UPLAND—The Upland City Council this week made appointments to the San Antonio Water Company’s board of directors that were rife with political implication.
Most noteworthy was that two of the newly appointed directors hail from San Antonio Heights, where the headwaters of the company’s water supply accumulate and which gives the company its name, even though residents of the area do not have direct control over how the seven-member board is to be composed. The council also reappointed to the board a longtime city activist and rising political star widely regarded as a likely, and strong, candidate for mayor in November.
The city of Upland owns 68 percent of the water company shares. As such, a majority of the city council controls the process by which all members of the board are appointed. The second largest block of share owners in the company are San Antonio Heights residents, who own 9.6 percent of the shares. The city of Ontario, Monte Vista Water District and Red Hill Country Club each own 4.95 percent of the shares. The remaining seven percent of the shares are distributed among a smattering of local interests and water users, such as citrus grove and quarry operators.
Traditionally, Upland’s mayor makes nominations to the company’s water board and those choices are considered and voted upon by the entire council.
The previous board members were current Upland councilman Ken Willis; former council members Tom Thomas and Sue Sundell; city council advisory committee member Glenn Bozar; Will Elliot; Brian Brandt and Fred Gattas.
There has been ongoing dissension among San Antonio Heights residents with regard to their lack of authority with regard to selecting board members. All residents in San Antonio Heights are San Antonio Water Company customers. Some of the more vocal members of that community, which is a 2.619 square-mile pocket of unincorporated county land north of the Upland City Limits with 3,122 residents, have asked for an arrangement by which San Antonio Heights can elect its own representative to the board.
Gattas and Brandt are Heights residents.
This week, Mayor Ray Musser nominated Willis, Thomas, Sundell, Bozar, and Elliott to return to the board, while suggesting that Cable Airport owner and San Antonio Heights resident Bob Cable and San Antonio Heights resident John Gerardi replace Gattas and Brandt.
The council then voted 3-2 to ratify Musser’s nominations.
Cable was among the vocal critics of the city’s domination of the board nominating process. Bozar has long been active in Upland politics, particularly with regard to successfully opposing the city’s attempts to enact taxing mechanisms, such as a utility tax and a paramedic tax. He was nominated to the council advisory commission and the water board by Musser. Musser has yet to formally announce whether he will seek re-election as mayor in November. Meanwhile, a group of Upland residents and business owners is intensifying entreaties on Bozar in an effort to pressure him into declaring as a mayoral candidate.
It is unknown what impact such a declaration on Bozar’s part would have on Musser’s future political plans. He would have the option of running to remain as mayor, running for city council, or retiring. Musser, who was first elected to the city council in 1998, is in some quarters well respected because of his consistent opposition to now-discredited former Upland mayor John Pomierski, who was indicted by a federal grand jury last year on extortion, bribery and conspiracy charges. Musser, who unsuccessfully opposed Pomierski in the 2004 and 2008 elections, was appointed by his council colleagues to replace Pomierski after he resigned last year.
Musser’s slate of water company board members was opposed by council members Brendan Brandt and Gino Filippi. Filippi is a declared candidate for mayor in November.
On Tuesday, Filippi told the Sentinel “My vote against the slate as presented came as a result of much consideration. The process and decision of the mayor made me uncomfortable. The loss of Mr. Brandt could have been prevented. There should have been more open discussion with the full council vs. the sole discretion of the mayor. It reminds me of the past administration. I understand that as a ‘mutual benefit water company’ there is a process for nominations [and] the nomination committee is the mayor of Upland. I also understand that the mayor has authority to appoint to city of Upland committees. However, the San Antonio Water Company is not such a committee. I concur that the city has played too much of a role in this nomination process.”
Filippi further said he was opposed to having Willis or any other member of the council on the board. “There is also question regarding if having city council members on the San Antonio Water Company board represents a conflict of interest,” Filippi said. “I have been informed by outside counsel that any elected Upland councilmember accepting a stipend from the San Antonio Water Company is a conflict. The council member must abstain as regards any action that involves the water company and which may benefit him or her. Under Government Code 1090, the city and the water company can’t enter into contracts because of the potential for conflict but we address that by handling them administratively. So the impact is that the subject council member may be preempted from acting on some matters.”