City Manager Sheryl Sculley is a long distance runner. She’s completed nine marathons, including Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, Phoenix, and San Antonio, and more than 50 half-marathons. She’ll be on the half-marathon starting line Sunday, Dec. 7th for the seventh annual Rock ‘n Roll Marathon, an event she brought here seven years ago.
Thursday she celebrated a different kind of long distance milestone when Mayor Ivy Taylor called her to the dais at the conclusion of the weekly City Council meeting. With 40 yellow roses, a cake and a wrapped present, Mayor Taylor shared an official recognition from the International City Managers Association that honored Sculley for 40 years of continuous service of city management in three cities in three different states: Kalamazoo, Mich., Phoenix, and now, San Antonio.
Sculley celebrates nine years in her current position on Nov. 7.
“What a pleasure its been to work with you in the years I’ve been on the City Council,” Mayor Taylor said. She ticked of some of Sculley’s accomplishments in her nine years in San Antonio:
“San Antonio is rated AAA by all three major bond rating services, a recognition that we have enjoyed every year since 2010,” Taylor said. “We are the only Top 10 city in the country with a Triple A rating. You’ve also balanced 10 annual budgets.”
She’s also credited with bringing a new level of professionalism to City Hall, reorganizing departments, hiring a new generation of managers and leaders, and recruiting San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who retires on Dec. 31, and San Antonio Fire Chief Charles Hood.
Individual Council members followed with their own praise.
District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier recalled how impressed he was after flying out to Phoenix in his role as then-CEO of the Greater Chamber of Commerce to meet Sculley for lunch after she agreed to the San Antonio move under then-Mayor Phil Hardberger.
“I was told out there that Sheryl’s recruitment to our city was a great tragedy for Phoenix and a great triumph for San Antonio, and nothing I’ve seen in the years since has made me think they were wrong,” Krier said.
District 4 Councilmember Rey Saldaña, about the same age as Sculley’s two adult children, offered a different kind of compliment: “You can probably outrun all of us on the Council.”
Thursday’s moment at City Council was an anniversary celebration, but also a renewed vote of confidence not lost on the audience as Taylor and Sculley embraced and then posed for photographs.
The last year arguably has been Sculley’s most challenging one as she has led efforts by City staff and Council to reach a new agreement with the police and firefighter unions that reins in runaway health care costs. Collective bargaining talks have been contentious from the start and broke down once for several months this summer. While the two sides are meeting regularly now, they have yet to reach agreement. Sculley has enjoyed strong support from both former Mayor Julián Castro and now Mayor Taylor and City Council throughout the process, but she continues to be the target of some intense personal attacks by union officials.
“We’re changing a 25-year contract, and I make my best professional recommendations to the City Council, and I am grateful that I have their support,” Sculley said. “This is my financial legacy to the city. The existing contract with its benefits package is not sustainable and everybody in the city knows it. On National Night out I was with Chief McManus and I had strangers coming up to me saying, ‘You go, girl.’ That’s the most rewarding thing when citizens come up and offer that kind of support.”
Sculley has never responded directly to the unions’ personal attacks, but they have to exact a toll after awhile. If so, she isn’t showing it.
Less vociferous critics say Sculley is too strong-willed and controlling, a common description of long-serving chief executives in general, but assistant city managers and others who report directly to her or have frequent contact describe her as warm, with a sharp sense of humor, someone who doesn’t hesitate to credit good work and has no tolerance for mediocre performance.
“I’m the oldest of seven kids, so the family joke is that I’ve been managing a lot longer than 40 years,” Sculley said.
What no one doubts is her record of excellence in the job. Running accomplishments and metaphors aside, Sculley has set new standards of performance. Her own commitment to fitness and wellness has set a strong example in a city with one of the worst obesity and child obesity rates in the nation. Even that is changing for the better, statistic show.
“Mike and I have lived downtown all nine years we’ve been here, which we love, but when I first moved here and went out for a run, I saw very few other people running, very few cyclists,” Sculley said. “Now when I go running on the river and the Mission Reach, it’s crowded with people running, walking, on bikes. It makes me smile.”
Sculley, a Chicago native, watched her father work two jobs his whole life and then decline in retirement.
“He never had time to stay active,” she said. “I’ll always stay active and I’ll always work, if not in this job, doing something. The future is open.”
Her husband, Mike, works as the director of special projects for Bexar County, and their two adult children, Courtney and Collin, live and work nearby in Austin. Collin is running the marathon here again this year. Like many transplanted San Antonians, the Sculleys arrived her for professional opportunity, but then found a city they decided to call home.
“I serve at the pleasure of the Mayor and City Council and we will see a lot of change next May,” Sculley said, noting that she has served under 38 different Council members in nine years. “We continue to improve the level of service to the community. We’ll have to see what that future holds, but I know I’ll always do something.”
*Featured/top image: City Manager Sheryl Sculley (left) accepts an award from the International City Managers Association, presented by Mayor Ivy Taylor. Photo by Fred Gonzales, courtesy of the City of San Antonio.