Nirenberg Touts Accomplishments, Calls for Change to Utility Exec Bonuses

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Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Mayor Ron Nirenberg delivers a speech to members of the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg reiterated his call for an end to bonuses for local municipally owned utility executives during his annual address to the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

“SAWS and CPS [Energy] are government-owned public service entities – they are not private businesses beholden to shareholders – they are beholden to the City of San Antonio and to the ratepayers they serve,” Nirenberg said. “Bonuses for our utilities’ executives must end. We can remove the political theater from executive compensation and ensure our market competitiveness.”

The Rivard Report‘s recent reporting on executive pay first prompted the mayor to question the practice of bonuses.

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams’ base salary is $485,850 and she received a board-approved bonus of $444,820 for total compensation of $930,669. SAWS President and CEO Robert Puente, whose base salary is $496,520, received a $100,000 bonus for a total of $596,520.

Nirenberg sits on both utilities’ boards in his official capacity and voted to approve Gold-Williams’ bonus. He was absent for a vote to approve Puente’s bonus.

“The issue here is structural,” Nirenberg said. “It doesn’t rest on the leaders of our utilities, and this community benefits immensely from Robert Puente and Paula Gold Williams’ exemplary leadership.”

Not all board members of the two utilities support the mayor’s plan to start baking bonuses into base pay. There was a mild, smattering of applause from the Chamber audience for the mayor’s position on Friday.

[Read our series on CPS Energy and SAWS, how much their executives makehow much they spend, how they see themselves in the marketplace and how it affects you as a ratepayer.]

Nirenberg’s relationship with the business community was strained during his recent re-election campaign when he found himself on the opposite side of initiatives related to paid sick leave, climate change, bidding on hosting the 2020 Republican National Convention, and removing Chick-fil-A from an airport contract. He received a failing grade, 33 percent, on the North Chamber’s first-ever City Council scorecard that ranked each member ahead of the election. 

While those issues mattered to many business-minded voters, so did Nirenberg’s challenger’s ties to the firefighters union and its fight to change the city’s charter. Former Councilman Greg Brockhouse, endorsed by the union, narrowly lost a runoff with nearly 49 percent of the vote.

“In June, San Antonio voters issued the real scorecard – we prevailed – and it’s time we get back to work,” Nirenberg told the Chamber audience. 

“Many of you here today are great friends and longtime supporters, but a few months ago, there were some that thought that I would not be joining you for lunch today,” Nirenberg quipped. “But I’m back. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m here.”

The North Chamber plans on releasing its Council scorecard every year.

The tension between chamber membership and the mayor could be felt at the luncheon, but it was still a cordial affair.

“I think we’re all ready to just kinda sit down and say, ‘okay, you’re our mayor for the next two years, what do we need to do to get beyond this and keep working with you?’” North Chamber President and CEO Cristina Aldrete told reporters after his address. “We have to [in order] to keep growing the community and to keep ahead of things that we’ve got to be addressing as this community grows.”

Nirenberg said he is well aware that many in the room disagreed with some of his policies.

But the business community is not a “monolith,” he said, with a single, unified opinion about public policy.

Several prominent businesses and organizations, especially those in the energy sector, balked at the first Climate Action and Adaptation Plan draft released in January, prompting the City and stakeholders to re-work it by softening the initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to a version of the new plan obtained by the Rivard Report this week.

City Council is slated to vote on the policy framework this fall.

“The climate plan is a starting point,” Nirenberg said to the crowd. “It’s the easy part. It’s a roadmap for the future. It is not a set of mandates.”

Aldrete said she has not yet had a chance to read the new draft, but that she’s heard “it’s much better.”

The revisions were carried out by the Office of Sustainability with input from the business community, environmental advocates, and the community in general, Nirenberg told reporters. “I would expect that this draft is very close if not final.”

The goal remains to reach carbon neutrality in 2050, he said, and he disagrees with the characterization that language has been “softened” to be more business and industry-friendly.

“I’m dead serious about us adopting a plan and implementing it,” he said. “I’m not going to soften my approach because there are a few folks that just haven’t come on board yet. this is far too important.”

The framework for Connect SA, a comprehensive multimodal transportation plan being developed by a nonprofit of the same name, is being introduced to stakeholders throughout San Antonio and Nirenberg expects voters to see funding for it on the 2020 ballot.

During his speech, the mayor also highlighted the City’s first-ever local property tax homestead exemption, funding and volunteer efforts from the City and partners to support migrants passing through San Antonio, implementation of affordable housing strategies he spearheaded, tuition-free education through the Alamo Promise program, and the City’s near-perfect bond rating.

One initiative that will not see the light of day, Nirenberg said, is a proposal from two former Council members to provide lifetime free public parking to former mayors and Council members who served their maximum terms.

“Let me just say: That plan is DOA. Dead. On. Arrival,” he said. “We’re here to serve the public, not create perks for politicians.”

Not included in Nirenberg’s prepared remarks was any mention of the City’s paid sick leave ordinance, which the subject of a lawsuit filed by local businesses and trade associations and one of the top issues the business community faces this year.  Nirenberg is supportive of paid sick leave, but the City agreed to delay implementation of the ordinance until Dec. 1.

Aldrete said she was not surprised Nirenberg didn’t mention it.

“It’s in the court system right now, there’s really not much anybody can do right now,” she said. “We’re just kind of waiting to see, praying that the supreme court will rule on it.”

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