City Councilwomen Balk at CPS Energy's Latest Board Nominee

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Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran is one of the council members opposed to former Judson Superintendent Willis Mackey's appointment to CPS Energy's board of trustees. - COURTESY
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  • Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran is one of the council members opposed to former Judson Superintendent Willis Mackey's appointment to CPS Energy's board of trustees.
All three women on San Antonio's City Council have reservations about the newest finalist for CPS Energy's Board of Trustees – not about his qualifications, but whether he would bring enough diversity and savvy to the city-owned utility's oversight board.

Retired Judson ISD Superintendent Willis Mackey became the nominee after the utility's previous choice, Terri Williams, declined her nomination to instead join the North East Independent School District Board of Trustees. CPS officials say they moved ahead with Mackey, one of the 17 other people considered for the spot, based on his strong qualifications.

City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to approve Mackey on Thursday. If voted in, he would serve through January 31, 2023.

"This appointment is for the next five years, and energy [transmission and storage] and technology are changing so quickly," District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran said. Mackey's vision for the utility left her underwhelmed. "I've shared my concerns with all of my colleagues."

No women currently hold CPS board seats, and for Viagran, that lack of diversity is a serious problem.

Looking across all city-appointed boards and commissions, she said men hold 60 percent of the seats despite being slightly fewer in number than women in San Antonio. Hispanics have 37 percent of the appointments despite making up 63 percent of the population. That's based on research conducted by her council staff, according to Viagran.

"It would have been great if it had been a woman, but overall, it was disappointing there wasn't a bigger pool from which to draw," District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval said. "I think we need to be more active in our recruitment efforts."

What's more, the five-member board would benefit from more diverse professional backgrounds, said Sandoval, who pointed out that it currently has no member with significant environmental expertise. She wouldn't say whether she plans to vote against Mackey, adding that she was meeting later in the afternoon with CPS board members about her concerns.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales appears to be solidly in the "no" camp for Thursday's vote, said spokesman Victor Landa, who added that her primary concern is seeing gender diversity on the board.

"At this point, she's prepared to (vote against Mackey), but things can happen between now and then," he added.

The utility undertook a seven-month search for the new trustee, who would replace Derrick Howard, executive director of Freeman Coliseum. CPS Chairman John Steen said he welcomes discussion with council members on its selection process and Mackey's qualifications.

"To our mind, all this communication is for the good," he said. "We want to hear what's on their minds."

But Viagran maintains the selection process wasn't open enough.

"I wish they had been more transparent in the process of interviewing candidates," she said. She would have preferred for council to have heard from the other candidates under consideration.

CPS's board is a self-perpetuating body, meaning its members select finalists for open seats and send them to council for approval. Mayor Ron Nirenberg is a member of the utility's board.

Council was scheduled to vote on Mackey's approval last week, but delayed the decision. In the meantime, Mackey went on a charm offensive. The nominee made contact with all 10 council members and met face-to-face with several, CPS officials confirmed.

Mackey served as Judson ISD's superintendent from 2007 to 2015. During his tenure, the district earned its highest-ever ranking ever by the Texas Education Agency. Previously, he served as superintendent of the Port Arthur ISD, where he helped pass a $110 million bond.

CPS is likely to start another search in the next three months or so to fill yet another position, that of Vice Chairman Homer Guevara Jr., also coming up on the end of his term. Steen said he's eager for council's input on how the utility can widen the net when it looks for candidates.

"The best thing we can have going in is a really strong applicant pool," he said.

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