PSB rescinds restrictive communication policy; Bonart leaves Board

PSB rescinds restrictive communication policy; Bonart leaves

EL PASO, Texas - In his last meeting as a Public Service Board member, Dr. Richard Bonart helped rescind a rule that prohibited board members from speaking to the media and the public about PSB policies.

The rule required board members to refer questions to the Board President, the El Paso Water Utility C.E.O. or a spokesperson.

In a 5 to 2 vote, the Board voted to rescind the policy, leaving them with no official communication policy and allowing board members to speak freely to the press or the public as they see fit. Board members Ruth Katherine Brennand and David Nemir voted against rescinding the policy.

Wednesday's meeting was the last as board member for Bonart, whom City Council voted to replace on Tuesday.

City Rep. Carl Robinson made a motion on Tuesday to reappoint Bonart and City Rep. Eddie Holguin seconded the motion. Then City Rep. Emma Acosta accused Bonart of trying to improperly influence or skew the nomination process by hosting a public meeting last month at the County Courthouse.

"It's kind of like why are you doing this and circumventing a process that we took many months to actually put together and hired a consultant and you go and have your own meeting for what purpose," Acosta said.

Bonart said he held the public meeting at Commissioners chambers at the County Courthouse because the PSB did not provide him with meeting space. He said the forum was an opportunity for the residents to meet the candidates up for nomination of the PSB.

"Let's face facts. Having that platform, that forum didn't influence the city council members at all. But it allowed for the first time for the citizens of El Paso to  hear what the candidates for this most important board have to say and what they believe," said Jim Tolbert, a watchdog of the PSB.

Bonart also held the meeting to take a stand against the former communication policy that he said hindered transparency. "I was flying in the face of the attempt to have a prohibitive communication policy," Bonart said.

Acosta said Bonart should have contacted City Representatives if he wanted to hold a meeting. Bonart insists he emailed each City Rep. to tell them about the meeting.

The meeting wasn't the only reason Council ousted him. After Acosta spoke, City Rep. Dr. Michiel Noe also voiced his concerns about Bonart. "He has a reputation of being confrontational and rude."

When asked about that assessment, El Paso Water Utilities President John Balliew said he hadn't experienced that. "I personally did not witness Dr. Bonart being abrasive or confrontational."

Balliew and other members of the Board said Bonart was engaged and innovative. "Dr. Bonart is has been the most conscientious board member that we've had in many years."

Former City Rep. Susie Byrd who moderated Bonart's forum, tweeted at Acosta: "It was the only opportunity the public had to meet PSB candidates. There was no harm, only public benefit." And it another tweet: "The move not to appoint him was just politics."

Mayor Oscar Leeser disagrees, saying Bonart's resume put him in second place for the nomination. Bonart was second to former District Judge Chris Antcliff, whom the council appointed as the Consumer Advocate to replace Bonart.

Bonart served for years on the board. "The echo of his voice will be with the board for many years," said Balliew.

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