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Chamber hosts tele-town hall with public utilities leaders

Tuesday night, your Chamber hosted a virtual town hall with the leaders of local public utility companies, Paula Gold-Williams, President and CEO of CPS Energy and Robert R. Puente, President and CEO of San Antonio Water System (SAWS). Hosted and moderated by our very own President & CEO Richard Perez, the two industry titans discussed leadership, public policy, and the role both companies play in serving our community.

Paula Gold-Williams has worked for CPS Energy for 16 years, becoming the company’s chief executive in 2015. She served as the Chamber’s Chair of the Board of Directors in 2019. Robert R. Puente has served in the capacity as President & CEO of SAWS since 2008. Prior to the position, Puente served in the Texas House of Representatives for 17 years. Both leaders hold unique positions, as heads of public utility organizations with oversight from municipal government and held accountable by taxpayers, but with daily operations more akin to private corporations. SAWS and CPS are responsible for bringing water and power to more than 1.8 million residents.

In 2020, CPS and SAWS have continued to carry out their mission in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the utmost concern for safety and efficiency. Additionally, CPS and SAWS have partnered together and promised to suspend utility shutoffs during the pandemic. Neither organization has turned off someone’s water or power due to a missed payment in the last six months, with no plans to resume in the near future, Gold-Williams said.

“Anything we can do to be helpful; we know how different this pandemic has been. Early on, we put it together to be of great service to our community,” Gold-Williams said.

San Antonio residents were invited to call in to ask questions, which were answered live on air. Audience members called in on topics ranging from affordability for seniors to racial disparity. Both SAWS and CPS both have special discounts for people in need, including seniors and residents living below the poverty line. As organizations, both CPS and SAWS are led by People of Color and employ a diverse workforce at all levels.

“At San Antonio Water System, it comes from somewhere personal,” Puente said. “It comes from knowing who your employees are, setting an example, and doing the right thing—not making excuses for not finding qualified candidates. You go out and find them and recruit them and bring them in.”

The topic of accountability inevitably came up. As publicly owned companies, SAWS and CPS enjoy a greater degree of operational freedom, which some critics consider to be lacking in oversight. However, both organizations are governed by boards made up of diverse San Antonio residents who must have City Council approval for rate increases and  the ability to sell bonds for capital projects, making them accountable to the City Council Members we elect every two years. Both utility companies remain committed to serving the taxpayers and benefit from ongoing working relationships with both the city and other private entities, like your Chamber. A mid-event survey asking, “Does San Antonio have well run utilities?” garnered a response of 87% saying yes.

This event was held in partnership with our friends at the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. To view the tele-town hall with CPS and SAWS, click here.

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