Texas
Leda Barnett, 49, associate professor and program head of political science with Our Lady of the Lake University
George Britton, 73, retired
Melissa Cabello Havrda, 44, attorney with Casner & Cabello Havrda
Ramiro Cabrera, 57, retired
Louis Escareno, 54, attorney
Omar Garcia, 43, permits supervisor with the Edward Aquifer Authority
Joseph Guerra, 68, retired
John Jackson, 64, chief of the special missions division, U.S. Air Force 625th Operations Center
Sonia Jasso, 33, senior director of advising services, University of the Incarnate Word
Gerald Lopez, 50, president and owner of G&L Lawn Service
Farooq Malik, 35, director of finance of Blue Duck Scooters
Juanita Sepulveda, 49, director of the PTSD Foundation of America
Daniel Walker, 63, retired
Steven Zumaran, 27, development officer at Our Lady of the Lake University
Of the 17 candidates, the board interviewed Alberto, Barnett, Britton, Cabello Havrda, Gonzalez, Jackson, Jasso, Lopez, Malik, Sepulveda, and Walker, utility officials said.