Scott Ball / Rivard Report
After hearing from outside consultants, the San Antonio Water System’s board approved a raise and $100,000 bonus for the water and sewer utility’s top official.
At its July meeting on Tuesday, the SAWS board of trustees approved a 5 percent pay increase for President and CEO Robert Puente. The increase takes Puente’s annual salary from $468,194 to $496,520, effective July 3.
For his work in 2018, the board also recommended a $100,000 performance bonus for Puente, a former state representative and chair of the Texas House’s Natural Resources Committee who has headed the municipally owned utility since 2008.
Last year, Puente turned down a similar bonus, calling it a “distraction.”
A major difference this year was Puente’s grading by management consultants, including ScottMadden, which has done similar work for CPS Energy. They rated Puente on a set of 28 benchmarks for 2018, of which Puente attained 24, and compared his pay to that of other public and private water utility CEOs.
SAWS Trustee David McGee, the Amegy Bank CEO who chairs the board’s compensation task force, commended Puente’s work and the outside review.
“I’m really proud of what we have done to establish a process that’s understandable to the public, that’s fair to Robert, that’s as rigorous a performance assessment as you’ll find anywhere in the public or private sector,” McGee said at the meeting. “There’s no gimmicks, there’s no layups, there’s no easy things to accomplish. Every one of the goals we gave him was very difficult to achieve.”
The raise and bonus bring Puente’s total compensation to $596,520. It makes him the second-highest-paid City-related employee behind CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams, who last month was approved for a 3 percent pay increase and bonus of nearly $445,000, for a total compensation of $930,669.
After the meeting, McGee and other trustees initially declined to share the specific results of ScottMadden’s review. CPS Energy shares such information publicly at its meetings and online.
“Those are socialized within the board and handled within executive session in great detail,” McGee said in an interview after the meeting.
Later on Tuesday, SAWS officials provided Puente’s scorecard. It showed that SAWS had missed targets for water lost from the SAWS pipe network, the number of sanitary sewer overflows, the rate of customer service calls answered, and the number of SAWS customers using electronic billing.
The utility either fully or partially reached 24 other targets related to water management and conservation, maintaining its infrastructure, engaging the public and regulators, customer service, technology enhancement, financial stability, and affordability.
In the interview, McGee said the results indicated that Puente “exceeded expectations” but also said “there’s no correlation exactly between the number of points he scored on the metrics and the dollar amount of the award.”
The vote for Puente’s new compensation was unanimous, except for San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, a board member in his official capacity. Nirenberg was recovering from eye surgery Monday, said Guerra, who read a statement by the mayor in support of the pay raise.
“Puente continues to lead the organization well towards its strategic goals, and through significant local and regional challenges,” Nirenberg’s statement read. “He is deserving of performance pay in accordance with his contract. I am grateful to the compensation task force for strengthening, standardizing, and making defensible the metrics for which the CEO is evaluated. The public demands such rigor, and I look forward to continue to approve that process.”
Both of San Antonio’s municipally owned utilities are weighing increasing rates their customers pay for water and energy, though SAWS is much further along in the process.
SAWS already has received City Council approval for up to a 9.9 percent rate increase in 2020, though officials have hinted they might opt for a lower amount. CPS Energy officials have signaled a need for the utility’s first rate increase in about six years, though they have not yet officially requested one.