With the West Travis County Public Utility Agency Board of Directors at the cusp of possibly settling several lawsuits related to the Provence development on Hamilton Pool Road, the agency has drawn a lot of attention over the past several months from local residents who oppose an expansion of the development.
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Provence is approved for 700 units by the Public Utility Agency and developers are involved in several lawsuits in an attempt to expand the number of units allowed to over 1,800. Many local residents are concerned that a dense development will ruin the rural charm of the Hill Country, cause traffic problems and encourage further development.
The controversy surrounding Provence has drawn an unusual amount of public scrutiny to the PUA, leaving its board members and the entities that appoint them trying to explain to a skeptical public how the agency works and how it came to have its current board.
The PUA board has seen high rates of turnover this year, with four out of five seats rolling over to new members since February. The board includes two appointees from Hays County, two from Bee Cave and one from the Lake Pointe Municipal Utility District. Those three entities created the PUA in 2011 when the Lower Colorado River Authority stepped away from the retail water business.
Hays County PUA appointee Walt Smith, who is also the commissioner for Precinct 4 on the county’s Commissioner’s Court, was appointed to the PUA in late January. At the time, he was the first person to join the board who was not the original appointee to the seat he holds, according to PUA General Manager Jennifer Riechers. His predecessor, who was also a county commissioner, left the board in January.
Jason Bethke, the Lake Pointe MUD appointee, joined the board in March after his predecessor retired.
As the Lake Pointe MUD representative, Bethke represents all the ratepayers in Travis County who do not live in Bee Cave, though not everyone in this category has a vote in the Lake Pointe MUD, according to Riechers. Residents on Hamilton Pool Road fall into that category.
Bee Cave’s appointees to the PUA, Jack Creveling and City ManagerClint Garza, took their seats on the board over the summer after several months of controversy about who should fill both spots.
Bee Cave’s two appointments occurred after Bill Goodwin resigned from the PUA board in the spring, around the time he resigned from several other positions, including acting mayor of Bee Cave.
Creveling was first appointed to Goodwin’s seat in April but the appointment was rejected by theLake Pointe MUD. Because the appointment was made to the city’s at-large seat it required approval from all three participating entities. Creveling works for CCNG, a Texas-based real estate and energy investment company.
Lake Pointe MUD officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The City Council voted on May 26 to formally remove Goodwin from the board. That action was taken because he continued to attend PUA meetings as a city representative over the council’s objections and despite having resigned, according to Garza. At the same meeting, the council also voted to remove its other PUA appointee, Don Walden, from the board. Walden’s term would have been up in October of this year.
Also at the May 26 meeting, the council voted to appoint Council Member Jon Cobb to the at-large seat, which requires approval, and to appoint Creveling to Walden’s old seat, which does not.
After the Lake Pointe MUD rejected Cobb’s appointment, Council Member Andrea Willott made a motion on June 23 to appoint Garza to the at-large seat. In addition to Garza’s application for the spot, Walden had applied for reappointment.
Garza’s appointment has been the subject of criticism by residents who oppose the expansion of the waterline along Hamilton Pool Road to service Provence. At several Bee Cave City Council meetings, members of a group called Hamilton Pool Road Matters have expressed their feelings that Garza’s appointment as a non-elected city employee constitutes a conflict of interest.
The council has faced repeated questions about to what extent it directs its PUA appointees on how to vote and what action to take. In response, council members have reiterated that while the council is able to give direction and guidance to PUA appointees, it does not tell them how to vote. Riechers said there is no written regulation dictating the relationship between Bee Cave and its appointees.
“There’s no specific rules about who Bee Cave’s appointees represent,” she said. “There’s only two working PUAs in the state of Texas, so we’re kind of in a no man’s land.”
Willot said she made the motion to appoint Garza because she thought the turnover of other members of the PUA board thisyear made it an opportune time to get even more fresh eyes at the agency. She said Garza’s experience with water issues from his time working in Hays County, where his roles included serving as the executive director of countywide operations and on the board of the county”s water and sewer authority, made him a qualified candidate.
“My reasoning for appointing Clint into that seat was there was an opening. The door opened, and it was like why not? We got Jack and let’s get Clint in there. Let’s get some fresh blood and new eyes in there,” she said. “It was just an opportune time to make a change. … There was nothing nefarious going on.”
Willot said her choice to nominate Garza over Walden had nothing to do with Walden’s past performance as a PUA board member. Rather, she believes that turnover is healthy in agencies like the PUA. Before she nominated Garza, she checked to make sure he was allowed to serve on the board while working as city manager and found no rules against it.
“I nominated him because he has the most experience,” she said. “I don’t consider it a conflict of interest.”
The PUA’s bylaws do not set requirements for who can and cannot serve on the board. The bylaws do specify that any member can be removed at any time with or without cause by the entity that appointed them.
The PUA board plans to discuss the lawsuits at its meeting on Dec. 17 and may vote on a settlement agreementwith Provence. At the November meeting, the board voted to extend its deadline to decide another month.