Newly elected Santa Rosa Councilwoman Victoria Fleming has restored election rival Mary Watts to the city’s Board of Public Utilities, an appointed position she held before being removed last year by Councilwoman Julie Combs, who publicly accused Watts of siphoning votes away from Fleming.

Fleming was elected to represent north Santa Rosa’s 4th District in November, prevailing against Dorothy Beattie, the next closest vote-getter, and Watts. The rookie councilwoman described Watts’ reappointment as simply choosing “the most qualified person for the job.”

“Mary brings three years of experience working on the BPU and she worked internally with the Santa Rosa Water Department,” Fleming said in a statement. “She is very familiar with the operational needs required to oversee the city’s water, sub regional and sewer utilities. After seeing how hard she worked in District 4 in our race last year, I’m confident she is the best person for the job.”

Watts had served for about three years on the Board of Public Utilities as Combs’ appointee before announcing her candidacy in August, prompting Combs to strip her of the post. Combs has said she felt blindsided by Watts’ decision, while Watts has said she made no promise to not run in the same district as Fleming.

Shortly before the Nov. 6 election, Combs made a series of posts on Watts’ campaign Facebook page describing Watts as a “spoiler” whose candidacy was doomed and threatened to draw enough support away from Fleming to give Beattie a clear path to the council.

The posts were criticized by some of Watts’ supporters and other local officials and were later deleted.

In an interview, Watts, deputy director for the nonprofit Community Action Partnership, said she wasn’t sure at first whether she wanted to jump back into public life but missed being on the utilities board. She noted the city Water Department was in a period of transition with Director Ben Horenstein recently leaving to take a job in Marin County.

“I wasn’t able to serve on City Council, but that didn’t take away from my ability to serve the public,” Watts said.

Combs, interviewed Wednesday by phone, said she wasn’t surprised by Watts’ reappointment.

“The circumstances are certainly changed, and I certainly wish all the best to Mary in her political future,” Combs said. “I strongly support Victoria in her decision-making.”

Fleming said in an interview there was no animus between her and Watts.

“We’ve been above-board the whole time,” Fleming said. “We had an understanding the whole time that whatever discord was public-facing was not originating from anything she or I was doing.”

You can reach Staff Writer Will Schmitt at 707-521-5207 or will.schmitt@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @wsreports.