CPS Energy COO resigns days after Defenders exposed insensitive comment, corporate purchasing complaints

Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell hampered by complaints prior to being promoted in June

CPS Energy Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell is out a job, just months after being promoted. (Joshua Saunders, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – CPS Energy Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell resigned Friday, days after the KSAT 12 Defenders exposed personnel and spending complaints against him that had largely gone unpunished.

Bonewell departs the embattled public utility just months after being promoted to its number two position.

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CPS Energy officials acknowledged Friday that Bonewell was placed on administrative leave Oct. 11 and has left the agency to “pursue other opportunities.”

Officials declined to release additional details about the executive’s departure.

A Defenders investigation last week revealed that Bonewell made an ethnically insensitive comment in front of four fellow employees in October 2018, which led to a formal complaint being filed against him.

Bonewell, who at the time was CPS Energy’s Chief Safety & Security Officer, opened an early morning meeting in his office by asking, “Where are all of the Mexicans?”

Even though the complaint was later substantiated, Bonewell’s only punishment was to take part in “direct conversations” with CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold Williams.

The incident marked the start of a pattern of Bonewell avoiding formal discipline after missteps at work in recent years.

Of the five substantiated complaints against Bonewell uncovered by the Defenders, four of them, from February 2019 to May 2020, were related to Bonewell’s spending at work.

A 2019 letter received by CPS Energy’s manager of Corporate Compliance & Ethics asked why Bonewell had an “open-ended budget” for expenses including lunches, while other staff were being directed to have pot luck lunches and reduced supplies purchases.

Bonewell received a talking to from Gold Williams after his expenditures were reviewed, records show.

But consequences for Bonewell did not appear to extend beyond those conversations with his boss or training.

Bonewell’s 38-page personnel file, covering his nearly seven-year tenure with CPS Energy, did not include a single document in its corrective actions section.

Bonewell’s former executive assistant, who worked for him from January 2020 to late May 2020, described her short four-month tenure as being treated more like a servant than an assistant.

Purchasing records obtained by the Defenders show Bonewell routinely spent tens of thousands of dollars a year using his agency purchasing card, mostly at San Antonio-area restaurants.

CPS officials released Bonewell’s purchasing records without providing accompanying receipts. Since then, they have repeatedly delayed releasing the receipts and as recently as Friday afternoon said they were still working to review and prepare the records for release.

Bonewell’s exodus comes amid calls to have an outside entity closely examine the inner workings of the utility.

District 1 City Councilman Mario Bravo has repeatedly asked publicly for an independent study to look at CPS Energy’s management structure and corporate culture.

“These comments were based on my interactions with CPS Energy and frustrations that I’ve encountered and also the interactions of other people I know who have relayed those messages to me,” Bravo said during a virtual interview with the Defenders earlier this month. “CPS Energy is a public utility. However, in my experience they’ve operated more like a private utility.”

CPS Energy’s senior legal team resigned earlier this year and its CFO, Gary Gold, announced his retirement earlier this summer.

Only 44% of people who took part in the Bexar Facts-KSAT-San Antonio Report 2021 Q3 poll approve of the work being done by the municipally-owned utility company.

The results mark the second straight time CPS Energy’s approval rating came in under 50% in the poll, after it garnered a 46% approval rating in the first quarter of this year.

The utility recently moved ahead with service disconnections, more than a year-and-a-half after pausing them due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Officials with CPS Energy are also moving toward proposing a likely double-digit rate increase which would likely take effect as soon as early spring 2022.

About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.