SAN ANTONIO – CPS Energy in recent years has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on housing costs for current and former executives of the public utility, records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.
The often five-figure benefit, described by CPS Energy officials as a “transitional housing payment” for executives hired by the company from outside of San Antonio, has gone to multiple staff members who had relatively short tenures with the utility. The payments for individual CPS Energy executives far outpace similar benefits paid to executives at other large public entities in San Antonio.
CPS Energy officials have repeatedly refused requests to answer questions on camera about the practice. Interim President & CEO Rudy Garza was physically shielded by other utility officials while the Defenders attempted to ask him about the topic following a recent Municipal Utilities Committee meeting.
CPS Energy paid $213,920.49 in housing costs for eight of its executives since 2015, financial records show. Four of those executives are no longer with the utility.
Two of them, former Chief Information Officer Karen Kirwan and former Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Delores Lenzy-Jones, were paid a combined $102,064.59, even though their tenures lasted less than two years.
Kirwan, who left the utility in late 2018, was given $57,458.20 for housing costs, records show. A man at her San Antonio-area home declined to comment last month and referred all of our questions about the payment back to CPS Energy, even though Kirwan is no longer employed there.
Lenzy-Jones was given $44,606.39 for housing costs, but ultimately left the utility in 2020 and is now CFO for an Austin park system, records show. She did not respond to an email seeking comment for this story.
Another former CPS Energy CFO & Treasurer, Edward Fleming Jr., was given nearly $22,000 for housing costs. Cynthia Triplett, the utility’s former senior security director, was given nearly $20,000 for housing costs, records show.
Four current CPS Energy executives, including its Chief Information Officer, two vice-presidents and a senior director, have been given housing payments ranging from $7,646.62 to $31,906.96, records show.
“That’s up there. Yeah, that’s up there. I mean it’s something that they should have to explain,” said District 1 City Councilman Mario Bravo.
“If you try to hire an executive from outside the city, you want them to move here. This is moving expenses, this is a place to live until you can find a place to live,” said Bravo, who added that the utility needs to put a maximum cap in place, if it has not done so already.
“I’ve seen much higher, but I think we still need to look at what is an appropriate cap for San Antonio,” said Bravo, recalling the story of a faculty member at a University of Texas postgraduate school who was given a forgivable loan of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“What’s the maximum that they should be hitting? And maybe, maybe there should be a lower maximum. That way it incentivizes whoever it is to find a place to live sooner so that they’re not going over these limits,” said Bravo.
Bravo has led the charge to have an outside audit of CPS Energy conducted.
Municipal Utilities Committee members, including Bravo, were briefed late last month by CPS Energy officials on the next steps in the process.
Bravo said he is satisfied with the utility’s approach, as CPS Energy’s board manages the request for proposals to ultimately review several areas of the utility’s inner workings.
“It prevents CPS Energy staff from being able to put their thumb on the scales,” said Bravo.
How do other public entities handle housing costs for executives?
The City of Bryan, which runs the public, albeit smaller, power company Bryan Texas Utilities, does not cover housing costs for utility executives or any employees of the city, an official told the Defenders.
College Station Utilities does not pay for housing or transitional housing expenses for its employees, but has covered $1,004.88 in lodging for out-of-state moving expenses since the start of 2015, its administration manager said in an email.
The City of San Antonio, which has a workforce nearly four times the size of CPS Energy, does offer to cover housing costs for some executive level positions. That figure, however, is typically capped at $16,000, a city Human Resources official confirmed.
Bexar County, which also has a significantly larger workforce than CPS Energy, has offered to cover housing costs just once in the past decade, a spokeswoman confirmed.
These payments are capped at $6,000 and require prior approval from the county manager, the spokeswoman said.
CPS Energy Interim President, CEO dodges questions from KSAT 12 Defenders
Garza, who spoke during the two-hour Municipal Utilities Committee meeting on Feb. 22, repeatedly declined to answer questions about the housing payments for executives as he left city council chambers.
“I think, I think we’ve given you the information,” said Garza as he walked out of chambers.
A group of CPS Energy officials, including Chief Legal Officer Shanna Ramirez, moved between Garza and the Defenders before a handler for Garza told us the interim CEO had another meeting.
The Defenders had to also request that a utility spokeswoman stop touching this reporter after she twice put her hand on his arm while he walked alongside Garza.
Hours later, while a KSAT reporter was taking part in an interview on another topic at CPS Energy headquarters, corporate communication staffers told him this would be KSAT’s only chance to ask about the housing costs.
“You’re going to have the opportunity to get her on camera now or he’s (Dillon) going to have the opportunity to get a statement,” a CPS spokeswoman said.
The KSAT reporter, who was not familiar with the topic of executive housing costs, declined to take part in the interview and told the utility officials the request was not acceptable.
The release of CPS Energy executive housing financial records comes months after a Defenders investigation found a former executive had racked over $53,000 in charges on his corporate credit card in a single year.
Fred Bonewell, who previously served as CPS Energy’s chief safety & security officer before being promoted to Chief Operations Officer in June, often charged multiple meals a day on his corporate card and used the card to pay for group dinners that routinely ranged in price from $300 to more than $700, financial records show.
Bonewell resigned in October, days after the Defenders exposed past ethics and corporate purchasing complaints against him.