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Perry Taps Old Appointees For Revamped Water Board

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AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Governor Rick Perry on Friday stocked the new three-member Texas Water Development Board, which will be paid for the first time in state history, with two previous political appointments and an aide from his own staff.

They replace an ousted volunteer board that was blasted in the Texas Legislature this spring as being ineffectual following a historic drought and averse to prioritizing projects at a time when the state is confronting water supply concerns for a booming population.

The new board is chaired by Carlos Rubinstein, who Perry appointed in 2009 as a commissioner at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Another former Perry appointee, Texas Lottery Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Williamson, was also selected.

Rounding out the board is Bech Bruun, who currently works in Perry’s office as the director of governmental appointments.

Each board member will make $150,000 annually.

Perry spokesman Josh Havens said all three applied for the job. He said they were then chosen to oversee “historic measures” adopted this year in the Legislature, which also fired the state’s water agency top executive, Melanie Callahan.

The new board will also control a new $2 billion water fund if the money is approved by Texas voters in a November referendum.

“This responsibility requires experienced leadership at the helm, and Gov. Perry is confident that these three individuals have the skill and expertise required to lead this agency as it embarks on a mission that is so vital to the sustainability of our economic success,” Havens said.

A phone message left for Williamson through the lottery commission was not immediately returned. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality or the TCEQ referred calls for Rubinstein to the governor’s office.

Bruun, in a statement provided by Perry’s office, said he was “humbled and honored for the opportunity” to serve on the board.

The water board had been an all-volunteer, six-member structure for 56 years. The final meeting for the last volunteer board was Thursday, and Callahan has retired from the state.

Lawmakers purged the state of its top water planners under a bill driven by Republican Sen. Troy Fraser. Several small towns in Texas have nearly run out of water in recent years, while farmers absorbed an unprecedented $7.6 billion in agricultural losses from the 2011 drought.

Fraser and other lawmakers accused the board of being unresponsive and reluctant to identify the state’s most pressing water needs. Callahan and the board have said that lawmakers fired them without seeking their input for new ideas or offering a chance to save their jobs.

Perry also appointed the previous volunteer board, which was chaired by Billy Bradford, an accountant in South Texas. After the Legislature passed a sweeping water reform bill that mandated his removal, Bradford praised the volunteer structure that he said was “independent and objective” of those who made their appointments.

Perry has picked Williamson and her late husband, Ric, before for key state appointments. Ric Williamson served with Perry in the Texas House in the 1980s and shared an apartment with Perry during legislative sessions. When he became governor, Perry appointed him to chair the Texas Transportation Commission.

Mary Ann Williamson was appointed to the lottery commission in 1999. She and her husband founded MKS Natural Gas Company, which Perry had an ownership stake in through a blind trust designed to avoid conflicts of interest.

Rubinstein brings the biggest background in water. He has served on several water councils and work groups and was watermaster for the Rio Grande under the TCEQ.

Bruun has also served as chief of staff to Republican state Rep. Todd Hunter and worked for the Brazos River Authority.

(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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