Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Bexar County voters will decide who will fill two at-large seats on the San Antonio River Authority's 12-member board of directors. Early voting for the Nov. 7 election began Monday, with two incumbents and three challengers on the ballot.
SARA, created in 1937, manages the San Antonio River and focuses on developing and conserving the state’s water resources while maintaining dams and working on wastewater treatment plants. SARA's jurisdiction covers Bexar, Wilson, Karnes, and Goliad counties, which total 3,658 square miles.
After devastating floods in 1913 and 1914, Texas voters passed a constitutional amendment in 1917 to create regional river authorities, according to the SARA website. SARA's budget is funded through property taxes at a rate of 1.73 cents per $100 of assessed value. The 2017-2018 budget is $241.7 million.
"Board members hire the general manager, provide policy oversight and judiciary oversight to operations, approve the budget, and set our tax rate," said SARA General Manager Suzanne Scott. "They are very involved in the actual implementation of the programs and projects that we have. Our board meets on a monthly basis and we have a committee structure. They also lead the strategic process regarding what our goals and objectives are going to be."
Board terms are for six years and there are no term limits. SARA holds elections every two years.
Incumbents Hector R. Morales, who serves as the board's secretary, and Lynn Murphy are running for re-election. Morales, 72, who has been with SARA since 2005, spent more 20 years with the civil service and more than 20 years in the Air National Guard. Murphy has served on the board since 2016, when Gov. Greg Abbott appointed her to replace local conservation figure Sally Buchanan following her death. Murphy is an attorney and the CEO of medical billing firm Integrity Ancillary Management and a Witte Museum board member.
"I'm interested in taxpayers' money – where it goes and how we use it," Morales told the Rivard Report about running for re-election. "I think we've done a pretty good job."
Skye Curd, 37; Joseph F. Nazaroff, 66; and Deb Bolner-Prost, 64, are the three newcomers vying for a SARA seat. Curd serves on the Westside Creeks Restoration Oversight Committee and worked on the recent Elmendorf Lake restoration on the Westside.
Nazaroff is retired and currently serves as a board member of the Leon Valley Economic Development Corporation. Bolner-Prost, who leads Prost Marketing, is a board member of the San Antonio River Foundation and previously served on the Olmos Park City Council from 2011 to 2015.
"I have a big passion for the river," said Bolner-Prost, whose family legacy goes back to the Canary Islanders who settled near the river. "It's the life and blood of San Antonio. As other cities tend to grow, San Antonio tends to retain its uniqueness."
Bolner-Prost told the Rivard Report that her involvement with branding and the San Antonio River Foundation gives her ample experience to undertake a SARA board position.
"I've already been working with [SARA] in several capacities and there's some good opportunities for them to improve their market position," she said. "What I would like to see done is go to the root cause of [trash and debris] on the river. ... I think there are many ways to educate people on water quality. I want to work on changing the paradigm, rather than having to clean up after the fact."
Nazaroff told the Rivard Report he's "fiscally conservative by nature" but considers himself a progressive when it comes to social and environmental causes.
"I believe in quality-of-life assurances for publicly funded projects, and we should expect for them to make our lives better now," Nazaroff said. "I believe in growth, but I want to ensure the environment is protected, we have the best return on our investment, and that we make people's quality of life better. I have the time and the desire to serve on a meaningful board such as the River Authority."
Murphy did not respond to requests for comment before a publication deadline. Curd provided no public contact information for the San Antonio River Authority to give out.
In September, SARA received the coveted Thiess International Riverprize, the world’s most prestigious award in river basin management. The San Antonio River was honored for its $384 million improvement project that includes a 15-mile linear park and Museum and Mission Reach projects. In addition to ecological restoration and public art, the projects include walk and bike trails.
"Being on the SARA board is an extremely important role and we encourage people interested in the river to participate in this election," Scott said. "The board members are very important in the decisions behind all these projects that the community is now enjoying."
Other projects in the works for SARA include the $175 million San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, of which Phase 1 is slated for completion in May; and the Westside Creek Improvements Project, which aims to restore the Westside's Alazán, Apache, Martínez, and San Pedro creeks.